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LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes speaks to players during the loss at Alabama.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

During the first two weeks of preseason camp in August, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes did not have enough healthy scholarship linemen to create two five-man groups.

At one point during LSU’s 37-7 loss at Mississippi State, the Tigers had four healthy scholarship defensive linemen available. And later on in the season, LSU played the majority of a 17-16 win at Florida with three true freshman on the offensive line.

“We need to get more linemen on this football team,” coach Ed Orgeron said then. “We need to get bigger, stronger, faster, and we need to have more depth.”

Mission accomplished.

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The Tigers went big — physically — with their 2018 signing class, a haul that is not yet complete but is already a hefty load. Eighteen players signed with the program Wednesday, Day 1 of the new three-day early signing period.

[RELATED: Click here to see LSU's 2018 class so far, according to 247 Sports.]

A whopping 10 of them are offensive or defensive linemen (with another line commitment set to sign Friday). Seven of those 10 are projected by recruiting services as tackles — a critical position of need for a squad that has already lost or will lose a wave of big men to attrition and graduation. Five offensive linemen transferred during the past offseason, and five defensive linemen are seniors, including three starters.

“We had to address some needs,” said recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Tommie Robinson, speaking on a signing day show Wednesday that the school operated and streamed on its website.

“This is a big man’s game,” Robinson continued. “We wanted to address some needs up front. We did shore up some defensive woes up front — linebackers and D-linemen. (Got) fortunate with the offensive linemen. We feel good about what we did up front.”

With as many as seven more spots left to fill, the 2018 class is already one of the more line-heavy groups in recent LSU history. The seven tackles are the most in a class since at least 2008. The 10 linemen are second-highest over that stretch.

The linemen range in size and specialty.

There are the lighter, pass-rushing athletes: Bastrop native and Mississippi junior college player Travez Moore, Dallas’ Jarell Cherry (a commit set to sign Friday) and possibly Ferriday’s Dantrieze Scott, a potential edge rusher/outside linebacker guy.

There are the big boy interior linemen, too: Texas native Chasen Hines, Ferriday standout Dare Rosenthal, Evangel product Davin Cotton, Plaquemine’s Nelson Jenkins and nose tackle Dominic Livingston. Orgeron described Livingston as weighing more than 370 pounds — but, he said, “we love him.”

The group of signed tackles is a hefty one. They weigh a combined 2,244 pounds (average of 320.5) and three of them are at least 6-foot-6 or taller.

“We needed to rebuild our lines,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said on the show. “I felt like we did that. The front people and the future with those guys is exciting."

New O-line coach James Cregg’s unit got a boost, too. The top-ranked tackle in junior college football, Massachusetts’ Badara Traore, signed with the Tigers after a late push from Tennessee.

Another junior college player, guard Damien Lewis, signed. So did Mississippi center Cole Smith and East Ascension's Cameron Wire. Smith, Traore and Lewis plan to enroll in school in January — immediate help for a line that could be losing a host of starters.

Left tackle KJ Malone is a senior, and three juniors are draft-eligible: guard Garrett Brumfield, center Will Clapp and right tackle Toby Weathersby.

“We had to start with the lines,” Orgeron said on the school’s signing day show. “It's a big man's game. Game is won up front. We wanted to get big. Wanted to go with size. We got it.”

He got plenty more, of course — a running back and tight end from Florida and two Louisiana-bred receivers and linebackers.

LSU’s signing day presented no real surprises. Not all 21 commitments (including kicker Cole Tracy, a Division II transfer) were expected to sign, and they did not.

Parkway’s Terrace Marhsall, the top-ranked receiver in the nation who’s considered to be leaning LSU, is scheduled to announce his commitment and sign Friday, the final day of this inaugural event. The NCAA passed the 72-hour early signing period in the spring, signaling a new era of sorts in college football. Most major schools expect to sign all of their verbal commitments this week, roughly 60-80 percent of their classes.

It opens the door to a boat race in January for a handful of highly rated targets as coaches jockey to complete their 25-player classes by the traditional signing day, this year on Feb. 7.

“Still got work to do,” Robinson said Wednesday. “We’ll assess everything we’ve gotten today and throughout this signing period and we will go back to the drawing board and see what’s there and the things we need to get. We’ve got to finish this class strong. There are more needs we need. We’ll continue to push.”

What are those? Receiver is one. Marshall is out there and so is Rummel’s JaMarr Chase. Also, the Tigers may pursue another running back, like Alabama’s Harold Joiner or Hahnville superstar Pooka Williams. LSU is targeting a handful of defensive backs, too.

Landing a few of the above will help boost this class' ranking, which is lower than in years past. After five straight unanimous top-10 signing classes, the current 20-commitment class is ranked 11th (Rivals), 13th (247) and 12th (ESPN).

For now, though, it's all about the beef.

“There was a game earlier this season in which LSU had four scholarship defensive linemen,” said Gordy Rush, the team’s sideline reporter and an analyst on the four-hour signing day show. “If you’re going to play in the SEC, you need bodies. Dave Aranda is happy to see some bodies. Immediate help for this front seven.”


BIG UGLIES

Signing class

Linemen

Specified as tackles

2018*

11

7

2017

9

4

2016

12

6

2015

7

4

2014

8

2

2013

12

4

2012

5

3

2011

8

4

2010

6

1

2009

10

5

2008

10

5

*LSU still has 7 spots to fill in the 2018 class


IN THE RANKINGS

Signing year

Rivals

247Sports

ESPN

2018*

11

13

12

2017

8

7

7

2016

6

2

3

2015

8

6

10

2014

2

2

2

2013

6

6

7

2012

18

14

14

2011

6

8

10

2010

6

8

8

2009

2

1

1

2008

11

12

11

*Class is not yet complete; this is a ranking of LSU’s commitments/signees as of 3 p.m.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.