For so long, LSU right tackle Jerald Hawkins walked to the line of scrimmage, studied the linebackers and defensive line and made a decision on blocking.
He never looked beyond the front seven. He never needed to – or so he thought.
“I didn’t realize that if you know what the cornerback is going to do and the safety, it makes it a lot easier,” Hawkins said. “You can pick up blitzes much easier.”
Now LSU’s offensive line has been introduced to the entire field.
The teacher: new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
Grimes arrived in January with much fanfare on his recruiting prowess – remember, while at Auburn he swiped Greg Robinson out of Louisiana – but his teaching skills shouldn’t be overlooked, linemen say.
He’s driving home technique, they say – it’s nearly an obsession for the 45-year-old Texan.
He’s equipping the line with new tools, they say – jump sets and kick slides, to name a few.
And he’s jamming to classic R&B from his second floor office – “He’s always playing some good stuff,” center Elliott Porter said.
This is Jeff Grimes, an easygoing teacher of the game, a former Texas El-Paso guard who says he craves to return to the game as a player with the knowledge he currently holds.
Grimes can’t do that, but he’s instilling it to his team
“I really asked the players to learn the game of football,” Grimes said. “Not just understand your role on this play but to see the whole field, understand coverages, recognize keys to zone pressure. A lot of things a lot of offensive linemen don’t get.”
That means studying for a group of players never before expected to learn if a secondary is playing man or zone and if safeties are in a Cover-2 or Cover-3.
Imagine a dozen 300-pounders gathered in a room studying the Xs and Os of a defensive secondary.
They’ve been having fun with it. You know, challenging each other with pop quizzes.
So who’s the smartest?
Right guard Evan Washington breaks into a big chuckle.
“I’d like to say myself,” he said, “but probably Ethan Pocic.”
Hawkins says Porter has the edge in the information-consuming battle.
Either way, LSU linemen are growing in somewhere other than the biceps, triceps and quads. Their brain’s in full gear.
“You’ve got to be willing to learn,” Hawkins said. “We’re all open-minded and willing to learn. We’re like freshmen in high school still trying to learn the offense.”
Grimes stumbled upon an ideal situation.
LSU’s offensive line is expected to be the team’s strength. It returns four of five starters, and at least three of those players could find themselves on an NFL team’s big board next spring.
In all, the four returners have started 73 games.
The left side of the unit – Vadal Alexander and La’el Collins – was named by NFL.com as one of the nation’s best line duos.
Grimes took over a good group, and he’s trying to make them great.
“He’s opening our minds as an offensive line,” Hawkins said.
Grimes replaced longtime O-line coach Greg Studrawa, who was forced to resign following the 2013 season.
The transition wasn’t necessarily easy. Players still speak of Studrawa as a father-like figure to them, a guy in which they had built a long-standing relationship.
“It’s something you have to get used to,” Porter said of the transition. “Everybody has to get used to something different – that’s life. That’s how things go.”
Grimes’ laidback personality made the move easier.
Players often visit him in his office. Before reaching his door, they know if Grimes is present.
If he’s there, linemen will hear 80s and 90s hip hop wafting from the room. Grimes is a fan of listening to classic R&B on the internet radio site Pandora.
“That surprised me,” a smiling Washington said.
Porter describes Grimes as a humble and down-to-earth man, a guy “trying to teach us how to be real men,” the senior said.
They have to be experts, too – of the entire field.
“The big picture,” Washington said. “Say we have a certain play and formation and we see the safeties roll over the top – that determines certain blitzes defenses can do. Knowing what everybody on the field is doing helps with the big picture.”