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Coping With Losses on the Line

It’s not about losing five guys... just one

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville
All linemen are created equal, but some are more equal than others
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

What six months ago seemed like a team strength headed into the 2017 season is now the team’s biggest concern. The offensive line has gone from a deep, veteran unit to a hodgepodge of bodies held together with some duct tape and earnest prayers.

LSU fans are conditioned to panic at the slightest hiccup when it comes to the offense, and this is more than just a hiccup. Since the end of last season, five offensive linemen with eligibility remaining have left the program. That is, to use a technical term, a crapload.

But really, how much damage has been done to the unit? Clearly, depth takes a hit, but until Maea Teuhema decided to transfer, the offense was yet to lose a starter. LSU went from returning 60 career starts on the line, a decent number, to 37, which is right on the borderline of alarming. Over a third of the line’s starting experience walked out the door when Teuhema did.

Furthermore, Teuhema has a demonstrated ability to play nearly anywhere on the line. He’s been the Swiss Army knife, moving from the left side to the right side or from tackle to guard, depending on what the offense needs. Losing that kind of versatility cannot be understated. Teuhema is a huge loss.

The other four linemen? Not so much.

It’s not a good thing to lose four linemen from your depth chart, but before the transfers, LSU was returning 79 games played and 37 starts from last season. After five players defected, those totals drop to 50 games played and 26 starts.

Of the 29 games played and 11 starts from last season lost, 12 and 10 come from Teuhema himself. The other four transfers combined for just 17 games played and one start last year.

How is the team losing so little experience from last year from four linemen leaving the team? It’s for the obvious reason that these guys didn’t play very much. Seth Stewart left before ever making it to a season of football, as he was an incoming freshman. Willie Allen, a former four-star recruit, leaves without ever having appeared in a game for LSU either. He burned a redshirt year, but still has four years of eligibility remaining.

Both of those defections hurt future depth, but have little to no impact on this year’s team. Allen might have cracked the lineup this year, but he’d be just like the other freshmen trying to crack the lineup right now.

LSU lost two experienced backups. Chidi Okeke played in 11 games without earning a start and Andy Dodd played in six games, starting one. Okeke transferred to Eastern Kentucky and Dodd to McNeese. Both would have been valuable depth pieces this season, but it’s also not like Jonathan Ogden left the program here. The lack of big time offers tells you where they stood in the big picture. It’s not like Bama came in swooped these guys up.

The movement only leaves LSU with three linemen who have ever started a game. Of the 26 returning starts from last year, 23 of them belong to two players. Will Clapp and KJ Malone better not get hurt is all I’m saying.

However, it’s not like these transfers destroyed the team’s depth. LSU was going to be rely on the incoming freshmen regardless. LSU was going to return nine different players who saw action last year, and after five linemen transferred out of the program, that number dropped to six.

Depth was a problem before the transfers, and while the defections exacerbate the issue, it did not cause it. LSU needed a year of health from its starting lineup in the hopes of building some long-term depth, and that remains unchanged.

Really, it’s not the quantity of losses on the line. Two of those guys had never played and another had been fairly solidly passed up on the depth chart. Really, the loss is Teuhema. It’s not that LSU lost five linemen, it’s that LSU lost Teuhema.

Almost all of the experience leaving the program is his, and he was a vital cog in the line. Losing the other four doesn’t qualify as a good thing, but it also wasn’t a crisis. Without Teuhema however, the margin of error on the line drops to zero.