LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette will have a little more uncertainty than usual in the trenches going into next season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are losing 40 percent of their starting offensive line to graduation and don’t have any experienced players to rotate in simply because the offensive linemen they’ve had have been so remarkably healthy.
Only a handful of teams started every game with the same starting five at offensive line. The Cajuns were one of them.
Can they keep it going? That remains to be seen and will require some close evaluation during the springtime.
It’s going to be weird not seeing No. 67 lining up right of center on the offensive line. Daniel Quave started his 52nd and final game at last week’s New Orleans Bowl win at the Superdome.
Quave’s remarkable streak was a testament to his toughness and athleticism, and it was also made remarkable by the fact that for 52 weeks he was at least one of the five best linemen on the team.
Senior center Terry Johnson made a team-first call when he was switched from starting left guard to starting center in the weeks before the season.
It took Johnson awhile to get down the finer points of snapping down, but he was an honorable mention All-Sun Belt center and won’t be easy to replace.
Also gone is all-purpose backup Jarad Martin, and don’t forget that Jeremy Sparks retired from football after problems with thoracic outlet syndrome. Sparks was being groomed for a starting spot before he retired.
Who’s coming back?
The good news is that the Cajuns are bringing back a wealth of experience at the other three spots.
Mykhael Quave is a three-year starter and a second-team all-conference performer at left tackle. He’s solid in both the run and pass games, and will be the line’s anchor next season.
He’ll become especially important as a blind-side protector if the offense shifts a little more toward the passing game with the right-handed Brooks Haack.
Also returning is two-year starter Octravian Anderson at right tackle. Anderson is sometimes the forgotten man on the line, but that’s a good thing. The more you hear a right tackle’s name, the worse he’s performing.
Left guard Donovan Williams was solid in his first season. He’s a big-bodied player who did a nice job paving the way for the running game after being the surprising winner of a preseason battle for a starting job.
Those spots are locked up, but the Cajuns will have a competition to see who will replace Daniel Quave and Johnson.
One pair might sound familiar; Grant Horst and Eddie Gordon spent much of the fall camp fighting for a starting center gig before coach Mark Hudspeth decided to start neither, moving Johnson to center and inserting Williams as the left guard.
Horst spent the remainder of the season at right tackle, and that ultimately might be where he’s better-suited because of his long and lean frame.
Gordon is a physical specimen, but he was behind for much of camp while he learned the way Hudspeth wanted him to play. An added year should help his development, and he should be ready to play.
Greg Siener, a rising senior, spent the season as Daniel Quave’s understudy, and could be ready to take over for him at right guard.
The Cajuns have been preparing for this the past couple years, as their roster is loaded with nine offensive linemen who were either freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
Concern level: low-moderate
The concern isn’t about who the Cajuns are using to replace Johnson and Quave, but more about how the new offensive line will work together. This year’s group, even as experienced as it was together, had trouble working as a cohesive unit at times. The Cajuns have the players, now they’ve got to get them to come together.