By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Rashard Lawrence remembers the sight of Florida celebrating on the field at Tiger Stadium last November.
He felt disrespected, and it’s going to take much more than a nagging ankle injury to keep the sophomore defensive end from his chance to return the favor when LSU heads to The Swamp this Saturday to reignite one of the Southeastern Conference’s most heated rivalries.
“It’s Florida week. I’m going to play,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “I’ll be good by Saturday for sure.”
Lawrence, who returned to practice Monday, says he’ll be able to play with his ankle tape. The ankles get better as the weeks go on, he said, and he’s felt no limitations moving around in practice thus far. He’s in the training room getting treatment every morning and both before and after practice.
Of all LSU’s various injured starters, a case can be made Lawrence’s return is the most essential as the Tigers begin a stretch of seven straight Southeastern Conference games to close the season.
Lawrence has battled ankle injuries since the season opener, missing three of LSU’s past four games. It’s not a coincidence that LSU has lost two of them while looking overmatched up front. The Tigers yielded 245.5 yards per game on the ground in those two defeats.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has repeatedly called the sophomore a “difference maker” at defensive end and one of the unquestioned leaders on that side of the ball.
“One guy that’s clearly a team leader is Rashard Lawrence. Clearly,” Orgeron said Monday. “I mean, the two games we lost, he’s not in there. And he makes a difference, not only his playmaking ability but the way he leads, his heart, his want to do good for Louisiana. He’s a 4.0 grade point average. He does — I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better kid. He does everything right and he plays. And so he’s one of our leaders.”
“When Rashard is in there, you get a push and a whole different aspect of playmaking ability,” inside linebacker Devin White added. “Rashard is one of a kind. You don’t really get too many defensive linemen like him.”
Lawrence isn’t the only defensive linemen set to return this week, bolstering a thin group that struggled mightily in the 24-21 loss to Troy. Backup nose tackle Ed Alexander is also expected to play Saturday and defensive end Frank Herron will be back for Auburn next week.
“That’s going to be huge,” Lawrence said. “Rougarou (Alexander’s nickname), he’s going to be ready to go this week. We get Frank back for Auburn. That’s going to be big. We’re going to have all hands on deck and we’ll be ready to go.”
With the season seemingly at a crossroads, LSU can use all the manpower it can get in the trenches.