The tale of LSU’s preseason camp has become a whodunit, with key characters disappearing page after mysterious page.
The Tigers just Friday donned full pads for the first time in practice. By then, they were short 10 players who have left the program at some point in the offseason. The beat writers who cover LSU football are pooling their beer money (well, part of it) to hire an accountant who can crunch all the numbers.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to observing the football factory that is LSU. One assumes the Tigers have all the talent in the world and should win no matter the circumstances. The other assumes the sky is falling every time Derrius Guice sneezes. Ratchet up the stakes to the point that Danny Etling has back surgery or Arden Key gets his shoulder fixed, and you have a wave of panic not seen around here since the Union Army showed up and asked, “Where’s the bar?”
As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Yes, LSU has had a ton of players bid farewell since last season — 10, to be exact. Players like Brandon Harris. Saivion Smith. Isaiah Washington. Jazz Ferguson. Travonte Valentine. (Remember when he was The Key to Dave Aranda’s defense?)
It’s a big number but not at all unusual in the first year of a new coaching regime, even if Ed Orgeron has been the head coach so long now it doesn’t quite seem as new. Heck, prime Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals Alabama and Auburn have lost nine and eight, respectively. If football had a nickname, it would be “attrition.”
But there is also a major problem brewing on the offensive line. And a wave of panic wouldn’t be inappropriate.
With guard Maea Teuhema’s suspension and subsequent departure for academic reasons, LSU has had to scratch five offensive linemen off the roster that it once thought would be on this team. Freshman Seth Stewart never left his launching pad in West Virginia. Chidi Okeke (Tennessee State), Andy Dodd (McNeese State) and Willie Allen (Tyler Junior College) all transferred.
To put a twist on a line from Captain Edmund Blackadder, this is a crisis. A large crisis. One with an enormous sign on the roof of the LSU football practice facility that reads “Home of the Offensive Line Crisis.” Frankly, it’s as critical a situation as I’ve seen on the O-line in 30 years of covering LSU football.
The Tigers currently have 11 scholarship offensive linemen on hand. Eleven. The New Orleans Saints will, at most, carry nine this season, such being the constraints of a 53-man roster.
These aren’t thin guys, but thin is definitely the operative word.
Even without Teuhema, LSU still has a decent number of veterans to man its five line positions: senior K.J. Malone at left tackle, joining juniors Will Clapp (center), Garrett Brumfield (left guard) and Toby Weathersby (right tackle). LSU might have liked the idea of shifting redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry to center and moving Clapp back to guard, but that’s out the window now. At least until the right guard battle between him and Donavaughn Campbell is sorted out. And the Tigers are one more serious injury away from another freshman, like Saahdiq Charles or Austin Deculus, moving into a starting role.
There is a modicum of good news on offense for LSU, though for the Tigers faithful it will require a bit of faith to see it that way.
One factor is that LSU won’t rely as it did under Les Miles on using its offensive line like a battering ram against opposing defenses. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will employ liberal amounts of shifting, misdirection and general legerdemain to keep defenses guessing. And when LSU does decide to switch into full powerball mode, one of Guice’s better skills is being able to dodge the tacklers who are more likely to penetrate the Tigers’ forward wall.
On one hand, LSU still possesses plenty enough talent to absorb the attrition to a large degree. Record-wise, the Tigers aren’t about to go 5-7 or some such.
But it’s still a game where you have to block and tackle. With this many fewer guys to block, it’s impossible to imagine the Tigers won’t feel the pain.