It’s common for offensive linemen to emerge from the locker room after practice with bags of ice taped around their knees.
With the chaos that occurs in the trenches every play, it’s almost impossible for the 300-pounders to avoid at least some soreness and swelling in joints that just aren’t designed to perform at that level under that amount of weight. Add reps against Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and Keke Mingo to the equation, and it’s rare for LSU linemen to escape fall camp without some kind of injury.
So was the case for starting offensive tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk, who both missed a significant portion of the preseason. Both downplayed the severity of their injuries though, Hurst calling his a “small-to-minor ankle sprain.” Faulk said his was nothing more than a “regular camp injury.”
“The trainers just wanted to get it taken care of now so it wouldn’t bother me during the season,” Hurst said. “People are always flying into your legs. It’s just one of the things that comes along when you play O-line.”
Both Faulk and Hurst have returned to practice and said they feel 100 percent heading into the season opener Saturday against North Texas — welcome news to Zach Mettenberger, who now has one less thing to worry about.
“I know they’re going to do the right thing and protect me,” the first-year starting quarterback said. “I just have to go out there and not worry about getting hit, because I haven’t been hit in a while.”
With Mettenberger now under center, all signs point toward a more pass-reliant offense. That puts more of the spotlight on Hurst and Faulk, who have the responsibility of providing Mettenberger with enough time to make the plays the LSU fanbase hopes he’ll make.
Faulk said they don’t feel any added pressure, and that preparations for this offensive shift started in January.
“We told (Mettenberger) we’re going to try and protect him as best we can,” Faulk said. “He feels comfortable making his decisions, knowing he has time to make his reads. By him being comfortable, our offense should be successful.”
Faulk said he welcomes the opportunity to showcase his pass-blocking, a strength of his dating back to his time at Northshore High in Slidell.
Faulk entered 2010 as the backup left tackle behind Joe Barksdale, but Faulk’s versatility boosted him into the starting lineup as a right tackle for the final three games of the season when Hurst went down with an injury. In 2011, Faulk returned to the left side and excelled, earning a spot on the All-Southeastern Conference second team.
“He really developed as a left tackle,” fellow offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said. “It was going to be his to take if he wanted it, and that’s something he took with a lot of pride.”
Entering his third season as the starting right tackle, Hurst has aspirations of winning a national championship and becoming an All-American. In order for those things to happen, Hurst said he had to improve his footwork and read defenses better.
He also had to become a leader. As one of two senior starting offensive linemen, Hurst has served as a teacher in the offseason, reflecting on what past linemen like Barksdale and Ciron Black did for him.
“The young guys look up to me,” Hurst said. “I have to step up my leadership to make sure they’re doing the little things right.”
Aside from what Hurst and Faulk both bring the LSU offense Saturday, they serve an equally beneficial role on Monday through Friday. Mingo credits Hurst and Faulk for helping him prepare by providing a stiff challenge in every drill and scrimmage.
“If they get their hands on you, you’re pretty much done,” Mingo said. “Faulk is probably the quickest one I’ve been against since I’ve been here. Hurst’s bigger. Bigger guys are usually slower, but he’s got a little speed on him.”
Faulk doesn’t deny that his teammates on the other side of the ball provide an equally imposing test.
“Everybody knows about Mingo and Sam’s speed,” he said. “They’re different breeds. But I’m pretty sure they help us more than we help them.”
As both players previewed the offensive line for the upcoming season, a return to dominance became a recurring theme. And if all goes well, maybe it will be the defense — not the offense — that’s flocking to the ice baths.
“Last year, we didn’t finish in that championship game,” Hurst said. “Come Saturday, we want to play a dominant game and show the country that we’ve bounced back and that’s no longer hanging over us.”