BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron made clear the identity of his starting center after LSU's first spring practice.
"[Will] Clapp will be the first center," Orgeron said.
There are two problems with that statement, one of which is temporary: Clapp is not practicing this spring after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. In addition, the All-SEC guard has never played center in a college game.
The Tigers are making do with redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry and a collection of temporary fill-ins handling the center job for now -- left tackle K.J. Malone even posted a photo of himself snapping on Instagram this week. However, Clapp says he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and will be able to begin preparing for his new job soon.
"Right now I'm 10 weeks out of surgery. I just talked to the doctor on Monday and he just told me everything's great," Clapp said before Thursday's practice. "Way ahead of schedule on my rehab, doing things that are probably four weeks ahead of what I normally would be doing, so the doctor said keep going with what you're doing and stay on top of it. I'll be back in time for summer workouts, and I'm almost there."
Although Clapp said Thursday he was prepared to play wherever his team needs him, he acknowledged that he was preparing to be the center once the season arrives. If all goes according to plan, he will be playing his third position in three seasons after starting at right guard as a redshirt freshman and left guard last fall.
There were plenty of practice reps at center sprinkled in too, leaving Clapp confident he can handle the job once he returns.
"My freshman year when I was redshirting, I was the backup center so I was always taking the two reps, splitting those with [Andy] Dodd," Clapp said. "Going into my redshirt freshman year, probably about two weeks up until the first game, me and [Ethan] Pocic, I was playing center and Pocic was playing guard and then we flipped. And then I played guard the rest of the year. So I've played a lot of center, just never done it in a game."
The Tigers probably need him to be ready this year. Pocic developed into an All-American at center, but he was a senior last season. Dodd announced before spring practice that he intended to transfer. That creates an enormous void that somebody must fill, and it looks as if it will be Clapp, even if he might become an All-American candidate if he stays at guard.
If LSU's center is in fact Clapp, one advantage of his injury absence is that he is watching these practices from a different vantage point. A center makes the protection calls before each play, and his opportunity to watch things from a global perspective should help Clapp as he absorbs his responsibilities in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's scheme.
"I'm pretty much looking from where the coaches are at and I'm seeing things I normally wouldn't see as a player and I'm seeing more big-picture things, so I think this is actually kind of helping me," Clapp said. "I'm learning the big picture on offense, I'm learning what everybody's doing, how it affects the defense, and I think as a center you have to be able to know how the linebackers and the safeties are rotating with the amount of shifts we do and that's just all going to come to me now."
Once he is back on the field, Clapp knows he's going to have to move quickly from the huddle to a set position ahead of the snap -- a staple of Canada's offense -- and he also has to take command from a communicative standpoint. The center is the lead communicator on the offense, and he'll also have to establish continuity with whoever starts at guard this fall -- it looks like Garrett Brumfield and Maea Teuhema for now.
"Everybody's going to have to jell with each other," Clapp said. "We've got to make sure we've got guys that are interchangeable and each guy can play multiple spots. There's going to be some points where we need to just lock down the communication and get it going."