After losing both starting tackles to the NFL last spring, the LSU offensive line will have a much different look for the Tigers’ season opener against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field.
But with one week to go before Brandon Harris takes the first snap of a highly anticipated season, it’s anybody’s guess as to which five guys will line up in front of him — particularly on the outside.
Gone are left tackle Jerald Hawkins, who started 37 games from 2013-15, and right tackle Vadal Alexander, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick who started all 12 games a year ago after transitioning from guard.
Taking their places in the lineup are K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby. Or Malone and Maea Teuhema. Or Teuhema and Weathersby.
Which two will start and which one is the sixth man could go down to the wire if the Tigers’ final scrimmage last week is any indication.
Malone, Weathersby and Teuhema, who started the final 11 games of the 2015 season at left guard, apparently all received first-team snaps as the coaching staff attempted to work out the logjam.
Two of them are expected to join left guard Will Clapp, center Ethan Pocic and right guard Josh Boutte as starters for the Wisconsin game.
Teuhema and Weathersby appeared to have a leg up coming out of spring practice as the starters on the left and right sides, but Teuhema fell behind when he missed the first week of preseason camp recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered late in the summer.
If Malone gets the nod at left tackle, that would leave Les Miles and his staff with either Weathersby or Teuhema at right tackle.
Weathersby, a 6-foot-5, 302-pounder, does have one career start at right tackle. He opened the Ole Miss game last November when Alexander moved to left tackle to fill in for an injured Hawkins.
Yet, while he’s been the starter throughout the spring and preseason camp, Weathersby warned Thursday that nothing is “etched in stone” at this point.
“It’s every other series,” he said of the first-team tackles and the ongoing competition with Malone and Teuhema. “Maea gets a series at left tackle and I’m in (at right) and then K.J. comes back in and Maea takes right tackle.”
Weathersby and Teuhema worked at guard as true freshmen a year ago, but Weathersby said both have played exclusively at tackle this summer — which perhaps accentuating the need to find capable replacements for Alexander and Hawkins at two vitally important positions.
Hawkins and Alexander combined for 58 starts at tackle over the past three seasons; Weathersby, Teuhema and Malone have just one among them.
For his part, Weathersby said he was prepared to assume his new role after being penciled in at right tackle when spring practice got underway.
“It was comforting to me just knowing I was the guy who was up next,” he said. “I knew I had some big shoes to fill, but I took it day by day (in the spring) and just ground it out to make it to where I am now.
“I thought I had a pretty good spring. … It was pretty much me learning what I could and to take it in (mentally) and then be able to take it on the field. So it was more study time than anything.”
The physical part was certainly there when he arrived on campus a year ago.
A consensus four-star recruit out of Houston and seventh-ranked tackle in the nation in the 2015 recruiting class by Rivals.com, Weathersby received a lot of snaps early.
“I took a lot of reps … I was jumping in there with the first team,” he said. “Most of the snaps came with the second team, but I was getting in either way at guard and tackle, and it made me ready to play during the season.”
That versatility came in handy when he was called on in a pinch during his rookie season. As part of the field-goal team as well, he finished with 167 total snaps and 20 knockdown blocks.
Weathersby received double-digit snaps in four consecutive games — including SEC matchups with Florida, Alabama and Arkansas — then got 93 snaps against Ole Miss that yielded a season-high nine knockdowns.
Still, Weathersby said he’s come a long way since his first start in a 38-17 loss to the Rebels, which, he admitted, came with a lot of mistakes on his part.
“Watching that film made me cringe sometimes,” he said. “Just looking at myself, it was like, ‘Man, I know I can do better than that.’ Right now, I’m ready to rock and roll.
“I feel like I’m a way better player than I was from that day until now. Last year helped me a lot knowing the speed of the game, knowing what the actual speed of the game is, and playing the whole game … knowing what it takes to start and finish.”