We’re winding down a look at the LSU offense as SEC Media Days crank up in Hoover, Al. With La’El Collins kicking out to tackle, the left guard spot has come open, but essentially LSU has a pair of returning starters at right guard, so things look to be squared away. Two of promising newcomers add immediate depth to a spot where only Josh Dworaczyk has moved on. Considering Dworaczyk spent his final two seasons as a coach and a tackle, he can’t really be called a loss here at the guard spot. Les Miles generally likes a quicker guard on the left side to go with a mauler on the right. Looking at this group of inside players, there looks to be more size than quickness. It still looks like a strength, though.
The Departed: Josh Dworaczyk- Graduation
They’re Back: Josh Williford (6’7”, 332, Sr.); Trai Turner (6’3”, 306, Soph.); Jonah Austin (6’6”, 329, rFr.);
Who’s New: Fehoko Fanaika (6’6”, 340, Jr.); Josh Boutte (6’4”, 324, Fr.); K.J. Malone (6’3”, 307, Fr.)
What We Know: Josh Williford entered the 2012 season as the starter at right guard, and he may have been playing the best football on the line when he went down with a concussion at Florida. To that point he had become a dominant player in the running game, leading the team in knockdowns in three of the first four games. He’s played in 31 games as a Tiger, starting 19. What looked like a reach when he arrived on campus has become a really strong SEC offensive lineman. We know Williford has the size and strength to play great football. He’s proven that over the last three years. It’s a matter of his adjusting to the left side where he’ll team up with La’El Collins to protect Zach Mettenberger’s blind side. Williford spent the spring over there and has the mental side of it down. Every lineman that plays for Greg Studrawa learns all five spots, and Williford has been at LSU for five years. He’ll have it down.
When Williford went down the Tigers had to turn to redshirt freshman Trai Turner. He was more than serviceable. At times, Turner was plain dominant. He started seven games beginning with the South Carolina game where he and his newly gelled offensive line absolutely took over the football game and ran the ball down the Gamecocks’ throat. Turner is incredibly strong and adept at getting under defenders’ pads where few players in college football can beat him from. He’s too strong. Turner is a stronger run blocker than pass blocker, but the latter part came along last season. It’s just his nature to want to move forward, and he’s really good at it. It’s safe to call Turner the returning starter at right guard this year, and the Tigers have a good one to count on entering the fall.
Our earlier look at Williford provides the blueprint for Jonah Austin as well. Both guys were massive bodies in high school who the Tiger staff identified late in the recruiting process and saw serious potential. You can’t teach someone to stand 6-foot-6 and grow long arms. Austin has those tools. A lot of guys with those attributes play tackle, but Austin doesn’t quite have the feet for that. That’s okay. Neither did Williford, but that’s why they dress guards out, too. Austin spent a season watching from the sidelines and developing his technique. Sometimes it’s tough for someone that tall to get that pad level down. After a season in the film room/weight room, Austin’s eligibility clock starts this season.
He was delayed a little bit in arriving, but Fehoko Fainaika has arrived at LSU. The massive JUCO transfer landed in Baton Rouge this spring and worked out with the team. He showed up too heavy to play, but that’s what the spring and summer are for. Fanaika needed to drop somewhere around 20 lbs., but with Tommy Moffitt blowing the whistles and the Baton Rouge heat lingering, that shouldn’t have been a problem. Fanaika can be a dominant player on the inside at 6-foot-6 and 340 lbs. He’s again out of that Williford mold. Miles has also specified that Fanaika is a “right-side player”. The spring was good for Fanaika to get his feet on the ground, and the summer had to be a learning process for him. He was a little raw in the spring, and generally speaking a second team offensive lineman will be called upon during a long season.
Josh Boutte exploded onto the recruiting scene after LSU took his commitment last summer. When the services started to evaluate his film, his stock soared. Boutte starred at Westgate High School and earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl where he had a really nice week. Boutte is explosive at the point of attack and comes more in the Turner mold than Williford. Boutte’s quickness is his best asset to me, but he’s also carrying plenty of weight on that 6-foot-4 frame. Miles and Studrawa have landed a good one.
K.J. Malone represents the second in-state offensive lineman in the 2013 class. The Ruston native obviously carries a recognizable name with him, but he’s got a skill set, too. It’s always difficult to evaluate linemen when they play at the 1A level in high school, but Malone also represented himself well in the camp circuit last summer. Malone’s game is strength which isn’t surprising given his gene pool. He dad was perhaps the fittest player in the NBA for over a decade. When Malone gets inside the shoulders, it’s almost lights out. There is plenty of toning that can be done with a few years in the weight room, and that’s encouraging. Having a bit of a log jam above him may benefit the freshman.
What To Expect: I don’t anticipate a huge adjustment for Williford moving from the right to the left. He’s started a game over there previously, and he’s veteran enough to figure it out. I’m also confident that Williford can help Collins in his transition to tackle. If healthy, Williford is an All-SEC type player. He’s got that type of ability. His size and strength paired with Collins’ raw talent give LSU a formidable left side. I’d expect LSU’s stable of running backs to spend plenty of time running off the left side of the line.
Those backs will spend plenty of time on the right side, too. Before he leaves Turner will absolutely earn all-league honors. He was one of the top 10 guards in the SEC at the end of last year, and he wasn’t even supposed to be out there. If Turner can make strides in the passing game, he’ll be the total package. I think he’s got that type of ability and coaching to make it happen. Expect Turner to be in there from the get go, and he’ll give LSU quality reps at right guard.
It’s tough to tell at this point who the next man up would be. Miles has shown that he’s not afraid to shuffle the deck a bit up front. Say Williford went down at left guard. Collins wouldn’t be moving back inside. That means the answer would either be Evan Washington or one of these guys. I’m not ready to say that Austin is quite ready for that, but he could be. That all depends on how his summer has gone. Austin has some talent, but I think he may be two injuries away from serious playing time.
I’ve got to see Fanaika in person before I speak in any certainties, but I think he can play a little bit if someone goes down. It would likely have to be Turner on the right side, though. If Fainaika has cut the weight, he can be a good run blocker right away. That’s never been the issue. Those feet have got to be a little lighter, and he’s got to make sure he understands the playbook. I know Cam Cameron wants to use some tempo offense this year to keep team on their heels. Sometimes we forget about this, but the offensive front has to be in great shape to run that stuff. We’ll see if Fanaika has made that commitment. If he has, he can help add depth.
Boutte has everything you want in a left guard. I think that’s his spot at LSU. I could easily see him slotting in there next season as LSU will likely have to replace both starters on the left side. The hope is that a true freshman does not have to step right in and play on the offensive front. Vadal Alexander did it last year, but he at least had a spring to work out with the team. If Boutte does see time this year, there have either been a rash of injuries or he’s just blown the staff away a moved to second on the depth chart. My gut tells me Boutte may not redshirt. He could see mop up action, but a redshirt is always a possibility with freshmen on the offensive line.
It would really surprise me of Malone didn’t redshirt. He’s got some work to do in the weight room to tone up some of that baby fat. When he does that, he’ll be about as strong as any lineman on the roster. He’s got that type of core strength. The adjustment from 1A to the SEC is a big one, ask Al Woods. Malone will get a year to soak everything in before the staff will consider throwing him in there.