Brandon Thibodeaux could be the final piece to Southern’s offensive line.
At the very least he figures to be a key part of the interior of a line that’s expected to be one of the strongest positions on the team.
The Jaguars return four line starters, the exception being center, where Aaron Hall started as a senior last season.
The incumbents are left tackle Reginald Redding, left guard Zach Brown, right guard Anthony Mosley and right tackle Dewayne Houston. Brown and Houston, like Thibodeaux, are seniors, and Redding and Mosley are juniors.
Thibodeaux has been listed at the top of the depth chart at center, where he is competing with junior Terrell Lee and senior Clayton Sylve, though Sylve has been sidelined by a back issue. He’s also working at guard, where he backs up both Brown and Mosley.
“He’s definitely a young man that can step in there and play for us,” coach Dawson Odums said after practice Thursday. “He understands all the calls and it helps to have those veterans that understand what you’re trying to get done.
“He’s worked hard. He’s reliable. He’s a senior that really cares. He’s one of the building blocks of the program. He understands that the foundation is being laid and he wants to continue that legacy. He’s a guy we’re happy to have in our program and we look forward to his senior leadership going forward.”
Thibodeaux played guard and tackle at Higgins High School, then was a tackle and blocking tight end as a freshman at Southern. After that he was moved inside and started learning to play center leading up to last season.
The Jaguars generally run the shotgun, making the adaptation to snapping a little trickier. He said offensive line coach Chennis Berry taught him all aspects of playing the position and Slyve tossed in some tips about snapping.
“Lately I’ve gotten it down pat,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s become real natural.”
Thibodeaux said he likes to study the playbook intently enough to understand what each lineman is doing. It not only helps him to handle multiple positions, he helps him orchestrate things from the middle.
“The communication starts with the center,” he said. “Once the center gets rolling, everybody gets rolling. There’s a lot of communication. I played a lot of snaps last year as a sort of sixth man. We’re all familiar with each other and trying to build camaraderie as camp goes on.”
Camp ends with a scrimmage Saturday and two weeks after that Southern begins the season at Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Jaguars plan to run the ball more this season as they count on the veteran line to create consistent opportunities for a deep group of running backs.
Thibodeaux said he’s ready, having lost 30 pounds from the 320 he weighed when he played tackle. Berry insisted he get lighter to play inside.
Though his weight has changed, Thibodeaux said the same isn’t true of his height, which has stayed 6-foot-2 since he was a more-than-respectable-sized power forward in eighth grade. The basketball experience helped his footwork for football.
Thibodeaux said it doesn’t really matter if he settles in at one position or continues to use his versatility at multiple ones. His willingness to move around and accept different roles is what has him poised to make a bigger impact in his final season.
“Whatever’s best for the team I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ve always been team oriented.”
That attitude fits well with Berry’s description of the line as “one nickel,” meaning a cohesive group of five.
“All five come together as one,” Thibodeaux said. “The nickel is the driving power of the O-line. It’s a brotherhood where all five are doing their jobs and working as one.”
Thibodeaux hopes to be the fifth part of the nickel.
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