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LSU offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles (77) runs in a drill during spring practice, Thursday, March 21, 2019, on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

Ed Orgeron called his 20-year-old offensive tackle into his office and flipped on the film.

The LSU head coach pointed out his player's footwork, the depth of his bending knees.

Saahdiq Charles watched closely, noting his errors. He could see how he was supposed to move, how he'd seen NFL tackles Trent Williams and Tyron Smith bend and pound forward in the film collection that offensive line coach James Cregg had made for him.

The 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior caught himself being a little wild with his feet last season, he said, being all over the place at times while in pass protection in the 10 games he started in 2018 at left tackle.

Frustrations existed throughout that season, when LSU ranked 106th nationally with 35 total sacks allowed. And the times when it was Charles' defender that got to quarterback Joe Burrow, Charles tried not to get caught up in the moment, tried to move on to the next play.

Charles is still mastering a position he began playing in the final three games of his junior year of high school, and Orgeron has named the third-year starter among the offensive linemen that must improve in 2019.

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The position group has been unstable since Charles arrived on campus, and the unit's injuries, suspensions and departures thrust Charles into a situation where he was starting earlier than any LSU lineman since at least World War II.

He played through a lingering shoulder injury from high school during the 2017 season, had surgery and he was limited to no contact during spring football before the 2018 season.

It wasn't until this past winter that Charles started feeling 100 percent, LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt said in May, and Charles is now going into the 2019 season at full strength for the first time in his college career.

"Now I feel like I'm in way better shape, physically, mentally, knowing the whole playbook," Charles said Tuesday. "Being able to go as hard as I can whenever I want."

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Bend but don't break

Right before the Mississippi high school football playoffs began in 2015, Madison-Ridgeland Academy needed a new left tackle.

The private school just 15 miles north of Jackson had lost its starter because of an injury, Madison-Ridgeland coach Herbert Davis remembers, and he turned to an athletic defensive lineman to fill the void.

Charles had never played offensive line before. He'd played some tight end, but he'd grown comfortable on the defensive line. He even had a few scholarship offers to play at schools like Memphis and Southern Miss, Davis said.

But this was Madison-Ridgeland — a school that Patriots wide receiver coach John Weaver said is "kind of like O-line University" — the alma mater of former Mississippi State guard Justin Malone and Ole Miss center Sean Rawlings.

Charles had the same size and skills.

"I convinced him if you want to go big, big time, you ought to go to offense," Davis said.

Charles was raw in his transition, but he made up for his lack in technique with his quickness in pass protection.

"He moved like a linebacker," said Kenny Williams, Charles' offensive line coach at Madison-Ridgeland. "He was so athletic he could get to the guy before he got there. We thought, if he ever figures it out, he's going to embarrass some people."

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The Patriots had a two-round run in the Mississippi state playoffs that season, and Williams began to work with Charles on the fundamentals of playing offensive line, how to bend the hips and the knees.

It's an awkward technique to master, learning how to run and push and pivot while maintaining a squatted stance; but it's the essential piece that every successful lineman must learn.

Williams remembered a story of when a Southeastern Conference offensive line coach came in to watch a recruit in the weight room, and when he saw the player couldn't squat without falling, he left, not needing to see anything else.

"If you can't play offensive line bent like that, you're not going to be able to play in that level of football," Williams said.

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'He would dribble around them'

Charles already possessed exceptional footwork.

Long before he was protecting quarterbacks, he was protecting nets as a soccer goalkeeper.

Futbol was the first love for Charles, a New Orleans native whose family was uprooted by Hurricane Katrina and moved to Texas, Georgia, and Alabama before taking root in Madison, Mississippi, when he was in the seventh grade.

Charles said he played forward, the attacking position which usually scores the most goals, until the goalkeeper on his 12-under team got hurt. Charles filled in, and he continued to play goalkeeper at St. Joseph Catholic school until he transferred to Madison-Ridgeland after his sophomore year.

Williams remembers standing next to Madison-Ridgeland's soccer coach when the brawny Charles first joined his new teammates.

Charles had a few inches and at least 100 pounds on any of the other soccer players on the field, Williams said, and the soccer coach determined aloud: "That dude's a goalie."

Charles flipped the ball from foot to foot with crisp dribbles, and after a few minutes of maneuvering around the field with ease, the soccer coach spoke again: "That dude is not a goalie."

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Turns out, Charles turned into a sort of hybrid.

Charles became an all-state goalie, and sometimes, Williams said, he'd get pulled out to play forward and "dribble around little bitty guys."

"He would dribble around them, and everybody's jaws would drop," Williams said. "They couldn't believe how athletic he was."

Charles could run a 4.9-second 40-yard dash at his weight, Williams said, and by the time he left Mississippi, he'd also set the state record in the shot put with a toss of 52 feet, 10¾ inches.

The Patriots soccer teams made a state championship appearance with Charles between the posts in his junior season, and they reached the state semifinals during his senior year.

No collegiate future in soccer ever emerged, Williams said, because it was well known that Charles had his mind set on playing football.

But what did Charles like most about his time as goalkeeper?

"The pressure," he said.

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'Everything should work out'

Davis saw his phone ring with a familiar number and answered.

"Tell me who Saahdiq Charles is," Davis remembered former LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes saying.

"You saw him?" Davis said.

"Hell yeah, I did," Grimes said.

Charles had made rapid improvement in his technique during the offseason before his senior year, and after attending a recruiting combine, he had caught Grimes' attention.

Undoubtedly Charles was going to return to his home state, Davis said, but he ascended as a recruit until his offers included Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

When Charles arrived in Baton Rouge, expectations to slowly work into the lineup vanished when projected starting right guard Maea Teuhema was suspended due to academics at the start of preseason camp.

Charles battled with then-true freshman Ed Ingram for the starting job, and when Orgeron announced Charles would start in the season-opener against BYU, Charles became the first LSU true freshman to start on the offensive line in Week 1 in the modern era of college football, according to the school.

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Ingram won the job at right guard in Week 2, and Charles entered the starting lineup for the final seven games of the 2017 season when starting left tackle K.J. Malone suffered a knee injury that kept him out until LSU's 21-17 Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

Charles was named to the All-SEC freshman team, and he was expected to lead a deeper offensive line in 2018, with the addition of junior college transfer Badara Traore, who was ranked the No. 1 junior college tackle.

Instead, more tumult followed.

Ingram was suspended indefinitely at the start of the 2018 preseason camp after being arrested for aggravated sexual assault (a case that is still ongoing); starting right tackle Adrian Magee suffered a leg injury in Week 1; Traore struggled in his first season, which brought right tackle Austin Deculus to start in Magee's place; and left guard Garrett Brumfield missed four games in the middle of the season because of a knee injury.

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Charles also missed three games, returning from injury, and it wasn't until Week 9 against Alabama that LSU began to have a consistent starting lineup of offensive linemen.

And the protection issues of last season were addressed in the offseason with the hiring of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, a former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant whose spread offensive schemes include quick passes that should alleviate defensive pressure.

In July, Brady claimed statistics have proven when a team is in five-man protections, it will give up fewer sacks.

Now, a month from the start of the 2019 season, Charles is seeing the new offense take hold.

"It's helped a lot," Charles said, "but I think the most that's helped us a lot is us taking the next step and realizing that it starts with the big man, and at the end of the day, it falls on us. And as long as we can keep Joe clean and open holes for the running back, everything should work out."

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