Jerald Hawkins looked baffled. Why am I being asked my shoe size?
“Oh!” LSU’s junior lineman realizes with his patented laugh. “La’el and I wear the same size!”
Hawkins has big shoes to fill at left tackle – 15s to be specific. The oft-used cliché applies here. After all, he steps into a spot vacated by La’el Collins, a two-year starter at the line’s most important position and a projected first-round NFL draft pick.
Hawkins is one of a handful of familiar faces at different places on an LSU offensive line undergoing a dose of musical chairs early in spring practice. Two drills into a 15-practice schedule, the shifting is becoming clear.
Hawkins, right tackle last season, is at left tackle. Vadal Alexander, left guard last year, is at right tackle. Ethan Pocic slides from right guard to center, where he started a handful of games in 2014.
Redshirt reshmen Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield and sophomore K.J. Malone appear to be battling for the two guard spots.
Meanwhile, they’re surrounded by veterans – just at different positions.
“It doesn’t really feel like a whole new unit,” Hawkins said. “We have that chemistry built it from last year.”
Outside of a spotlight-stealing quarterback battle, the offensive line might garner the most attention of any spring practice position duel. Collins and center Elliott Porter are gone from a unit that’s again expected to be an anchor of a run-heavy offensive attack.
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has plenty of time to tinker and experiment with the group. For now, Hawkins and Alexander seem to have the most secure positions at the two tackles.
Alexander, in fact, said he’s exclusively working at tackle, hopping between right and left. There are no plans to play him at guard this season.
Hawkins appears to be set at left tackle, though. It’s a position he’s enjoying. The biggest adjustment: battling quicker defensive players on the edge. Defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Sione Teuhema have tested the 6-foot-6, 309-pound Hawkins during practice.
There’s been a lot of trash talking.
“We talk every day, running our mouth at each other. You’ve got to be more aware of the speed coming off of the edge,” Hawkins said. “It’s like power on the right, but coming through that left side is a lot of speed.”
Clapp, Brumfield and Malone are gunning for the two guard jobs. Clapp said he’s also been working at center, with his focus at left guard. Brumfield, the highly touted University High rookie who redshirted last season, has primarily been working at right guard.
Malone, a guy coach Les Miles said Saturday would start at some position, was working at left guard Tuesday during the viewing portion of practice.
Brumfield might have the best opportunity to play this season of the trio. The former four star recruit sat out last season and learned “a lot,” he said. Brumfield didn’t necessarily plan on redshirting, but he didn’t expect to play as a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference.
“You’re going against the best guys on defense. The same ones you see on Saturdays is the defense I practiced with the whole year,” Brumfield said. “It was good. I enjoyed it. Going into it, redshirting wasn’t … it’s never the happiest thing for anybody. It ended up being a good thing.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.