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Friday, August 04, 2006

Blocking Holes

The weakest link on LSU's football team just got weaker with the academic loss of junior college offensive tackle signee Philip Loadholt of Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas.

Loadholt, who is 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, was one of the very big reasons why LSU coach Les Miles was in such a good mood at the signing day recruiting bash in downtown Baton Rouge last February.

"We filled our needs," Miles said. "Offensive line was one of them. He's about the largest man I've ever seen."

He had a large hole to fill as well. LSU has to replace four-year starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is now in the NFL. Miles did not mention Loadholt at the Southeastern Conference Media Days last week. This was before news broke that he would not make the grade. He also dropped a bit of a bombshell that redshirt freshman left tackle Ciron Black would be "probably the guy that we're going to count on first and foremost."

So he knew something was up, or down with Loadholt. If a redshirt freshman has to be "counted on" at any position, you're in trouble. If a redshirt freshman has to be counted on in the offensive line, you're really in trouble. Especially if you're at a supposed national championship contender that will go into the season ranked in the top 10 in virtually every major poll.

Miles is a missing his right tackle, too. Senior Brian Johnson, who started 12 of LSU's 13 games last season at right tackle, was moved to right guard after the season to replace departed senior Nate Livings. This leaves senior Peter Dyakowski at right tackle. Dyakowski just started getting significant playing time last year. Miles is robbing from Peter to pay Paul. This does not look like a good move. Wouldn't Johnson be better staying at tackle after playing an entire season there?

Of course, guard is looking thin, too. Will Arnold and Brett Helms are solid guards, but Helms is at center now with heir apparent center Ryan Miller coming off a knee injury. The other guards are green except for Brian Johnson and 6-7, 339-pound Herman Johnson, who may be better at tackle.

All in all, LSU's offensive line looks nearly as weak on paper today as late in the Gerry DiNardo era when the Tigers finished 10th in the SEC in rushing offense with 82.5 yards a game, and DiNardo was trying to say he would have better rushing numbers if quarterback sacks were not counted toward the rushing total. (Uh, Gerry, it's like that with all college teams, so it's all relative.)

In addition to the loss of Whitworth, Livings and starting center Rudy Niswanger, LSU also loses fullback Kevin Steltz. You remember, Steltz. He was that guy who looked like a bowling ball with cleats. You should never had made fun of him. He is one of the best blocking fullbacks LSU has had in years. He will be sorely missed. Jacob Hester, Steve Korte and Shawn Jordan have the size to be good fullbacks and LSU's coaches rave about the talent they have at the position. But none of them can block like Steltz.

This could be a rough year for LSU's rushing attack, regardless of who is at tailback.

If Miles keeps signing classes with four academic casualties, which is the latest count, his teams will start to resemble those of DiNardo more and more and not those of Nick Saban, who rarely had academic casualties.

That's just a warning.


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