It’s always interesting when a college team has to replace a multiple-year starter.
In the case of backfilling for center P.J. Lonergan, LSU has two options in 2013, and they couldn’t be more different. The first is redshirt junior Elliott Porter, a journeyman now entering his third year in Baton Rouge who has been a backup center all the while. The second is true freshman Ethan Pocic, a fresh face on the team who starred at offensive tackle during his prep days in Lemont, Ill.
Porter, the more talkative of the two, entered Fall Camp as the starter, but he recognizes the competition provided by Pocic, whose first snaps at the position came this past spring as an early enrollee.
“Ethan is going to be a great player, if he’s not already,” conceded Porter. “He’s getting there. He’s quick, he’s strong, and he’s just a real solid freshman. To be honest, he’s one of the best I’ve seen.”
At 6-foot-7 and 301 pounds, Pocic has the distinct advantage of being the taller of the two and one of the tallest players on the offensive line. But, according to the freshman, it can work against him at times.
“The thing I’m working on the most: Because I’m so tall, I can be a little high sometimes on pass protection,” explained Pocic, who said he’s more of a natural in the run game because his high school team was run-heavy. “That’s something I’ve got to work on a little bit.”
Porter, 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, has the edge in experience. The Shaw product indicated he knows now just how valuable his time spent under Lonergan was.
“P.J. taught me a lot,” Porter recalled. “He stressed to me being quick. He taught me all the plays, how to push myself. P.J. really was a great center, and I’m just now realizing that all he taught me is helping out. It’s kinda coming to the surface now for me. I’m glad I listened.”
The younger player made no bones about the fact that Porter has paid it forward to him, helping him learn the ropes despite the fact the two are in the midst of competition for time in Fall Camp. Said Pocic: “He’s a veteran, so he definitely helps me. I ask him a lot of questions. I mean, everyday. He answers them and is happy to help. It’s really a team thing.”
And to Pocic that guidance couldn’t have come at a better time. He not only entered a new world in the spring, becoming a college student for the first time, but he first learned he’d be making the transition to a foreign position.
“It was kinda sprung on me in the spring, but I didn’t mind it,” Pocic continued. “It’s been both a mental and physical transition. Physically, you’ve got to be able to snap and step at the same time. But then you’ve also got to be able to know a lot more, with what’s going on around you and everything.”
Stuff like that is old hat at this point to Porter, who gave a lot of the credit for his development to position coach Greg Studrawa and head coach Les Miles.
Miles has spent a significant amount of time this offseason working with a young and relatively green offensive line, but, according to Porter, it’s no more than usual.
“To be honest with you, I feel like he’s always spent a lot of time with us,” answered Porter. “Coach Miles is a great offensive line coach, just like Stud is. Both of them work together, and we get better by it. Coach Miles is going to take us to a better place with technique this year. But I’ll say both of those guys working together are pretty doggone good.”
One of the things benefitting this 2013 O-Line is an infusion of talent and athleticism from the likes of newcomers Andy Dodd, K.J. Malone and Pocic. Porter told TSD it’s been something that’s forced the veterans to even take a step back and reflect upon how prepared these youngsters are.
“These are some advanced freshmen,” Porter said with a telling chuckle. “When we came in here, me and Trai Turner and our class, I don’t think we were that advanced. They know their stuff, so I give them that. And that’s a good thing for the future of this line.”
Speaking of the future, one of the big questions on the line is where Pocic will ultimately land. The player himself said at LSU Media Day even he wasn’t sure, admitting only that “as of right now, I’ve been just playing center.”
Porter offered that Pocic is capable of stepping in at any position during practice and filling needed gaps. That quality in Pocic and hunger to learn is something Porter knows will take Pocic to the next level.
“He could play anywhere across the board. It depends, if somebody’s taking a break (he might step in at another position),” explained Porter. “He’s just always trying to get reps. Always. That’s why he’s going to be great, and I believe that. And that’s coming from me, that he’s going to be great. You can quote me on that.”
The way Pocic sees it: When it’s his time, it’s his time. Until then Pocic said he’s just genuinely happy he can be part of pushing his position, his offensive line and his team to new heights.
“It’s all about trying to make the team better,” concluded Pocic. “Elliott coming out here working hard, and me working hard, we’re helping the team to improve.”
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