Ask Paul Lounsberry, now in his second year as offensive line coach at Southern University, how well his troops performed last season.
It takes him about, oh, one-tenth of a second to answer. There’s no sugar coating. There’s no spin.
“It was horrible last year,” Lounsberry said. “Horrible.”
And if the Jaguars offense is to play better this season, it has to get better results from the big men up front.
From California to Florida and everywhere in between, it’s a commonly held belief that quarterbacks, receivers and running backs can’t do much of anything without a strong offensive line.
Last season, no one seemed to prove it quite like Southern.
Simply put, the offensive line didn’t allow quarterbacks enough time to throw, and it didn’t open enough holes for running backs to get through.
That, obviously, was a big problem.
Need proof? The Jaguars finished last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in rushing offense (90.4 yards per game) and last in total offense (308.9 yards per game), and the line gave up 26 sacks.
As preseason camp continues at Southern, offensive coaches say they’re encouraged by what they see from their linemen. They have two dependable veterans, not to mention a little more depth.
If nothing else, they have another year of experience under Lounsberry.
“Last year ... we were playing a couple guys who probably shouldn’t have been playing,” Lounsberry said. “This time, we’ve just got to have some guys step up, and I think we will.”
No one has concerns about junior Chris Browne, who’s been rock-solid in two-plus seasons as the team’s starting left tackle.
Wednesday morning, in fact, a media group called Beyond Sports Network, which covers the Football Championship Subdivision and lower levels of college football, named Browne to its preseason All-America second team.
Then there’s senior Lee Almanza, a mainstay on the Southern line and one of the team’s most consistent players.
After starting at guard and right tackle the past two seasons, Almanza has moved to center, where he replaces Ramon Chinyoung.
Almanza changed positions during spring practice, but he sprained a knee and hyperextended an elbow, which left him a little farther behind schedule.
He said he made up for the lost time.
“This summer, I kind of exceeded my expectations,” said Almanza, who spent the offseason back home in Houston.
“Now, I’m going to try to be a better leader.”
Taylon Jones, who started at left guard as a true freshman last season, will probably stay where he is, as long as he’s healthy (at the moment, Jones has what appears to be a minor wrist injury).
That leaves right guard and right tackle.
At the moment, here’s how it looks.
Aaron Hall, who started at right guard as a true freshman, is in the mix - but so is Dwayne Houston, a 318-pound giant who redshirted last season while practicing at right tackle.
If Houston can stay inside at guard, that opens a spot at right tackle for Clinton Boyd, who redshirted in 2009 - earning preseason praise from then-coach Pete Richardson - but was academically ineligible last season.
Boyd has missed the past two days with a shoulder injury.
“If he gets back in time to catch up, that’s probably where we’ll go back,” Lounsberry said. “But if not, then we’ll have to adjust, to see who’s healthy and go from there.”
Lounsberry said that if the team is in a pinch, it could probably move Houston back to right tackle.
At the moment, Hall is cross-training at right tackle.
“It’s not going to hurt any for him to learn,” Lounsberry said.
The offensive line is also a whole lot deeper than it’s been in recent memory. Though six players are true freshmen, SU has as many as 13 linemen on a given day - a drastic increase from recent memory (in 2007, for example, the Jaguars made it through an entire season with only seven linemen).
But for now, the preseason work continues, and it hasn’t been perfect.
Almanza and the quarterbacks have botched a handful of snaps, though Lounsberry said the senior is “doing a pretty good job” at his new position.
Boyd and Jones have missed practice time.
And when Browne left a practice session earlier this week, his absence highlighted the mix-and-match experiment Lounsberry has undertaken during training camp.
For a while, freshman Brandon Thibodeaux practiced at left tackle, and Aaron Hall moved to right tackle.
The boss, Stump Mitchell, said he’s not so sure that would happen in a real game.
However the starting lineup works, Lounsberry said, his troops will be better.
He’s not the only one who thinks so.
“It’s going to be different because we’re going to be more disciplined. We’re going to do things the right way,” Almanza said.
“Hopefully guys have their mind right (and) they don’t want to go 2-9 again. I know I don’t want to go 2-9.”
POSITION COACH: Paul Lounsberry.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Left tackle Chris Browne, left guard Taylon Jones, center Lee Almanza, right guard Dwayne Houston, right tackle Clinton Boyd.
ON THE BENCH: Aaron Hall, Johnathan Preston, Julius Magee, Allan Spry, Brandon Thibodeaux, Donald Glover, Zach Brown, Isaiah Webster.
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON: Of the projected top five linemen, two - Houston and Boyd - have not played in a college game.
RISING STAR: Browne. Since returning from a 2008 knee injury, Browne has started at left tackle for most of the past two years. He is Southern’s only first-team preseason All-SWAC selection.
LETTERMEN LOST: Center Ramon Chinyoung, guard Roddrell Stewart.
NUMBER OF NOTE: 26. Southern allowed 26 sacks last season - twice as many as 2009, when the Jaguars allowed a SWAC-low 13 sacks.
QUOTABLE: “We’ll be a lot better. I think we’ve got better players right now. We’ll miss Chinyoung and Roddrell a little bit, but we’ve got guys that we played a lot last year, guys that are coming back. We have some experience now, and I think they’ll be better. We’ve got some freshmen that I’ve been really pleased with so far.”