Toeing The Line
LSU players give kudos to offensive linemen for performance, cohesion
Friday, September 14, 2007
By James Varney
BATON ROUGE -- LSU football players might enjoy a school experience quite unlike that of most, but they often are struck by the same affliction that has hounded college students for centuries: lack of funds.
This acute global undergraduate money shortage isn't confined to essentials like suds. It also rears its ugly head when a player wants to do something nice.
Take LSU's offensive line. Out to dinner. Please.
"We talked, and we definitely need to do something for them," senior tailback Jacob Hester said.
Hester said the running backs are in debt to LSU's blockers after their 48-7 win over Virginia Tech in which the Tigers netted 297 yards on the ground, 81 of them by Hester. Like his backfield colleagues, Hester often was through a hole and five yards downfield before encountering a Hokie defender.
"They had a great game," Hester said. "Any time you rush for nearly 300 yards, it's not just the running backs. The offensive line definitely had to do something right."
Finances stand in the way, though, he said.
"But I'm married and broke, so maybe I can cook for them because I can't take them out anywhere," Hester added. "I'll cook whatever they want, whatever they ask for I'll cook them. Steak and potatoes, probably, you know linemen."
The linemen, magnanimously, said the backs owe them nothing. Stung by criticism after the Mississippi State opener in which the blocking and a handful of false start penalties were the most maligned aspects of a 45-0 victory, the linemen vowed such a performance will not be repeated. Experience will see to that, they said.
"It was just our first time as an offensive line together, playing in the first game," right tackle Carnell Stewart said. Though a senior, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman out of River Ridge was making his first start against the Bulldogs. "After the first game, the butterflies were gone because we were nervous, especially me. I was real nervous before that game. Second game, second nature."
Stewart's inexperience is shared by Lyle Hitt, a 6-2, 280-pound sophomore guard, as the two are converted from the defensive line. However, the offensive line depth chart is rich with experience, reflecting more than 85 career starts among the key members. Some of them, such as center Brett Helms and guards Will Arnold and Herman Johnson, have been shuffled in different spots.
"Lyle and Carnell played another really good game on the right side," Helms said. "That's old defensive guys in just their second start, and they came up big. They got the first game jitters out of them, and they played really well."
Helms, a 6-2, 270-pound junior, is on the Rimington Award watch list for the nation's best center. Coach Les Miles said Helms might be the best center in the Southeastern Conference. Miles, who was an offensive lineman, added that the growth in the line's effectiveness between Week 1 and Week 2 was clear on film. For his part, Helms said the line felt like it had a mission to accomplish against Virginia Tech. With the unit growing more comfortable, Helms said his responsibility to make the calls at the line of scrimmage -- generally tied to which side he identifies the middle linebacker as favoring -- is much easier.
"I don't think we played well as a unit against Mississippi State," Helms said. "But now we went against one of the top defenses in the country and came up big, and I think we redeemed ourselves."
It wasn't just the running game, however, in which the linemen excelled. LSU topped 300 yards in passing, and though the Hokies had two sacks, they cost the Tigers two yards combined.
The linemen said it makes no difference to them if LSU tries to establish a running game first or comes out with a blended attack. In fact, they prefer the latter.
"I love the way the coaches do it because they keep it balanced which throws off the defense," said Ciron Black, a 6-5, 320-pound sophomore. "That's exactly what happened Saturday. We had them guessing. They thought we were throwing the ball, and we're running it right up the middle for a 15-yard gain."
Black said the sense of chaos that sometimes reigned over the line in the opener, with confused assignments and shouting before the snap, has been diminished. He also predicted the line will get better.
"That was the first game, and we made a lot of mistakes," he said. "We made a lot of mistakes Saturday, too, actually. Trust me, there is tons of room for improvement."
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