BATON ROUGE — On the first day of LSU football’s spring training, offense and defense were separated into two areas. defense to the left. attack to the right.
In left field it was mostly business as usual. But something was wrong on the right, especially when running backwards.
During the media-available session of practice, only three running backs participated in a balancing drill directed by running backs coach Frank Wilson. With John Emery Jr., Armoni Goodwin, Josh Williams and Kaleb Jackson unavailable, only two of the three defenders — senior Noah Cain and Trey Holly, a freshly enrolled early entrant — were on scholarship. The third running back was the walkable Malachi Lane.
Williams will be back soon, according to coach Brian Kelly, but Goodwin (knee) will be out until preseason practice; Jackson, a freshman, will not join the team until the summer; and Emery is away from the team for an unknown amount of time for academic reasons.
“(Emery) has some grades that he needs to hit academically before we talk to him about football,” Kelly said.
LSU’s Running Backs Room on Thursday was the clearest example of what’s wrong with the Tigers as they began their second set of spring practices under coach Brian Kelly: injuries and absences.
On the offensive line, the Tigers only have seven available grantees. All four of their freshmen (Lance Heard, Tyree Adams, DJ Chester and Paul Mubenga) failed to register early, and starting center Charles Turner is out for the spring with injury. LSU added Maryland transfer Mason Lunsford from the portal this week, but he has yet to sign up.
“We’re very thin on offense,” Kelly said. “So the charge will be after today and will really focus on propping up that group.”
LSU’s defensive line will also be lightweight this spring, with star defensive tackle Maason Smith and new signing Da’Shawn Womack limited as non-contact participants and West Virginia’s Jordan Jefferson and Mekhi Wingo out with injuries for the entire spring.
At quarterback, Garrett Nussmeier attended practice Thursday, but Kelly said he’s still not 100% fit after undergoing corrective surgery this offseason. Other notable injury-related absences include Alabama wide receiver transfer Aaron Anderson, Syracuse cornerback transfer Duce Chestnut and Mason Taylor, all of whom are out for the spring.
“Anderson Anderson is coming back from surgery so we haven’t seen him yet,” Kelly said. “But we know his history and what a great high school player he was in the state. If he can take this to the field here at LSU, we’re obviously going to record him somewhere.”
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Luckily for Tiger fans, none of the injured players this spring are in danger of missing LSU’s Sept. 3 season opener against Florida State, at least for now.
And while the roster may not reflect that right now, Kelly knows LSU has the depth to weather injuries better than it did a year ago. The Tigers may currently have holes in places like the running back and offensive line, but they still have a much deeper roster this season after reloading defense via the transfer portal and adding 25 signers from high school ranks.
By the end of the upcoming season, Kelly is hoping LSU’s added depth will pay off.
“If you look at the SEC (Championship) game, there were a lot of compressed formations where they went against our best players and forced some guys who were less than 100% to play in the running game,” Kelly said . “…Certainly (by) the end of November it became quite clear that (our depth) needed to be addressed.”
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @KokiRiley.