Jeff Grimes is beginning Year 4 at LSU.
He almost can’t believe it when he says it out loud.
“Four,” he said during an interview Thursday at LSU’s coaches clinic, “that ties for the most I’ve been at one place.”
Double that number — so, eight — and you have the amount of healthy scholarship offensive linemen Grimes has to work with this spring. It’s not ideal. How did it get this way?
Two players transferred or are transferring over the offseason: tackle Chidi Okeke and center Andy Dodd. He lost two starters to graduation in center Ethan Pocic and guard Josh Boutte.
Two projected starters, center/guard Will Clapp and tackle Toby Weathersby, are out for spring while recovering from shoulder procedures, and sophomore guard Donavaughn Campbell is limited, for now, while also recovering from shoulder surgery.
Grimes sees the glass half full in this particular situation, as he's able to see young guys like Lloyd Cushenberry, at center, and Jakori Savage, at tackle, play with the starting group.
Grimes discussed that and an assortment of other topics in this Q&A. He talked about how true freshman Austin Deculus is fitting in, why Maea Teuhema won’t play tackle this year and how it’s “now or never” for redshirt junior Garrett Brumfield.
He touches on the injury status of Campbell, the Ponchatoula product who Grimes hopes can return to live action in the next two weeks. He also dabbles in LSU's situation at center, where Cushenberry is proving that he may be able to handle the load, potentially sending Clapp, projected as LSU's center, back to guard.
How is Austin Deculus fitting in and where do you have him playing?
He’s playing right tackle now. He’s a guy that I think can play guard or tackle, especially with Toby being out for the spring. Just trying to develop as many tackles as I can. We’ll see where he ends up fitting in once we get through the spring.
Who are your tackles when you look right now?
Without question, Toby and K.J. (Malone) are the two guys going into next season. It would be their jobs to lose. I don’t foresee either one of them losing that job. You always say everyone’s got to earn their job each year, right? But I think both of those guys are good enough players and I think if Toby can stay healthy, I think he can be the best right tackle in the league. Looking at how he played the latter half of the year, after missing five or six games early in the year, he was one of our top three producers in terms of how he graded out.
I introduced him to the Six Million Dollar Man. I give him a hard time. 'We’re getting you rebuilt and now you can actually play and not be hurt all of the time.'
Those two will be the major guys I think, with Austin, Jakori Savage, Willie Allen being guys who are young and developing.
You mentioned that you want to keep Maea Teuhema inside at guard this season, unlike last year when he spent most of his time at the tackles and rotated some at guard. Why?
That’s his best position. He can play tackle, but he’s going to play his best at guard. Obviously, the first thing you have to do is get your best five on the field, but right behind that, you want to try to get your best guys in the spot where they can play their best.
He’s the kind of guy, with his build, he’s going to play better in short spaces and is doing a nice job, playing better than he has.
LSU defensive lineman Isaiah Washington will miss the rest of spring practice after being ru…
How tough was it last year, him rotating between tackle and guard?
Tough. It was tough. Had to play both tackles, played some guard. He had to practice at all of those positions. Anytime you spread your wealth, you weaken it, right? I think it will definitely help him if we can put him in a spot and leave him there.
Where is Donavaughn Campbell at getting healthy and where’s he fit in?
He’s playing guard. I think that’s his position without question. It’s hard to say where he is right now, just because he hasn’t been able to do anything other than drill work. We’re hoping in the next week or two he’ll be able to get some live reps. We’ll see where he is.
Jakori Savage is running with the starting group at right tackle with Toby out. How’s he progressing? He’s getting broken in huh?
Oh yeah, he’s getting broken in. He’s recognizing what it takes to play at this level. He’s making progress. He’s really made some nice strides the last couple of days, but a long way to go.
Ed Orgeron said earlier this week that this is Garrett Brumfield’s “time.” What kind of an opportunity does he have?
Garrett’s had the best spring that I’ve seen from him. He’s playing better football now than he ever has, which he should be. He’s taking advantage of this opportunity. Garrett has always been a guy that’s worked hard, but I think he’s recognized that it’s now or never for him.
He’s doing a nice job. He really is. He’s made as much improvement, if not more, than anybody in the spring.
He’s playing left guard now, I know. That where he’s staying?
He can play either (side). Both of our guards can play either. Sometimes you end up saying, ‘This guy can play left and this guy can play right.’ Say one of them got hurt, either of those guys could move over if you had a young guy who you only wanted to train on one side.
Devin White acted "childish" — that’s his word for his early days at LSU last year.
You’ve got eight healthy scholarship bodies this spring. How difficult does that make your job?
It makes it harder, but it’s really a benefit, because I know what Will Clapp can do. I know what Toby can do. To put the pressure on those young guys … because it’s different for those guys when they go with the 1s. For Lloyd (Cushenberry) and Jakori to go with the 1s, it’s different. The expectation level is higher. Because of that, they’re forced to play at a higher level. They get more reps, more attention, more pressure put on them. In the end, I think that will end up being a benefit.
Does it make it harder for us offensively? It does. Would we be better with Will and Toby and Donavaughn out there? Yeah, but it’s OK, those other guys are taking advantage of those opportunities.
Lloyd is having a nice spring. Really encouraged by him and feel like he’s a guy who could play guard or center. I think he’ll be a great center as we’re moving forward.
How close is a healthy Donavaughn Campbell from getting with the starters?
I don’t know. It’s too early to say. He has a lot of ability, but given the fact that he didn’t play much last year — had an injured shoulder he tried to work through — where would he be now in comparison to some of those other guys? I don’t really know.
Andy Dodd announced he was transferring earlier this spring. How disappointing is it when you have players leave and it hurts your depth?
I like Andy. I’m disappointed any time a kid chooses to leave because I think they’re quitting on something. I certainly don’t think you want to begin a behavior that might trickle down later in life. At the same time, I like Andy and I wish him the best. Anybody that leaves, I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward them. I hope they’ll have the opportunity elsewhere.
Why move Will Clapp from guard to center?
I would say No. 1 that’s not a done deal. Lloyd is having a good enough spring that we could play Lloyd at center and Will could play guard. Or we could play Will at center and Lloyd could challenge at a guard spot. But the reason why is I think (Will’s) best position is at center.
He’s a good guard. He was first team all-conference as a sophomore. In this league, that says something, but I still think he’ll be a better center than he will a guard, and I think that will be his position moving forward to the NFL.
How can you tell that center is the spot for him?
No. 1, he’s smart. No. 2, he’s willing to communicate. Some guys are smart, but they don’t have that natural communication level. He’s willing to step up there and tell everybody what to do. Will has no problem with that. And I’ve seen him play it a year ago.
I wasn’t sure whether it was better to have Ethan play center or Will play guard or vice-versa. Went back and forth for a while and eventually I came to the decision that Ethan was the best center we could have for our team. That’s kind of how I feel about Will right now.