Maea Teuhema among leading contenders for LSU's left tackle job

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Maea Teuhema did not expect to start 11 games on LSU’s offensive line last season. He didn’t even expect to play.

“I didn’t even think I was going to see the field at all as a freshman coming into the SEC,” said Teuhema, the No. 71 overall prospect and No. 2 offensive guard in the 2015 ESPN 300. “I was just like, ‘There’s no way,’ but I worked my butt off and I got some playing time.”

He got more than “some” playing time. Teuhema took over as the Tigers’ left guard in the second half of the opener against Mississippi State and basically held down the job for the rest of the season.

By the end of the fall, he ranked fourth on LSU’s offensive line in snaps played (708) and knockdown blocks (63) and he learned enough on the job that he has a chance to fill NFL early entrant Jerald Hawkins’ spot as the starting left tackle.

“I’m more confident with my style and my technique and doing my job,” Teuhema said of what he gained by starting as a true freshman in the SEC.

Playing tackle, where he starred in high school, will be a daunting challenge, however. Left tackles are generally charged with protecting their quarterback’s blind side -- frequently doing so against the opponent’s best pass-rusher. Teuhema surrendered 3.5 sacks last season at guard, tying for the most on the team, and he realizes he will have a lot more space to patrol if he shifts outside from the guard spot he occupied last season.

“At tackle, you just have more space to work with. At guard, you always have help from both sides,” Teuhema said. “It’s a little bit different.”

Teuhema said he, K.J. Malone and redshirt freshman Chidi Okeke are all working at left tackle, while sophomore Toby Weathersby and redshirt freshman George Brown Jr. are competing to fill Vadal Alexander’s spot as the starting right tackle.

Teuhema is still practicing at left guard along with Will Clapp, who is also taking reps at center while senior Ethan Pocic recovers from offseason hip surgery. Teuhema said Josh Boutte and Garrett Brumfield have been practicing at right guard this spring.

“[Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes is] going to mix us around a lot this spring, see where we work best, find a person for each spot,” Teuhema said.

Grimes has made that his normal mode of operation during spring practice and preseason camp, and sometimes the experimentation stretched all the way into the regular season. Teuhema did not realize he would become a starter last season until practice week started for the second game against Auburn.

“I didn’t know I was going to start the next game. I thought he just had me in for that half [against Mississippi State],” Teuhema said. “Then we started practice the next week and he put me in with the ones and said, ‘Maea, you’re starting now.’ That’s when I found out I was starting.”

By this point, he’s a fixture in Grimes’ lineup. It’s just a question of which spot he will occupy. He experienced some highs and lows last fall, as most freshman linemen do, but Teuhema made the most of the first opportunity Grimes presented. This spring will show what he can do with the second.

“Coach always told us, ‘Whenever your time comes, you’ve got to show us you can do it,’ so that’s what I did,” Teuhema said.