BATON ROUGE, La. – Like every college football program, the names change each season for LSU. While that is easy to quantify at the glamour positions, determining how impactful the changing faces on the offensive line sometimes can be tougher to grasp.
That makes the current status of who will make up LSU’s starting front five equal parts intriguing and tantalizing.
When LSU opens at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin next week, the offensive line will feature at least two new starters. The starting tackles from last season, Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander, are gone – a notion that might inspire plenty of hand-wringing for a lot of programs. For the Tigers, though, two factors weigh in their favor as they begin the task of replacing those two veterans.
1. For most of Les Miles' 12-season tenure, there has been a heavy emphasis on offensive linemen cross-training and knowing every position up front.
2. With the exception of a few years ago, backups have gotten meaningful snaps throughout the season to prepare them for the time when they need to step in.
This season will put both those items to a test.
From the inside-out, the Tigers appear to be on solid footing.
Ethan Pocic is a third-year starter at center and is regarded as one of the best in the country at his position. Sophomore Will Clapp is poised to start at left guard after manning the right guard spot most of last season. And massive Josh Boutte (6 feet 5, 346 pounds) finally has emerged as a starter after playing a minor role in his first three seasons.
It’s those outside spots where there is some uncertainty and where Nos. 1 and 2 will come into play.
Hawkins was a three-year starter at tackle, moving from right to left after La’el Collins departed. Likewise, Alexander spent two seasons as a starting guard, then made a nice transition to the edge, earning All-SEC honors last season
Pocic was considered a strong candidate to move to tackle after last season, but he is staying at center. That has created a battle for two starting jobs a competition among Toby Weathersby, K.J. Malone and Maea Teuhema, a starter at left guard in 2015.
That trio has jockeyed for position all of camp. During the spring, Teuhema locked onto the left tackle spot and Weathersby the right side. A window of opportunity opened for Malone when Teuhema missed time early in August with an ankle injury.
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has kept the three would-be starting tackles on their toes most of this month.
“It’s every other series,” said Weathersby, like Teuhema a Texas native. “Maea gets a series at left tackle and I’m (at right), and then K.J. comes back in and Maea takes right tackle.”
Malone could be the poster child for versatility among the LSU line. He was a Class A All-State center at Ruston (La.) Cedar Creek and has logged time at guard and tackle the past two seasons.
A big question is whether Malone can make the transition to left tackle or if he would be a better fit as the sixth man on LSU’s line – someone who can rotate in at different times and various spots.
That may hinge on Teuhema's health. He was the No. 2 guard in the country in the 2015 recruiting class and played up to his reputation last season as a true freshman, when he started 11 games and played every snap in four of them. Teuhema’s 6-5, 315-pound frame makes him a bit undersized for a tackle by SEC standards, but his speed and raw strength should help him adapt.
“At tackle, you just have more to space to work,” Teuhema said. “With guard, you always have help from both sides.
“I thought it was going to take time, so I did whatever I could to earn that spot.”
That is where Weathersby also has shined.
Weathersby was considered a top-10 offensive tackle in the country in the 2015 class, and he also jumped into action right away, just not as heavily as Teuhema. Weathersby played in all 12 games, totaling 167 snaps as a freshman, and converted that into confidence in the spring when he was a fixture at right tackle.
Besides the physical reps, Weathersby said he took in as much as he could mentally and studied more than he ever has before.
“I knew I had some big shoes to fill, but I took it day-by-day and just grinded it out to make it to where I am now,” Weathersby said. “I thought I had a pretty good spring. Last year helped me a lot, knowing the speed of the game."
All of that figures to come in handy this fall for Weathersby, Teuhema and Malone as that trio looks to fill some big voids. If history holds true, that is a challenge that the versatile Tigers linemen will master.
(Randy Rosetta covers LSU for GN. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyRosetta)
© 2016, Randy Rosetta. All rights reserved.
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.