If we’ve learned anything from the past two seasons, it’s that you can never have too many offensive linemen. In 2011, although the offense never missed a beat, every starting offensive lineman missed some time due to injury. Last year, the only constant was La’El Collins at left guard. Chris Faulk blew out a knee. P.J. Lonergan battled lower back issues all season. Josh Williford missed the second half of the season with a concussion. Alex Hurst left the team. It was a total mishmash of a unit, and it played well most of the time. With an offense geared to run the ball and a quarterback without much mobility, the 2013 offensive line must play well in every big game to give LSU a chance. The good news is there is some young talent with experience now. There are also a couple of spots with some competition. We’ll start our offensive line talk with the tackle spots where LSU began the season in 2012 with Faulk and Hurst.
The Departed: Chris Faulk- NFL; Alex Hurst- Graduation; Josh Dworaczyk- Graduation; Chris Davenport- Transfer
They’re Back: La’El Collins (6’5”, 321, Jr.); Vadal Alexander (6’6”, 350, Soph.); Jerald Hawkins (6’6”, 300, rFr.); Evan Washington (6’6”, 324, Jr.); Derek Edinburgh (6’8”, 316, rFr)
Who’s New: None
What We Know: Last season the staff just didn’t feel comfortable moving La’El Collins out to left tackle when Faulk went down. Collins had developed into a great guard, and moving him may have weakened LSU at two spots instead of just one. Josh Dworaczyk actually became a decent left tackle, but it took some time. With a spring, summer and fall camp to adjust to the position, Collins has made the move outside. Obviously he was recruited as a tackle, and he’s got every tool one needs out there. He’s got light feet, long arms and plenty of weight. He carries that 320 lbs., like it’s 285. There were some red flags during the spring game when Christian LaCouture burned Collins around the edge a couple of times. One, LaCouture was in his first college semester. Two, he’s going to be a defensive tackle. It’s been a couple of years since Collins has played left tackle, but LSU will count on him to protect Zach Mettenberger’s backside.
Vadal Alexander probably didn’t expect to line up at right tackle in the Swamp last year, but there he was. Alexander ended up playing every snap over the final nine games and earned some freshman All-America honors for doing so. Alexander has great size, but he got a little heavy late in the season because of an injury that slowed his conditioning. At his best, Alexander is a mauler at the tackle spot. He’ll fire off the ball and put someone on the ground. He did that 11.5 times against Ole Miss. He’s a real force against the run. His weakness is against the speed rush, and that showed against Clemson. He just couldn’t get out to slow the edge rushers. Alexander is healthy and ready to compete at right tackle this fall.
Jerald Hawkins is a different type of tackle. He’s a long, rangy athlete who is suited more for the pass rush as opposed to the ground game. Hawkins is much lighter than Hawkins and has arms that look like they hang to his knees. You need a bus fare to get around him (Courtesy: Mike Detillier). This kid played basketball at a high level in high school and now has a redshirt season under his belt. The staff loves Hawkins.
Evan Washington has been a sad story since arriving. He’s battled injuries and eligibility issues from Day 1. Washington was a really good high school basketball player, but they don’t pay 6-foot-6 300 lbers to play basketball. They pay them to play football, so he made the switch. Washington has quick feet and long arms as well. He just hasn’t had a chance to use them. The junior has never played a snap at LSU. Washington can play both guard and tackle, but he works at tackle more often where he can play both sides.
You’d have to ask Stephen Rivers, but I think Derek Edinburgh is the tallest player on the team. He’s a tower of a man, and he moves pretty well with all of that size. A year in the weight room has clearly done Edinburgh well, and it looks like the staff has decided that he will be a tackle. The Edna Karr product redshirted last season.
What To Expect: Collins is the starter at left tackle. From what I saw in the spring, it’s not hard to forecast some early struggles there for him. It’s a blessing that Devonte Fields from TCU will miss the opener, because that would not have been an easy introduction to the position. Like Dworaczyk did last year, Collins will learn the position and improve with time. He’s so talented, that it’s bound to happen. You just can’t simulate in-game action. He’ll have to gain experience as he goes on. I expect that this will be Collins’ last season at the collegiate level, and by the end of it he’ll be a really good left tackle.
Alexander has to keep his weight down. He was too heavy last year for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Like we said earlier, an injury contributed to that. Now he’s healthy. As of today, I think Alexander is the starter at right tackle. I love his ability to move those smaller defensive ends around in the running game. If the pass blocking side comes along, you’ve got a really good young tackle.
Frankly, I think Hawkins will earn the job at right tackle. That’s just me. I also think that he’s the left tackle in 2014. This kid has everything you want at the tackle spot, sans maybe 15 or 20 pounds. That can come. Hawkins played great in the spring game. He’s the best athlete on the offensive line, and it shows. One way or another, this is going to be a great battle on the right side during camp.
Washington provides some depth across the line, but especially at tackle. If a rash of injuries occurs like last season, Washington will be up. I think he plays left tackle on the scout team and matches up with Jermauria Rasco every day. That will look a whole lot like game action, something Washington hasn’t seen yet. Washington is not a threat to Collins, Alexander or Hawkins, but he may be a Greg Shaw type that may be called on to play a half in a big spot.
After a redshirt year, Edinburgh will spend his freshman year watching and developing. You have to love a kid with that type of size, but he’s still got at least a year before he’s ready to get in there and play meaningful football. Greg Studrawa has a great track record developing huge bodies like Hurst, Josh Williford, etc… This is the next project.