BATON ROUGE -- With four returning starters and a sixth-year senior making his way back from an injury, it's safe to say LSU's offensive line a strength in 2012.
But at a talent factory like Baton Rouge, don't expect that to produce any complacency in the Tigers' trenches. The offensive line is one of the team's most complete units, and yet there are blue chips prospects pushing for playing time across the board against the incumbents.
Halfway through the Tigers' spring season, the offensive line seems to be coming together. But despite the wealth of experience returning, LSU coach Les Miles said the competition to this point has been interesting to watch.
LSU fans are sure to be following the development of La'El Collins, who joined the team as the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman in 2010. Collins played in seven games with no starts last year, but judging by his development in practice, that might not be the case for long. Collins has been in the mix since the start of spring, and worked with the No. 1 unit in practice Tuesday, taking the place of the veteran Josh Dworaczyk at guard.
"That's a position that's really in pretty good shape at this point, with Josh Dworaczyk taking some second team snaps and really preparing La'El Collins to take the first team left guard spot," Miles said.
Dworaczyk enters his final LSU season as easily the most experienced member of the line. The Tigers coaching staff is still working him into live action, as well as the depth chart. But it has been seven months since the knee injury that ended Dworaczyk's 2011 season before it started. Miles said it's time to throw him back into the fire, evidenced by the fact that the New Iberia native no longer wears a green no-contact jersey at practice.
"It's time to cut him loose," Miles said. "He's seven months in, and we're normally as comfortable enough to go at four or six months. The interesting thing is he's had two knee [injuries], and both knees have really responded well."
Miles said Collins still has a ways to go in his development, but that the overall experience of the line can only help a young player come along faster.
"The good thing about the young guard that plays with the veteran line is he gets to hear all the veteran calls and learn what's expected," Miles said. "It makes a difference. It's almost easier to play as the young guy with the veteran line, and he's learned a lot."
Aside from the guard spot, there is plenty of talent at the Tigers' other positions along the line, although the tackle spots likely won't be seeing new starters heading into the fall. Elliott Porter may finally see some playing time on the LSU roster after a long journey that saw him go from an LSU commitment to a player at Kentucky back to LSU. Porter is working behind Lonergan as the backup center.
Another LSU youngster, early arrival Vadal Alexander, has put in work with the starters at tackle. Alexander enrolled early, and has been learning behind tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk. Miles said both Porter and Alexander have been making great progress, but that the learning curve on the offensive line is one of the steepest.
"There's some youth there that have talent and will certainly come," Miles said. "But they're still young, and there's still a lot for them to learn."
Miles seems to be taking that fact to heart. A former linemen during his playing career at Michigan, Miles has spent a large chunk of his spring working with the offensive linemen and helping them master their new roles. On Tuesday, he went through the same formation with Collins and backup tackle Chris Davenport three or four separate times to make sure they understood.
"I enjoy it. I kind of gravitate to those guys," Miles said. "I watch the passing that's going on, and those guys are doing well. The receivers and running backs don't need me. There's always a technique that the old coach can throw in there (to the offensive line) and provide some instructions. So I do it that way."