By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
KJ Malone isn’t ready to give up on his senior season quite yet.
LSU’s left tackle has been out since the Florida game with a knee injury and remains “very questionable” to play in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Texas A&M, Ed Orgeron said Monday, but Malone hopes to back in uniform for Senior Night at Tiger Stadium.
“It’s my last time in Death Valley, so I want to dress out and be out there with the guys one more time,” Malone said in his first meeting with reporters since the injury.
While Orgeron didn’t elaborate much, Malone said he plans to return to the practice field Monday. He’s worked out but hasn’t tried running yet, so the generally up-tempo and pad-less practice should give an indication on where his knee and conditioning are after a month and a half on the shelf.
Malone said the plan is to take part in individual drills, and if that goes well, work his way into some of the team periods of practice as the week goes on.
“I don’t know (about my chances of playing),” Malone said. “We’ll see today after practice.”
The recovery process has been long and arduous. Malone originally targeted the Alabama game for his return but began doubting if he’d ever make it back when his knee was still in a brace coming off the bye week.
Malone desperately wanted to make the trip to Tennessee, but the knee continued to give him trouble last week. He’s gone home to Ruston for all of LSU’s road games since the injury and watched the games with his parents. Karl Sr. apparently yells at the TV during football games, by the way.
It’s not like the senior has been away from the team, though.
Center Will Clapp said Malone has continued to attend the offensive line’s weekly Wednesday night film session and has worked with Saahdiq Charles — his true freshman replacement — during practice.
“He’s a leader on the football team. Being hurt isn’t going to stop him from being a leader,” Clapp said. “It definitely sucks when you’re not on the film and it’s harder to get into it, but he’s done a great job with it.”
Clapp and Malone have been roommates off the field for years and bunk together on the road this season. Clapp had previously roomed with Ethan Pocic the night before games while Malone roomed with La’el Collins, Andy Dodd and Maea Teuhema.
“It’d be awesome to get him back out there,” Clapp said. “We’ve all been missing him. He’s out there at practice helping him out, but having him back in the lineup would be huge. We’ll see how this week goes and hopefully he’s able to dress out one last time.”
For Malone’s part, he’s not trying to upset the apple cart with his return. LSU has gone 4-1 in his absence with Charles coming into his own at left tackle, so even if Malone is able to play, he’s not expecting to get his starting spot back based on seniority.
“Saahdiq has shown a lot,” Malone said. “If I come back, I don’t want to be thrown right in. Saahdiq has done a great job. I don’t want to come back and just take his spot. I want to earn my way back if I can come back and play. Other than that, I’d rather just support Saahdiq and help him with whatever he needs.”
With most of his family coming into town for Senior Night, it’d mean the world to Malone just to put on his No. 63 jersey and take the field with his teammates one final time.
And even though his knee might not be 100 percent quite yet, the opportunity to do so would be too much to pass up.
“The last time dressing out in Death Valley, so I have to do it,” Malone said. “I can’t miss my last week.”