LSU will see its resiliency and depth tested yet again.
First, it was Tyrann Mathieu, the team's most dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams and a Heisman Trophy finalist from last season. Mathieu was dismissed from the team in August for repeated violations of the school's drug-testing policy for athletes.
The latest blow came on offense. Junior left tackle Chris Faulk injured his knee in practice this week, and multiple reports are now surfacing that it's ligament damage and that he could miss the entire season. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Thursday that Faulk was "likely done for the 2012 season with a major knee injury that will require surgery and long-term rehabilitation."
The 6-foot-6, 323-pound Faulk was one of the Tigers' most athletic offensive linemen and a key in being able to block the never-ending stream of explosive edge pass-rushers you see in the SEC.
In fact, had you picked three or four players at the start of training camp that the Tigers could least afford to lose, Faulk would have been in that group along with Mathieu. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had Faulk rated as the No. 3 junior offensive tackle in the country.
The Tigers have a couple of different ways they can go without Faulk. It's not like they haven't recruited well in the offensive line the past few years. The plan this Saturday against Washington is to start sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk at left tackle. LSU coach Les Miles said before the season that Dworaczyk would be the Tigers' utility man up front. Plugging in Dworaczyk means nobody else has to move, although just about all of Dworaczyk's game experience has been at guard.
Moving senior Alex Hurst from right tackle to left tackle is also something the Tigers will consider. Like Faulk, Hurst is an NFL draft prospect. Plus, moving Hurst would get promising true freshman Vadal Alexander on the field at right tackle.
Sophomore La'El Collins moved inside to guard last season after coming to LSU as a highly rated tackle prospect. He started at left guard in the opener, but is somebody else that could move to tackle if the Tigers have more injuries.
The good thing is that they have options, and they've shown in the past under Miles that they don't easily get off track even when they do lose key players.
When we did our preseason countdown on the SEC blog of the 25 best players in the league, Faulk checked in at No. 14 and Mathieu would have been in the top five had he not been kicked off the team.
Very few teams could get away with losing two players of that caliber (at those positions) this early in the season and still be a serious contender for the national championship.
LSU is one of those teams, although the Tigers' path to Miami just got a lot harder.