Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Line

LSU looks to replace departed seniors Herman Johnson and Bret Helms on the offensive line this year. The good news is that both starting offensive tackles return to anchor the line. LSU has sufferered an absurd amount of attrition at offensive line over the last few years. That unfortunately continued this off-season as backup lineman Ernest McCoy left the program. Over the last 3 years, LSU has lost McCoy, Jarvis Jones, Zhamal Thomas, Matt Allen, Mark Snyder, and Steven Singleton. It's like the OL position is on a self imposed probation. Because of that, we've seen defensive linemen Will Blackwell and Joe Barksdale move to the offensive line.

After flirting with the idea of leaving early for the NFL, Ciron Black returns to LSU for his senior season. We all know what Black can do. He's been a starter at left tackle since his freshman season. He's probably the best offensive lineman in the SEC, and he'll be on several pre-season All-American lists. This spring, Ciron needs to concentrate on staying healthy, setting an example, and teaching the younger players as much as he can.

Returning at right tackle is junior Joseph Barksdale. In his first year a starter, Barksdale was solid but not as consistent as you'd like. I expect he'll much improved this season as the former defensive tackle was still very new to playing offensive line last year.

The other returning starter is senior right guard Lyle Hitt. Most assumed that Hitt would slide over to play Center in 2009; however, Miles stated in his press conference last week that Hitt will remain the starter at right guard. Hitt is a solid player, but not spectacular and he's not a guy that's going to win any All-SEC Awards. At times last year, most notably against Florida, he was a liability as defensive linemen went around him and through him. As a senior, I'll look for Hitt to be more consistent.

So that leaves starting positions open at left guard and at center.

At left guard, we won't see a whole lot of competition. The coaches have done nothing but praise Josh Dworacyzk since he's been on campus. He simply had to wait for his turn to shine. Dworacyzk played last year as the 3rd tight-end in goal line situations, and he also played as a backup at guard. I imagine he'll transition easily into the left guard spot and be a 3-year starter for LSU. He is a guy the coaches feel will one day be an All-SEC caliber lineman.

The competition for Center will be much more open. The "plan" was for sophomore T-Bob Hebert to slide into the starter's role at Center this season. However, Hebert is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered last season and probably won't be 100% for spring practice. If he does practice, it likely won't be much. So for the spring, LSU is looking to a couple of guys to step up and win the position. Sophomore Will Blackwell is probably the most likely to be the #1 Center by the end of spring. Blackwell, a former defensive lineman, is only in his second year playing offense. He's plenty big enough at 6'4" 298 pounds and he's strong as a bull. His competition will come from redshirt freshman PJ Lonergan, who has reportedly been very impressive during his first year on campus. In my opinion, it would be a surprise if Lonergan beat out Blackwell, but we'll keep a close eye on this during spring. In the fall, will a healthy T-Bob Hebert be able to unseat either Blackwell or Lonergan? I suspect not. In 2010, Hebert may take over at Center while Blackwell slides over to Guard to replace Hitt, but it's tough to speculate things that far into the future. There's some talk of using Hebert some as a fullback too.

As for the backups, I've been hearing some very good things about a couple of second year players. Offensive tackle Greg Shaw played some as a true freshman last year, and he'll probably be the #1 backup at both left and right tackle. The coaches really like what he has shown so far. Redshirt freshman Alex Hurst has also been impressive in his first year. Probably one of the top backups at guard, the 6'6" 330 pound lineman supposedly plays with a very mean streak. He might not be Kyle Turley, but I hear that he's close. Also between Lonergan and Blackwell, whoever is not playing Center will be one of the top backups at guard.

Redshirt freshmen Clay Spencer and Thomas Parsons are also in the mix and will be looking to impress this spring. I'm guessing their time will come in 2010 and beyond.

In the fall, LSU welcomes 4 more offensive linemen to the mix. Of that group, offensive tackle Chris Faulk is the most likely to earn any playing time. He looks like he may be the #4 offensive tackle next year. Stavoin Lowe, Carneal Ainsworth, and Josh Williford are all probably looking at a redshirt season.


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