LSU lost seven defensive starters from last season’s team.
The Tigers were set to play BYU on Saturday night without two more — and 11 other players.
Starting cornerback Kevin Toliver and inside linebacker Donnie Alexander did not travel with the team, joining the list of players who missed the season opener. The two players, and 11 other scholarship guys, were absent when the team exited the team bus and entered the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
A team spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Coach Ed Orgeron suggested earlier this week that several players could be suspended for Saturday’s game, but he declined to reveal names as part of a policy of not announcing suspensions. It’s unclear whether Toliver and Alexander were part of that group.
Toliver, a junior from Florida who has started 13 games in his career, was suspended for a game last season. He has an injury-riddled past as well. He suffered a blow in the Alabama game last year that reignited pain in his surgically repaired shoulder. He missed the final five games of the season.
Alexander, a senior with three starts who was expected to replace Kendell Beckwith, has shoulder issues as well. The Edna Karr product had surgery in April to repair a torn rotator cuff that he played with his first three years in Baton Rouge. He was spotted during at least one practice this August in a gold jersey, signaling limited contact because of injury.
Both of their expected replacements had never played a down in a college game.
Behind Toliver is Andraez Williams, a redshirt freshman from Shreveport. A pair of true freshmen, Tyler Taylor and Jacob Phillips, competed for much of camp in a tight battle for the rotational inside linebacker role behind starters Devin White and Alexander. One of those two was expected to replace Alexander.
Taylor was listed as the immediate backup to Alexander on LSU's pregame depth chart. Phillips was listed as a co-backup behind White with freshman Patrick Queen.
Coaches were already expected to potentially start at least two true freshmen: safety Grant Delpit and nickelback Kary Vincent. Freshman K'Lavon Chaisson was also competing for a starting spot at the edge-rushing position normally played by Arden Key.
Key, the Tigers' most decorated defensive player, missed the game while recovering from shoulder surgery. The Tigers brought with them several injured players, including Key. Fellow edge rusher Andre Anthony, nursing an ankle injury and out for the game, also traveled.
Several more players were noticeably absent as the Tigers arrived at the Superdome. The list included receiver Dee Anderson, quarterback Justin McMillan, offensive lineman Adrian Magee, defensive ends Frank Herron and Deondre Clark, linebacker Michael Divinity, tight end Caleb Roddy, defensive backs Xavier Lewis and Kristian Fulton, edge rusher Sci Martin and fullback Bry'Kiethon Mouton.
Earlier this week, Orgeron twice declined to reveal whether any players would be suspended for the season opener, but he did not rule it out. He’s keeping suspensions “in-house,” he said, to get a “competitive advantage.”
“Every week, we’re going to handle in-house discipline,” he said Wednesday. “Those things will be decided towards the end of the week. I will not announce before the game any in-house discipline. Every week, it’s going to happen on a weekly basis.”
Suspensions are common for LSU in season openers. In 2014 and 2016, at least six players missed the opener, both against Wisconsin, while under suspension.
Failed drug tests and academic issues are normally the impetus for such suspensions. They are made more obvious when the Tigers open the season on the road. Suspended players often dress out but don’t play in home games. Teams are not under a travel limit for neutral-site, nonconference games, but only 80 players can participate. Orgeron said earlier this week that suspended players would not travel.
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