Discovering fresh talent

LSU's solutions to injuries, off-field issues lie in several solid young players

Updated: October 15, 2012, 8:49 AM ET
By Gary Laney | GeauxTigerNation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Few teams in college football have had the injury and attrition issues LSU has gone through.

Since the start of August camp, the Tigers have lost four of their original starters for the season (cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, linebacker Tahj Jones, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and running back Alfred Blue), plus a fifth who became a starter in the place of one of the lost players (linebacker Kwon Alexander).

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireRB Jeremy Hill followed the examples set by several teammates and stepped in Saturday with key contributions as a reserve.
LSU has also had a series of minor injuries that have led to at least eight players who have had a chance to start at least one game: tackle Vadal Alexander, guard Trai Turner, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, linebacker Lamar Louis, strong safety Ronald Martin, center Elliott Porter, defensive end Lavar Edwards and punter Jamie Keehn.

Added together and this should be a decimated team. Instead, LSU is 6-1 and ranked No. 6 in both polls after playing arguably its best game to date in a 23-21 upset of then-No. 3 South Carolina on Saturday. With the emergence of yet more young faces such as Turner and running back Jeremy Hill, the Tigers look as deep as ever going forward thanks to its insistence that young players be prepared to play early in their careers.

Here's how LSU has turned losing players to getting deeper in key spots.

Offensive line: LSU has been reeling ever since losing Faulk, its star left tackle, for the season and the Tigers have had a series of minor injuries since then.

Going forward, however, the injuries have allowed some young linemen to develop. Turner and Alexander, both freshmen, played well as a right-side tandem against South Carolina with starters Alex Hurst and Josh Williford both out. It's possible both Williford and Hurst will return soon. Williford had a head injury and Hurst was dealing with a personal issue.

If both come back, the second-team line should have enough confidence to rotate with the two veterans, perhaps even as a second unit. Hurst, who started two games at left tackle when Faulk's replacement, Josh Dworaczyk, was injured. With that experience under his belt, Hurst could give the Tigers depth at two positions.

Throw in the start Elliott Porter made in place of starter P.J. Lonergan, and LSU is now eight deep with game-proven players on the offensive line, something it could not say coming into the season.

Running back: Blue was LSU's leading rusher when he was lost, likely for the season, in the third game. He was part of a four-back stable when he went down.

The stable is still at four. The Tigers rolled with primarily three backs for three games after Blue was hurt, but against South Carolina, Hill emerged with 124 yards on 17 carries. LSU hasn't necessarily gained depth at running back, but it's just as deep as when Blue was injured.

Defensive line: When an ankle injury slowed defensive end Barkevious Mingo early in the season, senior Lavar Edwards stepped in and has played the best football of his Tigers career in what has been an increased role. With Edwards making plays, including 3.5 sacks, when Mingo or Sam Montgomery go out, LSU needn't feel a drop-off.

Linebacker: When Jones was ruled academically ineligible in August, LSU was left with just three veteran linebackers in Kevin Minter, Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie to go with a slew of freshmen.

Health issues to Muncie -- he had a stomach ailment that caused him to lose weight -- forced true freshman Kwon Alexander into the starting lineup. Alexander was lost for the season because of injury and Louis, another true freshman, made his first start against South Carolina.

If Muncie, who has largely been relegated to special teams, can continue to get healthier, the Tigers will have four linebackers who have proved themselves in games this season and other freshmen, notably Deion Jones, have looked good in a reserve role.

Special teams: When punter Brad Wing could not go in LSU's opener because of injury, true freshman Jamie Keehn played and punted well. After Wing struggled against South Carolina, the Tigers can take comfort that it has a backup who has shown what he can do.

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation