Les Miles barked out Kendell’s Beckwith’s name to the circle of LSU football players at Thursday morning’s practice.
It took a few seconds for Beckwith, LSU’s senior starting middle linebacker, to emerge from the group and race into the middle of the circle for Big Cat — an old-fashioned, one-on-one collision drill.
Not only was Beckwith’s helmet unfastened when he arrived — it wasn’t on. Beckwith, a prized piece of a defense that’s lost three players to injury already this week, looked surprised.
Me? In Big Cat? After this week?
Miles, the old-school, 62-year-old coach, isn’t backing down from physicality just because of a few injuries. Miles looked on, according to a video posted by the team, as Beckwith clashed with freshman offensive lineman Lloyd Cushenberry, pushing the rookie back a few feet to claim victory in the drill — and avoiding injury.
“Those things happen, and they’re, again, truly the difficulty of a wonderful sport,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It’s the risk and one of the reasons why it takes some courage to step out there and at risk of injury.”
The Tigers lost backup outside linebacker/end Isaiah Washington and defensive end Christian LaCouture for the season after both suffered knee ligament damage during practice Sunday. Corey Thompson, a presumed starter at outside linebacker, went down Wednesday morning with a fractured leg.
Brandon Harris heard Christian LaCouture's first words.
LaCouture’s injury came during a noncontact drills, and Thompson got his ankle rolled on, players said — a pair of freak accidents.
“We haven’t had a tackle scrimmage yet…,” Miles said. “That’s the tragedy of the game. Tragedy of the game is you bust your tail and do everything you can and injury can occur. You’d like to deny it, but it can happen in the most mundane circumstances.”
Miles doesn’t ask all of his prized players to compete in Big Cat, though. Running back Leonard Fournette hasn’t dueled in the drill since preseason camp ahead of his freshman season in 2014.
That doesn’t mean he won’t see touches in practice. The coach indicated that he wants Fournette to carry the ball at least 10 times during each camp practice.
“We’ve got to get everybody ready to play. I think that is a function and factor in two-a-days, what would be camp,” he said. “We’re going to call his name. He’s sure been awfully productive. I don’t think there’s any reason to tire him out. We’ve got some quality guys in position to carry the ball extremely well themselves."
Ethan Pocic is entering his fourth season at LSU, but he’s never quite seen competition on the offensive line like this, he says.
“I’d say we got eight or nine guys that could really start for us,” said Pocic, the Tigers’ senior center. “I don’t think there’s ever been that much competition since I’ve been here, on the offensive line. It’s pushing the starters, the backups, people behind the backups.”
So who are all of these people, the eight to nine players who could start?
Pocic (center), Will Clapp (guard), Maea Teuhema and K.J. Malone (tackles) appear to be the top four. Miles suggested Thursday that Teuhema and Malone could start at each tackle spot.
Sophomore Toby Weathersby worked with the No. 1 group in the spring at right tackle, and he could join a battle at guard between redshirt sophomore Garrett Brumfield and senior Josh Boutte. That’s seven players.
Donavaughn Campbell was the first of the freshman linemen who coaches elevated to practicing with the starters and veterans, and Miles has raved about Cushenberry, too. That’s nine.
“The young and old of this offensive line are going to produce a really talented group,” Miles said. “Some of those young guys need some reps and that’s key, but, boy, they’re talented.”