The leadership center Lloyd Cushenberry provided last season is one of the components of the offense that is just hard to replace in 2020. Not only was his chemistry great with his quarterback and offensive line, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind, which is one of the reasons he became the first LSU offensive lineman to earn the honor of wearing No. 18.
He was the backbone of a unit that was much maligned two and three seasons ago. But last season there was a dramatic change up front as experience and hard work turned the Tigers into the best unit in college football, winning the Joe Moore Award in the process.
So when the junior announced he'd be foregoing his senior season and entering the NFL draft, eventually to be drafted by the Denver Broncos, the natural question became, who was lying in wait?
The first name to come to mind was rising junior Chasen Hines. The Marshall, Texas native arrived to Baton Rouge in 2018 as the No. 6 ranked offensive guard prospect in the country according to 247Sports. After making a strong early impression with the coaching staff in 2018, Hines appeared in eight games as a freshman to get his feet wet at the college level.
Entering the 2019 offseason, he and senior guard Adrian Magee were expected to battle it out for the starting left guard position. But offseason knee surgery took out the then sophomore Hines for all of spring and limited him during the 2019 preseason camp.
Magee eventually won out and did a magnificent job all year but where the 6-foot-3, 336-pound Hines would best fit moving forward quickly became a question for Orgeron and offensive line coach James Cregg. The staff ultimately decided it was best to start grooming someone else at the center spot should Cushenberry leave after the season and settled in on Hines as the candidate.
Hines would appear in 10 games during LSU's quest for a national championship, the most of which came in a 66-38 win over Vanderbilt. As he adjusted to his new role as a backup center, he'd primarily snap the ball to Myles Brennan, who is now the starting quarterback.
When Hines did see action at center in 2019, it was often in ‘garbage time’ but through those game and practice reps to Brennan, the chemistry between the two should already be developing.
That chemistry between the center and quarterback is one of the most important, yet undervalued parts of having a successful offense. Cushenberry and Joe Burrow always seemed to be on the same page with their pre snap diagnoses of the defense and Brennan and Hines will need to do the same.
"We got to get our snaps down. Most of our snaps are from shotgun. We've got a new quarterback, got a new center," Orgeron said in an interview with "Off the Bench" a few weeks back. "Chasen Hines has all the athletic ability in the world. He's 6-2, 340. Started as a freshman against Auburn, played very well. I do believe he has a chance to be an outstanding center, but first of all he's got to get the snap down."
Orgeron said Hines and redshirt freshman Joseph Evans will be the two most likely to win the starting center job once walkthroughs start to open up in July. Evans came to the program as a defensive tackle but was moved to the offensive side of the ball soon thereafter and is someone who Orgeron likens to Cushenberry.
"He's the quarterback of the offensive line. He has to identify the Mike, he has to make the communication so it's either going to be him or Joseph Evans," Orgeron said. "Joseph is 6-2, 300. I think he reminds us of Lloyd Cushenberry so there's going to be a battle."
The position is wide open and Hines will need to prove from an early stage that he's made the kind of strides the coaching staff is hoping for. It'll be one of the top storylines to follow in the ensuing weeks as Cushenberry proved last year just how important not only the position but the leadership that is needed to be a high quality center.