The offensive line was one of the more talked about position groups during the spring, primarily because of the returning starting lineup that brought some stability to the group. Many view this as a tremendous opportunity for a more traditional offseason of cohesion and development to take this 2021 offense to another level.
But the depth behind starters Dare Rosenthal, Ed Ingram, Liam Shanahan, Chasen Hines and Austin Deculus will be just as important. It's a group that's looked very similar to the 2018 and 2019 offensive line, that had its struggles in year one with Joe Burrow under center but completely turned it around in 2019 en route to a Joe Moore Award.
A few of the starters this season were on the roster then and saw what it took for that 2018 line to grow into a championship caliber group by the 2019 season. Yet there are multiple backup linemen who enter their first fully healthy offseason with the program and guys that have been around the program for multiple years and should be ready to take that next step.
Anthony Bradford, Kardell Thomas, Cameron Wire and Charles Turner have been with the Tigers for at least two seasons but haven't been able to see the field all that often. In Thomas' case, the highly touted Southern Lab recruit just hasn't been able to stay healthy as ankle injuries hindered his first two years in Baton Rouge.
Veteran guard Ed Ingram is excited to see what Thomas can finally accomplish with a more traditional offseason as he'll finally be healthy enough to capitalize and improve on some of his deficiencies.
"Right now, he's still a young guy so he still has a lot to learn," Ingram said. "He's still getting down the technique and learning our new plays so I think the thing with him is he just has to stay consistent with what he's doing, which is the technique and learning the new plays and not doing the wrong things. If he can do that then he'll be alright."
Bradford appeared in seven games last season and has always been viewed as a guy with the most upside but just hasn't been able to put it together consistently yet because of conditioning concerns. But Orgeron started to see a turn in his training and development this spring and he could even challenge Hines for that right guard spot come fall.
"Anthony Bradford, if he gets it going and gets in shape, could be a guy that can factor in as a potential starter," Orgeron said at the beginning of spring. "The other guys are making progress, but they're not there yet."
Of course there are also newer players like Xavier Hill, Marlon Martinez, Marcus Dumervil and Garrett Dellinger, a few of which saw some playing time towards the end of 2020 in wins over Florida and Ole Miss. But this is a group that really needs this offseason to grow together not just with the starting unit, which had its ups and downs, but with the reserves as well.
The starters have avoided serious injury thus far but to keep those guys fresh, it'll be important to see at least a few of those backups start to play a bit more, particularly with a non-conference schedule to get through. It'll be interesting to see which players earn playing time early and if they can stick throughout the season in some capacity.