LSU's offensive line came into the 2016 season with eyes on replacing their two tackles that started nearly every game for the Tigers outside of the Ole Miss game and with question marks on who might man the interior of the line.
There's plenty of depth and versatility along the offensive line, but who will end up being the pieces rolled out against Wisconsin on Labor Day Weekend? I take a look.
At center, there's really no question that Ethan Pocic will start for LSU. He's the most experienced guy Jeff Grimes has returning on the offensive line and while there was talk that Pocic should move out to left tackle, it hasn't been up for discussion. Pocic will be the center and rightly so against Wisconsin. Miles and Cameron likes Pocic's leadership and experience at center and feel that's the best spot he can be.
Flanking him will be William Clapp (likely on the left) and Josh Boutte (likely on the right). Miles said on Saturday that these are the two linemen he's rolling with as of now and with Wisconsin now almost a week away, I expect this to stay the same. Clapp is another talented and experienced lineman for LSU, who started every game at right guard as a redshirt freshman. The Brother Martin (La.) product will make the flip to the left side as it seems while Boutte looks to see his first action as a full-time starter. He's mostly been used on extra points, but did start one game last year. The massive offensive guard checks in around 340 pounds and for his senior year, he'll be relied upon to pave the way for Leonard Fournette and company.
At the offensive tackles, many thought Maea Teuhema would be the left tackle, but after an ankle injury, that seems to have been put on hold. At right tackle, Toby Weathersby is going to get the nod while K.J. Malone will likely be the left tackle to start the season. Weathersby got one start last year and the staff really likes him on the right side while Malone has the quick feet and has really progressed. He doesn't have any career starts, but he's been a star in the weight room and had five knockdowns in significant duty against Arkansas.
Teuhema's injury leaves him as the odd man out along with Chidi Valentine-Okeke being the other tackle. With George Brown's departure, Teuhema and Okeke both figure to get some playing time this season at some point. It's a difficult grind and injuries happen, which is why having the two talented players as tackles will be key. Teuhema could likely see time as well when LSU goes heavy package.
At guard, Donavaughn Campbell (below) and Garrett Brumfield will be two of the relied upon backups along with Lloyd Cushenberry. Campbell was one of the young players called up with the vets when Teuhema and Clapp were both out with injuries early in camp. Andy Dodd will be the backup center this year behind Pocic.
How will Malone fare as his first time as a starter. The key for keeping Brandon Harris clean will be the left tackle. Clapp is relatively proven for LSU, but Malone will have to be ready to roll Game 1 against a tough front seven against LSU. If Harris doesn't feel comfortable with Malone watching his blindside, it could be trouble for the Tigers. Malone has the talent and now he has to put it together while the pressure will be on him to perform.
Ethan Pocic will win the Rimington Trophy for the top center in the country. Blocking for Fournette, LSU's backfield and Harris will be plenty of exposure for Pocic. While this isn't necessarily a bold prediction, for many who thought Pocic should be at left tackle, this will be validation of the move to keep him at center. He's a huge reason why Fournette will have a shot to break the single-season SEC rushing record and if Harris has an improved year, should really be a lock for this award.
There's a lot of pressure on this group to come together and perform. LSU has an absolutely loaded backfield and experience at quarterback and receiver. The time is now for this offense to take a big step forward in the passing game and much of that will be on the offensive line to keep Harris comfortable. LSU's offensive line will also have to face the Alabama defense and control the line of scrimmage. It's easy to single this game out as the big one for LSU's season, but Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Florida among others will have fronts that will give LSU all they can handle as well.
The line will control whether this team can take the next step and win the SEC. Can they stay healthy enough to do it? I'd like to think so.