LSU’s offense had its share of personnel challenges in 2018, but there’s no question that the biggest one was the offensive line. The Tiger front struggled to get push in big rushing spots, which showed up in short-yardage situations and late in games when trying to bleed the clock. On top of that, they allowed the most negative plays of any LSU front since the 2009 group.
It was an inauspicious debut for new offensive line coach James Cregg, who came to town with a pretty solid rep from Ed Orgeron’s stint at USC and from time in the NFL.
Injuries were a big part — LSU started six different lineups through the first half of the season. Continuity and teamwork are a huge part of making the wide/tight zone running scheme that Cregg prefers work, and its hard to have those things without a consistent lineup of players working next to one another.
Now, with the principle members of the unit back, the question becomes whether the offensive line will be tempered by those struggles. It is, in my opinion, the biggest question that LSU’s offense will have to answer this offseason if it wants to get where fans want it to go.
LSU Offensive Line: Spring 2019
|77 Saahdiq Charles (Jr.)
|76 Austin Deculus (Jr.)
|65 Jakori Savage (Jr.)#
|74 Badara Traore (Sr.)
|73 Adrian Magee (Sr.)
|51 Dare Rosenthal (Fr.-RS)
|61 Cam Wire (Fr.-RS)
|71 Donovaughn Campbell (Jr.)
|70 Edward Ingram (So.)*
|68 Damien Lewis (Sr.)
|57 Chasen Hines (So.)
|79 Lloyd Cushenberry (Jr.)
|67 Cole Smith (Fr.-RS)
|69 Charles Turner (Fr.)
This is definitely setting up to be one of the more experienced and deeper offensive lines that LSU has had in a few years. Four starters are back, plus another four bodies that have some starting experience. And that number could still increase pending the status of sophomore guard Ed Ingram, who sat out last season on suspension due to still pending a sexual assault charge in his home state of Texas. Ingram never left school and stayed close to the program, and is currently practicing now, as it is believed that there will be some change in that status.
Center Lloyd Cushenberry proved to be a remarkably consistent center in his first year in the lineup, and he’ll almost certainly be the constant of this group in 2019. The rest of that lineup could still shuffle before the season starts. Saahdiq Charles should remain at left tackle, and right guard Damien Lewis will almost certainly be in the lineup as well. But right tackle Austin Deculus could move to the vacant left guard spot, pending how some of the other pieces fit. Senior Adrian Magee has played both guard and tackle, and there’s another upperclassmen in former JUCO recruit Badara Traore. Second-year guard Chasen Hines had some impressive moments as well subbing in at guard, but needs to become more consistent in his assignments.
It’s hard to know what the ceiling is for this group.
Cushenberry was solid, but never truly dominant. Ditto for Lewis at guard, despite a lot of pub this time last year. Charles is a big and athletic, and seems to have the feet to be a good tackle, but struggled to stay healthy and saw those injuries limit him at times. Deculus, likewise, seems like a guard trapped in a tackle’s body.
If someone like Magee or Hines settles in at the open guard spot, can this unit develop into the mauling blockers that LSU will want with more talented running backs arriving in the summer?
Having a lot of returning experience is generally a good sign in this regard, but it still remains to be seen on the field.
What is the goal for this unit in the spring?
It’s all about the continuous development of the line overall. Cregg has a good idea of what pieces he has, but its about fitting them together. And there’s the young depth coming up like redshirt freshmen Dare Rosenthal, Cameron Wire (who has missed practices with injury) and Cole Smith, plus true frosh Charles Turner on hand as a spring enrollee. In the long run, Rosenthal and Wire both look more like the prototypical long, lean offensive tackles, but both are also still raw talents. Rosenthal arrived here as a defensive end, originally.
And the freshmen that are yet to arrive — particularly Kardell Thomas and Anthony Bradford — may be good enough to push for reps come the fall. Aside from Cushenberry, and likely Lewis at one of the guard spots, there could still be more shuffling for this group in the coming months.