LSU’s starting offensive line in Saturday’s scrimmage looked like a version you might see years from now.
Because of depth problems and injuries, the Tigers started four players who have never played in a college game, resting key pieces on an offensive front that’s growing thinner by the day.
“We’re especially worried up front,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “There’s a concern.”
Orgeron held what he called his first “preseason game” of camp Saturday, putting his squad through a 60-play scrimmage. The scrimmage was closed to reporters.
The coach revealed that left tackle K.J. Malone, center Will Clapp and right tackle Toby Weathersby rested. The result? A line that might resemble what the 2019 Tigers will trot out.
The starting five included true freshmen Saahdiq Charles (left tackle), Austin Deculus (right tackle) and Ed Ingram (right guard) as well as redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry (center). Fourth-year junior left guard Garrett Brumfield was the only presumed starter in the group.
Orgeron did not reveal injury specifics for Clapp, Weathersby and Malone. He qualified them as “regular camp injuries” that are not “going to last a long time.”
“K.J. Malone’s been in and out with some slight injuries. We feel like he’s going to be back Monday,” the coach said. “Will Clapp’s been in and out. (We’re) watching the reps with him. Those guys have been in and out. Young guys got to step up.”
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LSU is in this predicament after five offensive linemen left the team this offseason, including presumed starting right guard Maea Teuhema, news the school announced Wednesday.
At most, eight scholarship offensive linemen scrimmaged Saturday, excluding those three projected starters. The news on Teuhema forced coaches to slide Cushenberry to right guard, where he’s competing with Donavaughn Campbell for a starting job. Cushenberry remains Clapp’s backup at center, Orgeron said.
Coaches have toyed with the idea of converting other players to the offensive line because of the depth problems, but Orgeron said that “didn’t pan out.” Coaches are being cautious with contact during the week. They’re conducting 9-on-7 mini-scrimmages in “thud,” when defensive players are not allowed to tackle to the ground.
“There’s a little being hesitant, going too hard, but we are practicing fast and only scrimmaging on Saturdays,” Orgeron said. “It’s ‘thud’ (when we do) 9-on-7. We are being physical. Staying up (and not tackling) and trying to be smart.”
Teuhema’s news was a double blow: He was a versatile lineman who could play guard and tackle. Orgeron said earlier this week that Teuhema’s situation dealt with “academic stuff.”
“I wish things would have turned out different, on LSU’s part, my part especially and the player’s part,” he said. “We tried everything we could to keep him here.”
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No Key but Chaisson ‘dominant’
Arden Key’s role in Saturday’s scrimmage was on the sideline.
“Cheered a lot,” Orgeron said. “I will say this: He does some walk-through stuff. He doesn’t do any contact. Does some drills with me. Looks fantastic.”
While Key continues recovering from shoulder surgery, other players are getting an opportunity. Ray Thornton, K’Lavon Chaisson, Sci Martin and Andre Anthony are battling at the Buck position, the hybrid edge-rushing spot in coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense.
Chaisson, a decorated freshman from Houston, continues to impress, Orgeron said. He finished with three tackles and a sack in the scrimmage, presumably running with the second string.
“K’Lavon Chaisson has been dominant,” Orgeron said. “He’s hard to block. He’s all over the place.”
Orgeron is unsure when Key will be cleared for full contact, but he has previously said the All-America edge rusher will miss at least the first two weeks of camp. He has practiced in noncontact walk-through drills.
“I’ve got to tell him to slow down,” Orgeron said. “(I) really do. Running around. Looks good. Working his shoulder well. Obviously there’s some movements that he can’t do, that he won’t do and can’t have any contact.”
The ‘surprise of camp’
Another former Catholic High running back is turning heads at LSU’s preseason camp.
It was Derrius Guice two years ago. This year, it’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the 5-foot-8 freshman.
“He’s been the surprise of camp,” Orgeron said.
Edwards-Helaire was one of three running backs Orgeron listed stats for after Saturday’s scrimmage. He had six carries for 19 yards.
“We always knew he was a good back, but about three days ago, he had a dominant day, first day in pads. Dominant,” Orgeron said. “He had three runs over 60 yards, way he makes them miss and hits the holes, versatility.”
LSU fans know JaCoby Stevens as a safety — a dang good safety, too.
Stevens leads WRs
After less than a week at his new position, receiver JaCoby Stevens is leading the group — at least in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Stevens led the way with two catches, followed by several wideouts with one. Coaches moved the Tennessee native from safety to receiver this week, which Orgeron announced Monday after the first day of camp.
“The offense loves him. I think he’s going to fit in well. He and his father are happy,” the coach said. “He always has the option to go back to safety if he doesn’t feel that he’s getting what he wants at receiver.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.