While the Bayou Bengals are on hiatus, TSD is running a story per weekday on breakout candidates for 2015.
These players may be new to the program, fresh off a redshirt or been around and just never had a chance to start. Whatever the case may be, if LSU is to author a successful 2015 campaign, they'll need these five players to break through.
CLICK HERE for Monday's piece on OLB Deion Jones.
NO. 2 - K.J. Malone
Returning three of five starting offensive linemen in the modern era of college football is no plight, in fact it’s usually enough to give an offense an advantage. That figures to be the case this fall for LSU, which brings back fourth-year players Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins and third-year player Ethan Pocic, all double-digit starters in Baton Rouge.
Where the Tigers have some ground to make up is at the guard positions, especially in light of Alexander, arguably LSU’s best interior run-blocker in 2014 at left guard, moved out to right tackle.
Malone, a redshirt sophomore, and redshirt freshman Garrett Brumfield are the two likely starters at guard if the season began today. Brumfield, on the right side, has been a pleasant surprise this spring. The elder Malone is more of what was expected with two starters gone from last season, as his name was mentioned often by Les Miles and position coach Jeff Grimes as next up and “coming.”
The 6-foot-4, 289-pounder from Ruston, and son of NBA Hall-of-Famer Karl, provides a physical edge that most nearly resembles what LSU has had at the position – left guard – the last two campaigns in Alexander.
He redshirted in 2013 before playing in five games with no starts in year two. Malone’s only two appearances in SEC action came against Kentucky, a rout, and at Arkansas, when Alexander didn’t make the trip with an injury and starting center Elliott Porter left the game hurt in the second quarter.
This time around Malone will be counted on in a much higher capacity. He’s spent most of this spring in a position battle with redshirt freshman William Clapp, who too has shown promise reportedly.
With experienced players lining up to his right and left, Malone is in a good place to thrive as a potential first-year starter. But it’ll be interesting to see how the relatively green player performs when the kid gloves are off and the lights are on.
One thing’s for sure: LSU is showing a lot of faith in Malone lining him up at left guard, provided how much the Tigers prefer to run left and how much of a road-grater that player has traditionally been under Miles.
Time will tell if Malone can repay that faith with a breakout season.