Replacing a three-year starter is never fun. LSU faces that task this season at center where P.J. Lonergan started 38 games over the span of his career. The Rummel product became one of the best centers in the country over the last two seasons and played exceptionally well despite battling back problems much of that time. He was the school record holder in the clean, and he understood protections as well as anyone on the offensive line. Without question, Lonergan helped Zach Mettenberger ease into the position in his first year at quarterback. With Lonergan gone, there are options at center, but none of them have proven themselves as of July.
The Departed: P.J. Lonergan- Graduation; Ben Domingue- Graduation
They’re Back: Elliot Porter (6’4”, 300, Jr.);
Who’s New: Ethan Pocic (6’7”, 285, Fr.); Andy Dodd (6’3”, 330, Fr.)
What We Know: Elliot Porter is the heir apparent to Lonergan at the center spot. He’s been in the program for two full years working at that spot exclusively. Size was a bit of a concern in the early going, but Porter is now at 300 lbs., and he’s big enough to play every down on the offensive line now. Last year he played in 10 games, 71 snaps. He actually started the Idaho game due to Lonergan’s back issues. Porter has everything you’d want to replace a veteran starter. He’s not young, he’s not totally inexperienced, and he’s learned from a great one. He also has a returning “starter” on either side of him in Josh Williford and Trai Turner. Porter has missed practice time in multiple spots including this past spring. That’s a concern, but all signs point to him being ready for action this fall.
It was a bit of a surprise to walk on to the Ponderosa and see Ethan Pocic snapping footballs this spring. When LSU landed Pocic from the Chicago area he looked the part of a future tackle. LSU has some really good young tackles, so it looks like Pocic will be a center early in his career. Obviously the 6-foot-7 mauler was a tackle in high school, so this is a real adjustment. Frames like that generally don’t play on the interior. Pocic worked at center every day in the spring and reportedly really took to the spot. This kid is a super talent and projects as an NFL offensive lineman. It’s just a matter of where he’ll play, and right now that spot looks to be center. Remember, it’s not just the snapping that is a total adjustment. The center is in charge of positioning the line and calling out the blocking schemes based on what the defense shows. Tackles generally don’t do that, even in high school. That’s another hurdle to clear.
Andy Dodd was an Alabama commitment who flipped to LSU. He’s got a very prototypical center’s body. His power is in his legs, but he’s strong throughout. Dodd played tackle in high school as well, and he’s at his best paving the way for the ground game. He uses that low explosion to drive defensive linemen back. His feet aren’t quite there yet, but that comes with coaching and technique.
What To Expect: Porter should be the guy from Day 1 in camp. He’s played the position against teams like Alabama and South Carolina, so his experience level and skill set indicate that he’s ready to play. Just the way Lonergan helped Mettenberger last year with protections, Mettenberger can help Porter get acclimated as well. The only thing I really worry about with Porter is how much practice time he misses routinely. LSU doesn’t have another player who has played center in a game in years.
Pocic fits into that category. I’m just not sure he’s a center quite yet. I think he’s going to be a fantastic one in time. We saw Vadal Alexander use an early spring en route to playing time as a true freshman. Pocic may be called upon to play some center if Porter misses time. I think another option that I won’t devote an entire paragraph to is Josh Williford who snapped the ball a little this spring. I’m fairly confident in saying that Pocic is the third option as of today, but that could change. He’s talented enough for the light switch to come on, and if it does he could be called upon to get in there should Porter go down. Inserting a true freshman at center in the SEC is a risky proposition, though.
Dodd looks like a redshirt candidate to me. He’s got some toning of his body to do, and there are a few more capable guys in front of him. A year in the weight room and on the practice field learning to position will be good for him.