For all intents and purposes, K.J. Malone will be LSU’s starting left tackle come the season opener against BYU on Sept. 2 in Houston.
But the date with the Cougars, of course, is more than five months away, and nothing is set in stone. Furthermore, the Tigers’ spring practices allow offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to experiment.
Experimentation is almost necessity for Grimes at the moment. LSU has just eight healthy scholarship offensive linemen during spring. Among the five spots on the line, the Tigers are perhaps the thinnest at center, a position where LSU has to replace All-American Ethan Pocic.
Will Clapp, a two-year starter at guard and the most likely candidate to fill Pocic’s role, is recovering from a shoulder surgery. With Andy Dodd transferring in the offseason, only one true center is left on the roster: Lloyd Cushenberry, who is currently taking first-team reps.
The lack of depth at the position is making Malone and guard Garrett Brumfield the backup options at center for the time being. Fortunately for Malone, center isn’t a completely new position for the 6-foot-4 senior.
On top of his experience, LSU’s new offense under offensive coordinator Matt Canada is actually making things easier, he said.
“I actually did it my first spring here, and it didn’t go over too good,” Malone said. “I didn’t think they were going to put me back there, but it actually feels comfortable because of how the plays are.”
“I’m older and I kind of know how things work,” he continued. “Back then, I was a rookie, and I didn’t know the speed or the scheme, and now it’s coming to me easier.”
As Matt Canada explains it, his offense — the one so hyped up and ballyhooed since his Decem…
Brumfield’s reps at center are netting positive results, too, Malone indicated, even if Brumfield — nicknamed Bruiser — doesn’t seem to be happy about that.
“’Bruiser’ is actually doing better than everybody thought,” Malone said. “Even he thought he wasn’t going to do as good as he is at center. I always joke with him (about) playing center, and he always get mad. He’s good at guard — he’s good at anything he plays — but I joke with him. I was like, ‘I think you’d be better at center,’ and he was so mad.”
Ideally, the Tigers won’t need either Malone or Brumfield, who is battling for one of the starting guard spots, to play center at all next season. Cushenberry has done an “excellent job” at center thus far, Malone said. Furthermore, in an interview with The Advocate published last week, Grimes said Clapp’s transition to center isn’t “a done deal.”
Jeff Grimes is beginning Year 4 at LSU.
Though Grimes believes Clapp’s best position is center and where he’ll ultimately play in the NFL, the coach said Cushenberry’s progression at the position could allow Clapp to remain at guard.
“It doesn’t really matter where Clapp plays because I think Clapp could play either guard or center and be great at it,” Malone said. “So if Lloyd keeps on having a great spring, Clapp will be at guard.”