Veteran Anthony Bradford has left the room. While this group is seeing some pretty serious change behind the starting lineup, LSU is also in an advantageous position considering what it returns. Freshmen Will Campbell and Emery Jones are catalysts up front after a very strong first year with the program. Thus LSU’s offensive line won’t be returning all of its starting lineups from the 2022 season. Still, there are many favorable options for this group to continue building on its continuity gained this last year.
Center Charles Turner returns as the most veteran voice in this room and one that is extremely important to the chemistry and in game calls and protections. Miles Frazier will also figure into this starting lineup after becoming a mainstay at guard during the regular season.
But with those four pretty much penciled in as significant pieces, where does that leave the fifth and final starting lineman? There are a few possible answers on the surface that come to mind but could require a little shuffling of the line.
The first option would require zero maneuvering whatsoever and that would simply be to slide Garrett Dellinger back into the right guard slot, where he spent a ton of time. Kind of the swiss army knife of the o-line in 2022, Dellinger started the season at center before Turner really took over that position. As a result, Dellinger slid over to right guard for a handful of games before an injury to his hand and later his knee, kept him out five games, allowing Bradford to take over and thrive as the starter.
Dellinger has dealt with many injuries in his first few years with the program but did appear to be more comfortable on the inside at guard in his nine appearances. In fact during the Citrus Bowl, it was Dellinger who replaced Frazier as the starting left guard as another option for this coaching staff to examine. Dellinger would then slide over to right guard once Bradford entered the game and moved again to center once Turner and backup Marlon Martinez both went down with injuries.
Sliding Dellinger into that final starting spot is the most likely scenario to play out as it not only requires the least amount of restructuring but it also keeps that continuity going as Dellinger did start in six of the nine games he played in last year.
But there is a far more intriguing option that would require some moving parts along the o-line but keep the relative foundation intact. This would be looking far into the future of this offseason but what if one of the freshmen o-linemen come in and are ready to slide into a starting spot?
The most likely of the group would be five-star tackle Zalance Heard, who’s coming off a great end to his high school career and an All-America bowl week showing that was truly impressive. If there’s a lineman who could come in and earn early playing time, Heard would be the favorite but there is a caveat.
Heard will not be an early enrollee, meaning he’ll have to really make a strong impression once he arrives in Baton Rouge this summer for offseason workouts. The rising true freshman out of Neville has been very vocal about his confidence in being able to play left tackle for the Tigers but it’s hard to imagine Campbell relinquishing control there.
“I’m expecting to get in there and get rolling pretty early. Knowing me, I’m pretty sure I can get in and get rolling but we’ll see when I get there,” Heard told us prior to signing day. “I can’t remember everything they’ve said but they like the fact that I’m long. It’s a lot. I’m most likely gonna be a tackle, I don’t think I’ll be an inside guy.”
The other option, if Heard or one of these incoming freshmen do prove to be ready, would be to slide Jones inside to right guard and potentially Heard or that other fifth starter at right tackle. Jones spent a whole year at right tackle and performed admirably for the Tigers but what this line could grow into would be truly remarkable if another one of these young studs is able to prove worthy of a starting spot.
These are just two directions that could unfold in the months to come but even with the relative retooling of this o-line in some areas, it’s hard not to be excited about the future considering how many young guys are developing at such a rapid pace.