Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Spring prediction: Competition on O-line
By David Ching
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A brand-new version of LSU's football team will take the field this week for its first spring practice.
In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. This week, leading up to Saturday's first team workout, we'll make five predictions related to the Tigers' upcoming practices.
Today's prediction: Right guard isn't the only offensive line job up for grabs
La'el Collins is one of four starters back on the LSU O-line, but that doesn't mean their jobs are safe.
Take a look at LSU's depth chart and it's clear that experience isn't an issue among the starters. Left guard Vadal Alexander and right tackle Jerald Hawkins started all 13 games last season while rising seniors at left tackle, La'el Collins, and center, Elliott Porter, both started 12.
So that means the Tigers only have one offensive line spot that is open for true competition, right? Maybe, but I'm not sure that will be the case.
Les Miles hired a new offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, during the offseason and the message he will undoubtedly send this spring is that everyone has a clean slate. He made that very point two weeks ago in a local radio interview, noting that he watched only enough film of the group to get a general idea of what the individual players can do. He wants to see them earn their jobs, starting now.
Now you can comfortably assume Collins will remain as the starting left tackle. He's widely considered one of the nation's better senior offensive tackles and could conceivably become a first-round NFL pick in 2015. Hulking junior Alexander (LSU lists him at 6-foot-6 and 342 pounds) has a similar pedigree among 2016 guard prospects.
So where will the most competition occur? Right guard is obvious since the Tigers must replace Trai Turner, who seems to have impressed NFL scouts since deciding to leave after his redshirt sophomore season.
Massive senior Fehoko Fanaika (6-6, 348) might be the answer there, but there are other candidates. One of them might be Ethan Pocic, who could also push Porter -- whom he backed up at center last season as a true freshman -- for playing time. Another might be Evan Washington, who is officially listed as a tackle.
As a sophomore Hawkins naturally had his ups and downs in his first season as a starter, so Grimes will certainly look for more consistency out of him this season before handing him the starting spot once again. But the Tigers shifted Alexander from right tackle to left guard last season to make way for Hawkins, so clearly they liked the athletic Hawkins' potential.
The safe money is on experienced players holding onto their starting spots. And it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Collins, Alexander, Porter and Hawkins man four of the five line spots when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin.
Grimes has been around the block a time or two, though. This is his eighth different coaching stop since grabbing his first college job coaching the offensive line at Hardin-Simmons in 1998. He knows that the best way for a new coach to motivate players is to give everyone a fair shot and then let them earn their jobs.
That's what he'll do with his new players and, even if the starters remain the same, it's safe to predict that a fresh competition might help the line improve this fall.