Les Miles has called it an experiment, the decision to shift La’El Collins from left guard to left tackle during spring football practice.
Collins would like to trade the word “experiment” for “permanent.”
“Most definitely,” the junior offensive lineman said Thursday after LSU’s first spring practice session.
“The adjustment for me is nothing big. Tackle is kind of simple. A lot of times you’re man on with the defensive end. I just have to get used to the speed on the edge. But today felt good.”
Collins was a Parade All-American offensive tackle at Redemptorist, a top-10 national prospect when he came out in 2011 after road grading opposing defenses for then and future LSU teammate Jeremy Hill at tailback.
Watching Collins play tackle in high school was like witnessing a force of nature. It wasn’t uncommon to see him block an opposing defender to the ground, get up and level one or two more victims before the play ended.
He played sparingly as an LSU freshman in 2011, recording 46 snaps in seven games. As sophomore he started all 13 games for the Tigers at left guard, even when an unfortunate opportunity opened up at left tackle.
Starter Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice leading up to LSU’s week two contest with Washington. Speculation ran rampant that LSU’s coaches would move Collins, arguably the Tigers’ best remaining offensive lineman, to left tackle in Faulk’s place.
But left guard is where Collins remained. Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk took over for Faulk instead.
“We did think about it very significantly,” LSU coach Les Miles said when asked about making a shift with Collins to left tackle last season. “But with Dworaczyk, it was exactly the right thing. He (Collins) was trained and capable at guard.”
“When Chris got hurt, it kind of shook up things in our offensive line room a little bit,” Collins recalled. “The coaches felt Dworaczyk was the guy to step in and do that job. He did a good job last year. I just played my role, stayed in my position.”
From his perspective now, Collins agrees the decision to leave him at guard last season was the correct one.
“I feel everything happens for a reason,” Collins said. “Last year at this time, or in the season I wouldn’t have been ready. I was about 325, and I had that guard mentality. Now I’ve had time to prepare for this position and get my body right.”
With Dworaczyk gone after a sixth year of eligibility and Faulk deciding to leave early for the NFL draft, Collins appears to be the right body in the right place at the right time for LSU.
Collins is listed on the LSU spring roster at 6-foot-5, 321 pounds, but he said he’s slimmed down into the 310-pound range.
“I feel good,” said Collins, who still cuts a massive figure. “It’s all about being light on your feet, being quick, being quick with your hands. One missed punch can get you beat off the edge. You want to be in position where you have the advantage.”
It’s only been two practices, but Miles has taken notice of La’El Version 2.0.
“He’s a guy who has the ability to think for himself,” Miles said. “He trimmed up. He’s more athletic. We visited with him about (the move), and he was all in.”
LSU’s only other option at left tackle right now doesn’t appear to be much of an option at all. Jerald Hawkins (6-6, 300), a redshirt freshman from Baldwin, is the only other player currently working at the position, Collins said.
Meanwhile, Collins said sophomore Jonah Austin (6-6, 329) from St. Augustine has moved into his old spot at left guard.
With his experience at two positions, Collins feels he’s well equipped to be the mentor to Austin and Hawkins that players like Dworaczyk and Faulk were to him.
“You always want to take the next guy and help mold him into the best player he can be,” he said.
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