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August 14, 2010

LSU's 2010 Offensive Line and Les Miles Projects

I saw an article that seemed to add a little bit of support to my belief that LSU's Offensive line will be much improved in 2010.  The article, "Chemistry no problem for O-line" by Baton Rouge Morning Advocate sportswriter Gary Laney, prompted me to send Laney an email thanking him for providing some support for those of us that have confidence in this year's offensive line.  Gary Laney responded to my email and while I do not think he would want me to share the entire email, I don't think he will mind me sharing a few lines.  This is part of what Gary Laney wrote in his return email:

"I don't think I quite share your optimism. I'm a big believer in having depth to create competition in camp and I don't see that depth. However, I do like their first six-seven guys (starting five plus T-Bob and Faulk). . . . So if the first 6-7 guys can stay healthy, they could be much better, maybe even pretty good, considering what they are saying about their chemistry. If they have a couple of injuries, they could be in serious trouble.

They need to get where they aren't losing two-three linemen from the program every off-season."

Gary Laney provides a solid conventional assessment of LSU's 2010 o-line that has prompted me to bring into focus exactly what I think about the o-line.

Laney's last point about LSU losing 2 to 3 offensive linemen from the program every off-season is something that I many have been thinking about maybe as early as 2006 when LSU lost Zhamal Thomas, a 6'4" 335lbs. rivals four star recruit, and Phil Loadholt, a 6'9" 345lbs junior college transfer, never managed to make it to the playing field.  In all fairness to coach Miles, both guys made decisions that kept them off of Tiger Stadium's field.  Loadholt after jilting the Tigers went on to have an outstanding career at the University of Oklahoma.  

While all teams lose promising players during the off-season for various reasons, I have wondered if LSU's loss of offensive linemen possibly is the result of a unique problem.  Mind you this is just wild speculation, but I wonder if what an article from And The Valley Shook dubbed the "Les Miles Project" hasn't played a role in some of these more widely recruited offensive linemen leaving LSU without contributing.  The "Les Miles Project" refers to less recruited high school offensive linemen that Miles' or the LSU staff sees potential in and gives a scholarship to with developing the OL "diamond in the rough."  

Many will recall that Ciron Black was considered a 3-star recruit by Rivals and played early and finished a fine career at LSU.   Alex Hurst, 6'6" 329lbs., who will start at right tackle this year, was also listed as just a 3-star by Rivals.  Dandy Don Long in his updated depth chart has 6'7" - 324lbs. Josh Williford listed at the number two backup offensive right and left guard.  Williford was also listed as just a 3-star offensive lineman by Rivals. I think it is widely believed that high school offensive linemen are pretty hard to project to the college level. 

 If you look at the lists of centers and offensive guards you will find that many are not nearly big enough to make the transition into major college leagues like the SEC. 

Because of this difficulty in projecting high school offensive linemen's success in college, it appears that Miles and his staff have made at least some commitment to "Les Miles Project" players.  It would not be hard to see how the coaching staff might have to spend some extra time with these project players, maybe see more development in these o-linemen than their already good counterparts, and subconsciously hope that these project players develop and start.  If I were an 18-19 year old kid who was highly recruited to play o-line and experienced this kind of promotion of another player that most had deemed "not as good", I certainly might look to prove myself elsewhere.  Like I said several lines back:  this is no more than "wild speculation." 

Let's look at LSU's o-line this year.

All of LSU's projected starters on the offensive line weigh in at or over 300lbs. with the exception of left guard Josh Dworaczyk who is listed at 295lbs.  Both Joseph Barksdale (LT, 6'6" - 318lbs.) and Will Blackwell (RG, 6'4" - 303lbs.) were projected as "top 20" defensive tackles out of high school because of their mobility.  Both players have a quick first step or two and are great at lateral movement.  In hindsight, Barksdale probably should have been the blindside tackle last year.  This will be the first year for Hurst and Blackwell to start but when these two guys saw action last year LSU's offense looked much better.  Center,  P.J. Lonergan (6'4" - 300lbs) should slow up larger defensive tackles just a little longer than his backup last year's starter T-Bob Hebert (6'3" - 280lbs.). While both Lonergan and Hebert are good centers, I like the 20lb size advantage that Lonergan provides.

As far as backups go, Gary Laney seems to be happy with Hebert and Offensive Tackle Chris Faulk (6'6" - 316lbs.).  Dandy Don Long has Josh Williford (6'7" - 324lbs) as the backup offensive guard.  And I am hearing that the coaches have been impressed with true freshman OT Evan Washington (6'5"- 315lbs.).  Sophomore, Matt Branch (6'6" - 287lbs.) is also a backup offensive guard.  Branch could also provide backup at offensive tackle if necessary.  Branch was originally recruited as a tight end suggesting that he has probably has good speed and lateral mobility.

I am still more optimistic than Gary Laney but, Laney is admittedly right on two counts:  LSU needs to stop losing offensive linemen during the off-season and LSU needs to develop good backup offensive linemen quickly.    


Anonymous said...

So, whos betting that after not even sniffing the field yesterday in favor of a couple of members of the 'Les Miles Project'. that Zach Lee says 'screw this s***', and takes a couple of mill. and joins an organization that wont make him sit for two more years before ever seeing a playing field...

Smart money? .. (Pun intended)..

He gets his big offer tomorrow mid day, and by the evening, "after some serious discussion with my family, and considering the situation at LSU regarding playing time, its just clearly in my best interest to accept the offer from the LA Dodgers. Coach Miles has been great, Coach Crowton is a genius, errr... thats wizard, and the sun shines bright and the air is fresh... yada yada yada...

Really, after he's experiencing what Russel Shepard went through last year, why not take the money?

Anonymous said...

LSU is going to have something that they lacked the last two years - an Offensive Line. I looked it up, Lyle Hitt was a rivals 3-star defensive tackle and Ciron Black was hurt most of last year that's a whole side of the line. You can't make it with half of your line collapsed. LSU is going to have an Offensive Line that will change everything!

Anonymous said...

So, why couldnt they run against Washington?...

No one hurt in that game.

Anonymous said...

LSU has lost more great O-linemen than most teams see in 4 years!

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