So the first week of practice for the 2017 Tigers has been relatively eventful, with the biggest story being the suspension and eventual transfer of two-year starting offensive guard Maea Teuhema.
The loss of Teuhema is a significant blow to his position group, as we’ll detail. But the season comes regardless of your readiness level, so on that note we’ll jump into our season preview series with a look at just what the Tigers are working with at this position.
2017 LSU Offensive Line
|Tackles||63 K.J. Malone (Sr.)||6-4, 321|
|66 Toby Weathersby (Jr.)||6-6, 308|
|65 Jakori Savage (Fr.-RS)||6-5, 317|
|73 Adrian Magee (So.)||6-5, 323|
|76 Austin Deculus (Fr.)||6-6, 324|
|Guards||78 Garrett Brumfield (Jr.)||6-3, 299|
|71 Donovaughn Campbell (So.)||6-4, 343|
|70 Edward Ingram (Fr.)||6-4, 314|
|77 Saahdiq Charles (Fr.)||6-5, 321|
|Centers||64 Will Clapp (Jr.)||6-5, 315|
|79 Lloyd Cushenberry (Fr.-RS)||6-4, 316|
|Bold indicates returning starter.|
**Ed. Note: Every year I go back and forth on new ways to do these season previews, partially because they just get boring to write without some sort of hook. So in the interest of #business, we’ll apply a basic SWOT analysis of each unity’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.**
Strengths: Talent and experience on the interior. Athleticism and versatility.
Lead with the good news, right? LSU may be down a starting guard, but that does happen to be the deepest spot on the offensive line. Former four-star recruit Garrett “Bruiser” Brumfield will be a new starter on the left side of All-SEC center Will Clapp, and the replacement on the right side will come down to sophomore Donovaughn Campbell or redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry, whom is also backing up Clapp at center.
Clapp is a bonafide stud, and finally healthy after battling shoulder issues in 2016. While he doesn’t have a ton of experience at center itself, he’s been groomed for the move for most of his career, and the coaching staff trusts him to make the transition. As a player, he’s been one of the best interior offensive linemen in the SEC for two years now.
Brumfield, likewise, is trusted as well. Injuries kept him out of the lineup early in his career, but this offseason set up well for him to grab one of the open positions, even before Teuhema’s departure.
Campbell was a four-star, top-10 prospect at his position and grabbed some limited playing time right away last season. He did have an offseason issue with a fight on Georgia Tech’s campus while visiting family, but there is confidence in his ability to step in.
Cushenberry was a signing-day surprise in 2016, but started drawing praise almost immediately, even in his redshirt year. In the spring he worked at center while Clapp rehabbed his surgery and did well enough that there was thought to moving Clapp back to guard full-time in case Cushenberry was considered one of the best five linemen on the team. The plan became to make him the swing player inside, and the loss of Teuhema immediately put him in position to grab a starting spot at right guard. He and Campbell will compete for the remainder of camp to start, but both will play.
Weaknesses: Depth and experience overall, and at the tackle position.
There’s just no two ways of putting it: LSU only has 11 scholarship offensive linemen on this roster, and only six of those players have taken an actual live snap.
And tackle is where the loss of Teuhema really hurts. While he was more comfortable at guard, Teuhema also started at both left and right tackle some, which gave coaches the flexibility to move him there in case of injury and just slide in another guard. Now, if Toby Weathersby — who was frequently injured as a sophomore — or K.J. Malone miss time, their replacement will either be little-used sophomore Adrian Magee or true freshman Austin Deculus.
Weathersby is solid when healthy. A huge 2015 recruiting coup that saw time as a rookie and stepped right into the lineup in year two. He missed three games last year and played in parts of five others in which he was limited enough to miss the start.
Malone returned for his senior year at left tackle, although it’s questionable as to whether that was a choice between college and professional football. His best is pretty solid — he certainly helped block No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett into oblivion last November — but otherwise, the best talent on the schedule gave him some issues. He did, however, start all 12 games. And with depth this thin, that alone gives him value.
Opportunities: Chance to grow young talent for the future in a new and exciting offense.
LSU could have stood to add another lineman or two to last year’s class, but the ones they did bring in are all studs. Deculus, Ed Ingram and Saadhiq Charles all project well as future players. Redshirt freshman Jakori Savage has the long, lean frame and athletic ability to play tackle, he’s just so raw that Jeff Grimes would like to continue to develop. Charles also impressed at all of the camps and All-American games he played in, and has worked outside as well.
And the one silver lining to having to throw them all to the fire, earlier than anybody would like, is that they can really grow as a unit for 2018 and beyond.
A new offensive scheme could also help cover for some of the question marks here — the motion and shifts should help LSU gain leverage in certain spots, as should a strong group of edge blockers like tight end Foster Moreau and F-back J.D. Moore.
Matt Canada has also shown other types of credibility for his linemen.
Whether the carrot of “hey, do a good job and maybe we’ll let you catch a pass” actually helps or not, it should be fun to watch.
Threats: Any injury at the tackle position, and this group is playing a freshman or somebody with almost no game experience.
Right now, if something happens to Malone or Weathersby, the first man up will be either Magee or Deculus. Magee has seen sparse playing time, mostly in blowouts. Deculus was playing high school ball last season. And while he was a huge recruit, most believe his future is more at guard than at tackle.
Look for Savage to slide over to the left side, but I don’t think there will be much of a rush to play him unless the injury situation gets incredibly dire.