Article courtesy of: All Fans/SB Nation
By: Zach Junda
If a football team had a weak unit one year and then brought back the entire group the following year, is that unit suddenly better?
That’s the question the LSU offensive line will have to answer as spring practice looms. The Tiger offensive line was the most bemoaned unit last season after the defense. LSU could only manage 3.3 yards a carry and the pass blocking wasn’t much better, allowing Myles Brennan, TJ Finley and Max Johnson to be sacked a combined 17 times, hit 34 times and pressured 86 times.
And yet there’s reason for optimism. The offensive line played better in LSU’s final two games of 2020, though admittedly Florida and Ole Miss aren’t the most fearsome defenses, and all five starters are coming back. With (hopefully) a normal-ish spring to gel the offensive line there’s reason to believe the growth from 2020 to 2021 looks something similar to what 2018 to 2019 had.
The starting five for 2021 figures to be the exact same as 2020: Rosenthal, Ingram, Shanahan, Hines and Deculus. The question will be can they improve under James Cregg. The Cregg tenure has been interesting to say the least. The unit of course won the Joe Moore Award in 2019, but that was sandwiched between two subpar at best seasons in 2018 and 2020. The performance of the offensive line in 2021 may determine Cregg’s future with the program.
But if 2021 is a make or break year for Cregg, it has to be comforting having literally the entire gang back. Not only are the five starters back, but the second unit is back as well and for most of these guys it’s now or never.
I’m referring specifically to Kardell Thomas and Anthony Bradford. Thomas was a top-five player at his position coming out of Southern Lab and Orgeron said last offseason Bradford was perhaps LSU’s most talented offensive lineman. Those two guys played a combined 11 snaps last season and they’re heading into their third year with the program. If they can’t stake their claims now it’s most likely never going to happen, at least not at LSU.
Developing the two-deep will be the name of the game for the offensive line this spring. LSU famously only signed two offensive linemen in 2021 and that drew ire from LSU fans. But it’s not that LSU doesn’t have the bodies, the players just aren’t developing and that’s a bigger cause for concern.
LSU signed four offensive linemen in 2018, (Damien Lewis, Badara Traore, Cole Smith, Cameron Wire), five in 2019 (Thomas, Bradford, Charles Turner, Ray Parker, Thomas Perry) and three in 2020 (Marcus Dumervil, Marlon Martinez, Xavier Hill). It’s probably too early to make a judgment one way or another on the 2020 signees. So of those nine linemen LSU signed in 2018 and ‘19 can you say LSU hit on any of them besides Damien Lewis? Maybe Cameron Wire, but even then Wire’s not a full-time starter.
Either LSU isn’t recruiting well enough along the offensive line or when the players get here they aren’t being developed properly. It’s probably a blend of both and that will make competing for the College Football Playoff on a consistent basis a problem if LSU can’t improve up front.
But improving up front could come in the form of freshman tackle Garrett Dellinger, a top-100 player in the 2021 recruiting cycle and a prized signee of LSU’s class. Dellinger is the kind of elite offensive linemen LSU typically doesn’t sign, but his ranking makes him one of the best offensive linemen signed by LSU dating back to 2000. Dellinger is already on campus and while he may not be a day-one starter—especially with both Deculus and Rosenthal back—being an early enrollee ought to be instrumental in tapping into his immense potential and setting himself up for success in 2022 and beyond.
It can’t be understated how massive it is LSU got guys like Austin Deculus, Ed Ingram, and
Dare Rosenthal to come back for another season. How many years have we lamented LSU players leaving for the NFL despite not being an obvious top-100 pick while Alabama seems to get all their draft-eligible guys back for an extra year? Spring is the season of growth, hopefully that includes the Tiger offensive line.