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LSU offensive linemen Michael Smith (67) and Garrett Brumfield (78) work in a drill against offensive lineman Leon Pinto, right, Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at LSU football practice.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

It takes steps.

That’s what LSU assistant Jeff Grimes preaches to his offensive line. Few start as freshmen on the line. It takes steps, he tells his players. Redshirts are common here more than any other position. Seasoning is key.

It takes steps.

“Being an offensive lineman is different from any other position,” guard Garrett Brumfield said. “Coach Grimes tells us you can’t be a great offensive lineman and go out there and just ball. It takes steps going into it.”

If that’s true, Brumfield is standing on the last one, the final step, the end of the staircase. He knows it, too.

“Garrett has always been a guy that’s worked hard,” Grimes said, “but I think he’s recognized that it’s now or never for him.”

Now? That’s grabbing the biggest starting opportunity he’s gotten since arriving at LSU in 2014.

Never? That’s missing out on a starting spot in his fourth year with the program.

That would be an unsettling result for a guy who emerged out of University High three years ago as ESPN’s top-ranked guard in the class. Brumfield redshirted, so he’s just a junior with one more season of eligibility left in 2018, but these chances don’t come along each year. Not one like this.

More than halfway through spring drills, he’s participating with the No. 1 group at left guard, running between left tackle K.J. Malone and center Lloyd Cushenberry.  

His main competitors appear to be midyear enrollee Austin Deculus and sophomore Donavaughn Campbell. Deculus participated with the second string at left guard Thursday, the ninth of LSU's 15-practice spring. Campbell worked with the second string at right guard.

The open guard spot on the line is one of the five most hotly competitive position battles this spring.

One of those three has much more experience than the others.

Brumfield redshirted his freshman season and then suffered two ankle injuries in a seven-month span, slowing him in preseason camp of 2015 and last spring. He played 49 snaps against Missouri last season, filling in for an injured Clapp.

It was the most snaps he’s ever played in a game.

“That’s just how it works out,” Brumfield said. “Some guys have to wait their turn. I never can say I felt mad or salty or angry at any time. Everything happens for a reason.”

There’s more going on among Grimes’ group than this tussle at guard.

This is a different time for the line. Brumfield’s big chance here in spring comes without a man named Les Miles looking over Grimes’ shoulders during offensive line drills — a common occurrence the last few years. Like every other position group, the line is learning a new system under a new head coach and offensive coordinator.

Matt Canada’s variable offensive scheme is a change for everyone in some way.

The receivers are affected in the most physically exhausting manor, with all of the presnap shifts and motions. The quarterbacks are saddled with the biggest mental burden. Running backs have it the easiest, and tight ends and fullbacks have now formed a completely new position — H-back.

How is the offensive line affected? Communication.

“Normally when (offensive players) are all moving before the snap, that means the defense is moving, which changes our calls,” redshirt junior Will Clapp said. “We had to change a little bit how to communicate. There’s a new system put in place for how we ID things. It changed, but it’s similar stuff to what we used to do. We’ve just got to be more aware of what’s happening.”

Canada’s scheme brings other changes, too. His penchant for misdirection runs could give the line an advantage on their blocking assignments.

“Maybe sometimes they might do something in the backfield that can freeze the linebacker and maybe give me a little more time to get there,” Brumfield said, “get some guys to flow in a different direction.”

Meanwhile, the battle at guard rages. It’s tough to predict an outcome, but it’s Brumfield who holds the advantage. Deculus was in high school just three months ago, and Campbell, still recovering from December shoulder surgery, is limited this spring.

That leaves the guy they call “Bruiser.”

Brumfield’s spring has mostly been spent on a technique he sometimes struggles with: weight balance. He leans forward too much during some plays, shifting too much weight to his front side and throwing him off balance during blocks.

It seems so subtle, and it is.

It’s, maybe, his last step.

“Coach Grimes always tells us every day, ‘Offensive line plays as a whole,’” Brumfield said. “It’s a game of inches. Your head’s off by 2 inches, hand is off by 2 inches and your foot is off by 3 inches. That’s the difference between a touchdown and loss of 3.”


This is the fourth of a five-part series running this spring about LSU’s five most hotly competitive starting positions.

GUARD

  • Garrett Brumfield, RS junior
  • Donavaughn Campbell, sophomore
  • Austin Deculus, freshman
  • Adrian Magee, RS sophomore

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.