Dworaczyk, Collins give Tigers good blend of youth, experience
LSU has everything you could look for at left guard — size, talent, youth and experience — between senior Josh Dworaczyk and sophomore La’el Collins.
The way the Tigers look at it, they have the best of both worlds.
“It’s really a blessing,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said Friday. “Both of those guys are unselfish. Josh is coming back from injury, and he’s getting himself going again. Last year La’el learned and learned and learned and then he had a wonderful spring. We’re going to need both of those guys because the chances of going through an entire season with just five guys is very, very unlikely.”
The starting left guard position, vacated by Will Blackwell’s graduation, is the only one up for grabs on the line. Dworaczyk (6-foot-6, 301 pounds), who’s from New Iberia, is LSU’s most experienced linemen, having started the last 26 games in which he has played at left guard. But a year ago he suffered a preseason knee injury that ended his season and very nearly his LSU career. As a fifth-year senior his career was only extended when the NCAA ruled during the offseason that he could have a rare sixth season.
Dworaczyk was beaming as he talked about the start of preseason practice and his ability to be a part of it.
“I can’t explain the way it felt to be out there at practice,” he said. “You think about the saying you never know when it’s going to be your last snap and that you never know when it’ going to be the last time you put that helmet on. I guess it wasn’t really in my head until the injury happened and I realized it could be all over. Now I’m not taking anything for granted so it’s an honor to be able to put on the purple and gold every single day and to go out and practice is tremendous.”
Collins (6-5, 320), who left Redemptorist High as one of the top tackle prospects in the country, played just 46 snaps last season as he made the transition to guard. He moved into the starting position in the spring while Dworaczyk rehabbed and received the Most Improved Award after spring drills.
After initially being disappointed at his relative lack of playing time as a freshman, Collins said he has grown to appreciate that the coaches didn’t “throw me out there with a whole bunch of veteran guys when I didn’t know what to anticipate.”
He said he’s “way advanced” compared to where he was a year ago and having Dworaczyk around is helping his development.
“I’m glad he got that sixth year because he’s not only my teammate, he’s a guy that could coach,” Collins said.” He can show me different things. He can tell you how to get better. Josh can play pretty much every position on the offensive line.”
Dworaczyk was already giving tips to his teammates even before he became a de facto coach while sidelined last season.
“They used to call me coach Josh even before I was coaching because I knew the plays and knew the situations,” Dwoarczyk said.
Dworaczyk’s injury coincided with offensive line coach Greg Studrawa’s sudden ascension to offensive coordinator when Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and relinquished the play-calling duties. Dworaczyk traded in his helmet for a headset and became a sideline liaison between Studrawa and the line.
“It opened my eyes being able to see it from a whole different light and being able to see what the coaches are looking for,” Dworaczyk said. “I was able to pick up on different things I didn’t have time to focus on when I was trying to learn the plays.”
Collins not only benefits from Dworaczyk’s experience but also from that of the lineman on either side of him — junior left tackle Chris Faulk and senior center P.J. Lonergan, a pair he called “the bread and butter” of the line.
“They help me and they make everything so simplified,” he said. “They break it down for me. If I need a question answered, those guys are right there, and they know what to do and they’ll tell me.”
Faulk, who became a full-time starter last season, can feel like an experienced veteran or a still-learning youngster depending on which player lines up next to him.
“I give tips to La’el,” Faulk said, “but when Josh comes in he gives tips to me.”
Lonergan said he can see Collins is more comfortable at guard than he was a year ago because his stance and footwork are more natural, though still “there definitely is an experience gap” between the two.
“I haven’t played with Josh in over a year now but when we were playing sometimes all I had to do was look at Josh and he’d look back at me and we’d know what we were doing on the play,” Lonergan said. “La’el will get that. There’s no substitute for going out there and doing everything in practice and in games.
“He’s already taken tremendous strides from last season to the spring and from the spring to now. He just needs to watch Josh and listen to him.”