KJ Malone isn't healthy enough to play this week if LSU had a game, he said, but he’s hoping to be ready in three weeks.
Malone, the fifth-year senior left tackle, expects to play when the 16th-ranked Tigers (9-3) meet No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Whether he’ll start depends on a battle with true freshman Saahdiq Charles, Malone’s replacement during the last half of the season.
“If I play, I play. If I don’t, I don’t,” Malone said. “Saahdiq has been working his butt off and I don’t want to take anything from him. (O-line) Coach (Jeff) Grimes said it’ll be a competition so we’ll see how it goes.”
Grimes used five different starting lineups this season, and nine linemen played significant snaps at various points while others battled injuries. Malone injured the patellar tendon in his left knee at Florida and missed the last six games. Guard Garrett Brumfield missed time in the regular season finale with a stinger, replaced in the lineup with Lloyd Cushenberry.
Center Will Clapp didn’t miss time despite battling undisclosed injuries, and right tackle Toby Weathersby battled head issues. He revealed on Wednesday that he suffered a concussion during the season, missing two games and a large portion of another.
“Adversity,” Weathersby said. “One of those things a lot of people don’t go through, but we’re built for it. We’re taught to learn to play through adversity.”
Austin Thomas is leaving Baton Rouge for Knoxville.
Malone spoke to reporters Wednesday about a potential return for a second time in three weeks. He practiced in a limited role the week leading up to the regular season finale against Texas A&M and dressed out but did not play. He knew at the beginning of that week that he was not healthy enough to play.
His health is “a lot better” since that time, and he was scheduled Wednesday to test the knee during full team workouts at practice. Malone suggested that his role for the bowl game may be as a third tackle, ready to replace Weathersby or Charles if needed.
“If I’m in the role of being the next tackle in, I’m ready to do it,” he said.
Meanwhile, his teammates await the return of Karl Malone’s son.
“He’s been in the weight room, been doing extra cardio. I feel like he may play his last game with his brothers,” Weathersby said. “It’s one of those things we’ll have to wait and see.
“He’s anxious. Just one of those things. We’re all telling him, ‘Take your time.’ We don’t play until another two and a half week.”