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Cushenberry III ready to protect for an explosive Broncos offense

After learning how to play center via YouTube videos, the rookie offensive lineman couldn’t be happier with his new assignment to help the Broncos’ o-line protect Drew Lock and his weapons.

LSU v Florida Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Imagine being drafted in the NFL to play a position that four years earlier you learned via YouTube.

It seems implausible in today’s pro game, given the high level of so many college players who don’t even make it to the NFL.

But if you’re a quick study, and you want to improve badly enough, a little online help can go a long way.

At least it did for Lloyd Cushenberry III, the Broncos’ newly drafted center from LSU, who by all accounts was a total steal at No. 83 in the third round.

Recruited by the Tigers out of Dutchtown High School, Cushenberry knew he wasn’t big enough to play tackle at the next level - and he didn’t know how to snap the ball.

“I definitely knew I had to learn how to snap the ball. I never had, so I just went on YouTube one day and found a few videos of an old Washington Redskins O-Line coach teaching people how to snap,” Cushenberry said. “I really just watched the video, and right after that, went outside and started taking some snaps. After a while and a lot of repetition, it just became a habit and I just kind of got it down pat.”

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound center took a redshirt year as a freshman at LSU and by his junior season was named first-team All-SEC. He admits that not being heavily recruited and redshirting his first season were a little tough, but he’s not complaining about how anything has worked out.

“Going into LSU, I was one of the last guys to sign, not a lot of people knew about me...and that year was tough, but at the same time I took it as an opportunity to get better and to learn from the older guys ahead of me,” he said, naming Seahawks’ guard Ethan Pocic and Saints’ tackle Will Clapp. “Those guys really took me underneath their wings and showed me the ropes. They showed me how to watch film and how to play the game. ...I wouldn’t be the same player without that year.”

And that player was a beast on the Tigers’ line.

Jordan Reid of The Draft Network calls Cushenberry an “above-average athlete that seeks contact at every possible opportunity:

“There’s rarely ever plays or instances where he’s caught play-watching or observing the action happening around him. A scrappy and competitive player in the box, but his game shines when asked to get out on the perimeter in space to make blocks. Even though the offense that he operated in was reluctant with getting blockers/targets in space, when situations did occur, Cushenberry looked extremely comfortable and alert in open space.”

As the anchor of an offensive line that also claimed the 2019 Joe Moore Award - which is given to college football’s best unit overall - Cushenberry was also the school’s first o-lineman to win the school’s prestigious No. 18 jersey.

Given in honor of Matt Mauck, the former LSU quarterback who led the Tigers in 2003 to their first national championship win since 1958, the No. 18 is bestowed upon a team leader both on the field and in the classroom. Since Cushenberry couldn’t wear the No. 18 as an offensive lineman, he wore a No. 18 patch on his No. 79 jersey.

Zachary Junda, managing editor of SBNation’s LSU Tigers site, And the Valley Shook, could not say enough about the center’s leadership qualities and talent. In fact, his answer as to how much of the success of the nation’s best offense and Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow had to do with Cushenberry was “A lot. Like, a whole lot.”

“LSU ran a new, spread out system last season, and Cushenberry was the one making all the calls along the line. And he was absolutely LOVED by teammates,” Junda said, referencing the No. 18 award. “And consider this: he was voted the team’s MVP. Not the Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow; not Ja’Marr Chase, the Bilentikoff Award winner, not any of those playmakers at the skill positions who had career years playing in this high-flying offense. It was good ole Lloyd Cushenberry who made that LSU team one of the best in college football history.”

Cushenberry is far more humble about his accolades, noting that those are on par with being drafted by the Broncos.

“Both those things mean the world to me to be in this position, get drafted by a great organization,” he said, adding that the “future’s bright” for the Denver Broncos. “I can’t wait to be a part of it and try to do my part to get some wins.”

The incoming rookie says the biggest challenge for him moving to the pros will be learning a new offense - but for a guy who learned to play his position from YouTube, studying seems to be a strength.

“I feel like the biggest challenge for me is just understanding the playbook, but at the same time, I also feel like that is one of my strengths,” he said. “I put in a lot of work, as far as doing things on my own, and taking accountability to learn the playbook. I know it’s going to be different from a college system, but I feel like I’m ready for that challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”

Having played one season under former LSU passing game coordinator and current Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Cushenberry got used to five-man protection and picking up different blitzes. As the center, it was his primary job to call out the protection. The Louisiana native sees that experience as a benefit when he moves to the next level.

“I think it will be huge...We had to deal with a lot of different blitzes and had to pick them up on the fly most of the time,” he said. “I know in the NFL it’s not as much five-man pro, so I feel like just having that year in the NFL-style system with Coach Brady has helped me a lot. I’m just looking forward to getting to Denver and diving into that playbook to see what we can do.”

And he’s excited to do it for his new fellow offensive rookie wide receivers, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.

“Those are two explosive receivers, but just having a bunch of young guys around me, I love it,” he said. “We’re going to grow together and have to go through some things, but at the end of the day we are going to get better, and I look forward to being a very explosive offense. I can’t wait.”