LSU's football team returned some key players for their final open practice of preseason camp, and coach Ed Orgeron said that all but one player is expected to be healthy by the season opener against Georgia Southern on Aug. 31.
The offensive line has lost true freshman guard Kardell Thomas to an ankle injury that required surgery that could take a full season to recover, and the Tigers coaching staff has rotated former tackles Badara Traore and Anthony Bradford to fill in the depth at guard.
Orgeron said Wednesday that Traore is "the next man up right now" behind starting right guard Damien Lewis and left guard Adrian Magee.
"He did tremendous," Orgeron said of Traore. "I think he's one of the most improved players on the team. He can either go in at tackle or guard, wherever he's needed."
Lewis returned to practice after missing seven straight practices. The 6-foot-3, 332-pound senior started in all 13 games in 2018, and Magee said Lewis had been out with an ankle injury.
Sophomore offensive guard Chasen Hines did not practice after he attended the previous two. The 6-foot-3, 336-pound Texas native has been recovering from offseason knee surgery that kept him out of spring football.
True freshman tackle Thomas Perry missed his eighth straight practice, junior tight end Stephen Sullivan missed his third straight practice and senior wide receiver Derrick Dillon missed his second straight practice.
The 5-foot-11, 186-pound Dillon practiced Monday, when the team was in shorts and jerseys, and he has been held out when the team practices in full pads. He is returning from offseason hip surgery that kept him out of spring football.
True freshmen safety Marcel Brooks and sophomore safety Derian Moore missed their second straight practices, and true freshman cornerback Raydarious Jones missed his first practice of preseason camp.
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Brooks was a five-star recruit out of Texas, and he's expected to play in the 2019 season in a role that will be similar to how the LSU coaching staff has used unanimous All-American safety Grant Delpit.
Jones, a 6-foot-2, 161-pound Mississippi native, was the nation's No. 20 overall athlete of the 2019 class, according to 247Sports, and he is among the four true freshmen defensive backs that supply depth behind starting corners Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley.
Moore did not play in his first season at LSU in 2018.
Junior defensive end Justin Thomas returned to practice after missing five straight practices. The 6-foot-5, 256-pound Alabama native wore a gold noncontact jersey.
The defensive line still had some notable absences: senior defensive end Breiden Fehoko missed his third straight practice, sophomore nose tackle Tyler Shelvin missed his second straight, and junior defensive end Neil Farrell missed his first practice since Aug. 9.
Orgeron said Fehoko's out with "just a minor camp injury" and "shouldn't be out (more than) a couple more days."
Fehoko and Shelvin are expected to push for starting positions.
Starks 'very close' to eligible
True freshman linebacker Donte Starks is "very close" to gaining academic eligibility before the beginning of the season, coach Orgeron said on Wednesday.
Starks has not reported to preseason camp.
A graduate of John Ehret High School, Starks was ranked the nation's No. 10 inside linebacker of the 2019 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
On Monday, Starks wrote on Twitter, "When you get that call. Just a few more days."
"He's very close, but he's not eligible yet," Orgeron said. "Things are looking up that he may be eligible by the time school starts — hopefully. But it's going to be down to the wire."
Parker asked to move to defense
True freshman Ray Parker has practiced with LSU’s defense the past two days because Parker asked if he could try defense full-time.
Parker, who began the season as a tight end, had played on the scout team defense some during camp.
"I said, 'Ray, you like that defense?'" Orgeron said. "He goes, 'Coach, I think I want to try it.' So, I'll let him try."
Parker spent time with the outside linebackers and defensive end during individual drills on Wednesday.
"He's long," Orgeron said. "He's quick. He's tough."