by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Without a doubt, LSU lost a ridiculous amount of production once 2019 legends Joe Burrow, Ja'marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire either graduated or left for the NFL that next April......however, the significant absence of Lloyd Cushenberry's dynamic center play could also be argued as a nearly equal loss.
When Cushenberry & almost every 2019 O-Line starter declared for the NFL Draft, much wasn't made of LSU's dwindling veteran OL pieces; Most analysts welcomed former Head Coach Ed Orgeron & former OL Coach James Cregg's pursuit of Harvard center Liam Shanahan....all without wondering how well an Ivy League man could battle within the bloodthirsty trenches of the SEC.
Shanahan accepted countless roundhouse punches and hung in courageously (despite being bullied by superior athletes), remaining dependably present over the last two seasons at center; still, LSU were lacking versatility, punch & intelligence at their vital anchor spot.
While paying full tribute and credit to Shanahan's dedication over a pair of lukewarm campaigns, the Tigers' offense were missing Cush's ability to read complex defensive fronts, lacked major physical heft and endured a lengthy absence of in-game leadership.
Although a solid friendship existed between QB Max Johnson and Liam Shanahan, there wasn't any chemistry; Often times, it was Shanahan being overpowered, missing blitzes at the line or some other kind of miscommunication which led to Max taking numerous blood-curdling hits last season; the footage of his repeated hits vs 2021 Alabama looked like scenes out of a snuff film directed by Aaron Donald.
Now, heading into 2022 under new Head Coach Brian Kelly, LSU attempted to solve their center problem through the transfer portal; while the staff were able to pick up interior OL Tre'mond Shorts and highly prized tackle Miles Frazier, a center couldn't be found......so, Coach Brad Davis would have to find one on roster.
With limited options and a younger group of versatile, athletic offensive linemen, Coach Davis picked through his top options at center, coming up with just two solid leads; On the first day of Spring practices, LSU's first string offense lined up with LSU's longtime swingman Charles Turner as their signal caller.
A veteran red-shirt freshman on LSU's 2019 National Championship squad, Turner appeared in 3 games for Coach O's unforgettable Burrow-led squad, always in mop-up duty alongside Anthony Bradford, semi-starter Ed Ingram, Cam Wire and other backups from the era.
As a red shirt sophomore, Charles battled during 8 appearances out of a possible 10 games, finding himself at various positions along the offensive line. In 2021, he featured four times at guard and tackle, notably filling in on the right wing when current Texans' RT Austin Deculus was out injured.
Both seasons he grabbed just 1 start over each campaign, although the tape showcases Turner's importance.
Able to set the edge at tackle, fend off DTs or blitzing LBs from the interior, supplying nice footwork at times, as well as mastering leverage against faster or stronger opponents more often than not, Charles Turner recorded slices of impressive film during his last two seasons.
Now, the versatile O-lineman is tasked with becoming the center who LSU's offense, quarterback and fans can trust.
Looking up to the challenge throughout spring, Turner continued to retain his place as LSU's first team center, providing a steady supply of smooth snaps and solid blocking up front. His rise culminated in a powerhouse Spring game display, where the Tigers' rushing attack (mostly without an injured John Emery Jr) piled over 200 combined yards behind the 2019 National Champion.
Outside of Ty Davis-Price's 1,000 yard season (mostly based on a final 6 game spree) or a few outings from current Cincy RB Corey Kiner or John Emery Jr, LSU were woeful rushing the ball over the past two years, hitting a nadir when averaging an abysmal 2.6 yards per carry over their first four games last season (vs UCLA, Mcnees, Central Michigan & Auburn)....
....featuring a collection of talented backs such as Emery Jr, Cain, Bradford, Goodwin and Williams, if our offense can consistently run the ball behind Turner's interior lead, things could really start to formulate for Mike Denbrock's dynamic set-up.
If Charles Turner can continue in this same vein, utilizing his cross-training knowledge, he will be monumentally key for LSU in 2022. Knowing the Tigers' only other option would be freshman Fitz West Jr, Turner is embracing his newfound anchor responsibility.
The former IMG standout is able to grasp just how important his development will be to the success of LSU's offense; in fact, Turner has to know he may be Brian Kelly's only experienced, viable center.....
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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