Starting center was going to be one of the major position battles once LSU's spring football practices began Saturday, and Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said there'll be even more competition to replace the NFL-bound Lloyd Cushenberry.
Freshman defensive tackle Joseph Evans, who played in four games and started one during the 2019 season, has flipped to center this offseason, Orgeron said in an interview Tuesday morning with 104.5 ESPN's "Off the Bench."
The move creates more depth to replace Cushenberry, a two-year starter and the player who wore the team's honorary No. 18 jersey last season along with former outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson.
Orgeron has said junior Chasen Hines is the frontrunner to replace Cushenberry. Evans' move to the offensive side of the ball indicates freshman center Charles Turner has not yet developed into a viable backup and that the coaching staff is confident enough they'll still have plenty of depth on the defensive line.
You can listen to Orgeron's full interview on "Off the Bench" here.
"Joseph Evans, who we recruited out of Haynesville, was a very good two-way player," Orgeron said. "He can explode out of his hips. We moved him to center. Yeah, we've got Chasen Hines at center, but Joe's right behind him. He's going to compete with him."
Evans will be a redshirt freshman because he only played in four games last season, but he recorded seven total tackles and impressed Orgeron enough that year to earn a start against Vanderbilt.
Although LSU's defensive line will be expanding to a four-man front under new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, defensive tackle has perhaps the most depth on the team's roster.
Starting nose tackle Tyler Shelvin returns along with heavy contributor Siaki "Apu" Ika, and LSU just signed three incoming four-star defensive tackles — Jacobian Guillory, Jaquelin Roy and Eric Taylor — who should compete for playing time during their freshmen seasons.
Orgeron indicated returning starting defensive end Glen Logan and reserve end Neil Farrell are joining "those guys inside" at defensive tackle.
He said junior college transfer TK McLendon is at left end, and that Justin Thomas, who returned to the team after leaving because of "personal reasons" last season, is at right end, although Thomas is "a little heavy right now."
McLendon started out as a tight end after transferring in from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, and he even caught one pass for 12 yards in 2019. But Orgeron said senior consultant John Robinson told him during the season, "Coach, what do you think about looking at TK McLendon at defensive end?"
McLendon first appeared at defensive end during practice Sept. 16, and, although the player never recorded a tackle in 2019, Orgeron likes his 6-foot-5, 263-pound frame and 4.7-second, 40-yard dash speed.
"He looks good in drills right now."
Orgeron said the player "standing out to me right now" at defensive end is Andre Anthony, who played outside linebacker in former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior played in nine games, recorded nine tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
"This may be a position change that's helped him," Orgeron said.
Orgeron also said he thinks incoming defensive end BJ Ojulari, a four-star freshman from Marietta High in Georgia, is "going to be an All-American here."
Offensive line has substantially less depth.
Four of the five starters on an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award for nation's top unit departed for the NFL. Right tackle Austin Deculus is the only returning starter.
Orgeron has complemented the 6-foot-3, 336-pound Hines, someone the coach said is already stronger than Cushenberry, which gives the unit a good one-on-one blocker in the middle.
Hines played in 10 games in 2019 and he replaced Turner as LSU's backup center after the Northwestern State game, when Orgeron said he wasn't pleased with the way Turner delivered snaps.
"I didn't like the snaps," Orgeron said then. "(We'll) put Chasen Hines at second-team center and see if something happens. Thank God we have Lloyd. We have to develop some depth if something happens."
The 6-foot-2, 288-pound Evans was a three-star recruit at Haynesville High, where he played both offensive and defensive tackle and helped the Tornadoes reach the Class 1A semifinals in 2018.