Although the LSU offense lost top producers across the field, the offensive line will look to provide leadership for the rest of the team as it returners four of five starters.
Left tackle La’el Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins will each occupy their usual spots on the offensive line.
Like most Les Miles-coached teams, the offense is expected to focus on the running game. The experienced group of offensive lineman can help lead the Tigers’ offense through some of the growing pains and keep it in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference title and a
berth in the College Football Playoff.
“We can bring a lot of experience, a lot of leadership skills… how to take situations and learn from them and get better in hostile situations like away games,” Alexander said.
Collins could have been a high pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but returned to LSU to improve his potential in the NFL.
“I felt like I wasn’t quite ready,” Collins said. “I need that extra year to come back and work on technique and really refine the things that I need to be a pro tackle at the next level.”
Miles called the senior a team leader at LSU media day. Collins hopes that younger players no matter their position will look to him for motivation the same way he did with Barkevious Mingo, Chris Faulk, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter and Ryan Baker.
“When you come to a program and you have guys like that instill those things in you as a young guy, you take heed to it,” Collins said. “Then when it’s your turn to step up, you just pass it along… that’s probably the best part.”
The only starter that left early for the draft was right guard Trai Turner. Seniors Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington are battling to see which player ends up filling that void.
Fanaika and Washington are great friends being former roommates, but both guys agree when it comes to the competition, it’s all business.
“It’s no hard feelings,” Washington said. “We’re both really good players and we’re just trying to get better everyday and compete.”
Center Elliott Porter said the offensive line will be ready no matter who gets the job.
“We want to explode and show our talent,” Porter said. “Every defensive line will give us a challenge. I want that.”
LSU’s reserves are equally versatile as the starters. Though he was originally recruited to play tackle, Sophomore Ethan Pocic is now a backup center.
“[Pocic] can play anywhere,” Porter said. “He shows a lot of promise.”
Pocic is 6-foot-7, which is taller than usual for a center, but Pocic sees his wingspan as the main advantage against shorter defensive tackles and said that gaining leverage will be the key to his success at the center position.
The Tigers’ biggest change on the offensive line may come from the hiring of coach Jeff Grimes from Virginia Tech. He was the offensive line coach at Auburn from 2009 to 2012 including Auburn’s national championship season in 2010.
Grimes added two top offensive guard recruits in last year’s highly touted class to go along with the veteran-laden starting five he inherited. University High’s Garrett Brumfield comes in with large expectations as the nation’s No. 1 guard prospect, but he said he is not going to let the hype affect him on the field.
“As far as the whole recruitment, I look at it like it’s over with,” Brumfield said. “That has no bearing on how well I play, when I play.”
Will Clapp was a 4-star recruit with high expectations of his own. His father Tommy played defensive line at LSU from 1984-1987 and was a team captain for the 1987 team. Clapp sees his freshman year as chance for him to gain familiarity with the coaching staff and adjust to the college game.
“Learning from the older guys is big. They have game experience,” Clapp said. “Listening to Coach Grimes and taking in the techniques and the playbook is the big thing your freshman year.”