By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
A true freshman will start LSU’s season opener along the offensive line — apparently for the first time ever.
Either Ed Ingram or Saahdiq Charles will be LSU’s right guard when the Tigers open up the season against BYU on Saturday, LSU coach Ed Orgeron announced Monday.
Charles took first-team reps during the media viewing portion of Monday’s practice, though Orgeron said both of the rookies will play against the Cougars on Saturday.
Orgeron himself acknowledged that, prior to camp, he thought Ingram and Charles may be candidates to redshirt. Obviously things have changed dramatically after four weeks of practice.
“I’m proud of those guys and I’ve seen them work throughout camp and see them go against very good defensive linemen,” Orgeron said. “They are ready to go. Are they going to make freshmen mistakes? Yes. But it’s not like they are physically unprepared to do it. I think they are physically prepared to do it.”
The right guard competition has been a central storyline of camp since presumed starter Maea Teuhema left the program weeks ago.
Lloyd Cushenberry, the backup center, has also been in the mix at right guard and could play there Saturday if needed, Orgeron said, but for now LSU has zeroed in on Ingram and Charles at the position.
Generally speaking, the offensive line is one position that LSU hasn’t started many true freshmen in recent years.
Going back to 2007, only four true freshmen offensive linemen have started games for LSU. They were Maea Teuhema (11 starts) and Toby Weathersby (one start) in 2015, Ethan Pocic (one start) in 2013 and Vadal Alexander (nine starts) in 2012.
None of those starts came in LSU’s season opener. In fact, according to LSU research guru Todd Politz, this is the first time in the modern history of the program — at least dating back to World War II — that a true freshman will start the season on LSU’s offensive line.
So what, aside from necessity, makes Charles and Ingram ready to take on such a responsibility?
“They’re just physical and they’re not like one of those freshmen you see that comes in here and are scared of contact,” senior left tackle K.J. Malone said. “They love contact and they learned the playbook fast as hell.”
Malone, who redshirted his first year on campus, marvels at how ready to compete this freshmen class showed up on campus.
The veteran added that the young guys have been ready to work since day one and never hesitated to lean on the experienced players like himself, Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby for help in what’s become an ultra-tight offensive line room.
“How they look right now, they look like All-Americans compared to me my freshman year,” Malone said. “They have size and look more game-ready than I was my freshman year.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be nerves for the rookies when they jog out onto the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time.
Quarterback Danny Etling started the final seven games of his true freshman campaign while back at Purdue in 2013. He offered a bit of perspective and advice on the challenges of making such an immediate jump from high school to Division I football.
“You don’t know what you don’t know yet,” Etling said. “Just to relax and make sure you have fun. Sometimes it can so nerve racking not wanting to make mistakes, but obviously the coaches know you’re good enough to play, and if you’re good enough to be out there, just go do what you’re supposed to do and have fun doing it.”
Etling wasn’t particularly unnerved by the idea of having an 18-year-old protecting him against a rugged front seven and a team that’s among the oldest in college football with an average age of 21.4 years.
“From a quarterback’s perspective, I know I have faith in them,” Etling said. “Coach (Jeff) Grimes is always doing what he’s supposed to do and he understands how to get them in the right position to succeed.”
TRUE FRESHMEN O-LINE STARTERS SINCE 2007
|2015||Maea Teuhema (11/12 games)
Toby Weathersby (one game)
|2013||Ethan Pocic (one game)|
|2012||Vadal Alexander (9/13 games)|