Now that is a mean looking dude. His name is Will Arnold, senior, and he is a Pre-Season Coaches' All-SEC offensive lineman, first team. Unfortunately, he has never played a full season of football without injury in his time at LSU. He has reportedly had 18 surgeries on his knees, but I can't swear that's true. It's been said that he has the knees of an old man. He missed the last 9 games of last season, and was STILL named 2nd Team All-SEC. He's received All-American honors. That's a mighty high praise and high expectations for a man almost no one expects to be able to play a full healthy season.
Alright, let's assume that will Arnold really is that good*, and let's further assume that we have to limit his playing time in order to keep him healthy.
If both of those things are true, one of Miles' most important jobs in pre-season is to decide how best to use Will Arnold, and more importantly how best to limit his use. There are several strategies one can use to do this. Some of my preferred strategies are discussed below.
1. Only play him in SEC games.
When someone on a message board suggested that we not play him against Mississippi State so we could save him and rest him for Virginia Tech, I was a bit taken aback. When I replied that he should be held out of the Virginia Tech game after playing in the MSU game, one person said, "VT is much more important than Ole Miss and Mississippi State." I was a bit taken aback by this statement, until I realized that a lot of people probably agree with him. Those people are wrong.
The primary goal of the regular season is to make it to the SEC Championship Game. The outcome of the Virginia Tech game will do nothing to decide who advances to the SECCG. What's more, the secondary goal of the regular season is to set ourselves up for a possible berth in the National Championship game. If we lose to Virginia Tech, we are further from that goal, but if we win all the rest of our games, we probably have a better-then-even shot at making it to that game. Only our tertiary goal of having an undefeated season will be ruined by a loss to Virginia Tech.
In other words, while the Virginia Tech game is a very exciting matchup between two teams that should be very good, it's a game we can afford to lose and still meet most of our goals. With a loss to Virginia Tech, we'll still win the SEC if we take care of business in the rest of our games. The same is not necessarily true if we lose to Mississippi State or Ole Miss.
Granted, I think it's unlikely we lose to either of those two teams, but if you recall Ole Miss pushed us to overtime last year and honestly looked for three quarters like they were going to win that game. I'm not sure either of those teams will be as good as Ole Miss was last year (which itself wasn't particularly good), but if we fail to show up again either of those teams can beat us.
This strategy alone will keep him out of games 2, 3, 5, and 10. His schedule would be back-loaded, which could lead to a problem, but it would hopefully at least get him TO about week 6 without great risk of injury.
2. Remove him from all games in which we are ahead by more than one possession.
If we're ahead by 9 or more points, and the opposition cannot close the gap in just one possession, that's a good time to start saving Will Arnold. Honestly, this should mean that he would play limited action against Mississippi State, and probably Ole Miss as well, and possibly others.
3. Don't put him in a game until the 2nd quarter.
This is probably pushing it. Combined with Strategy #2, this would probably mean he wouldn't play at all against MSU, which would keep him out entirely until week 4 at South Carolina, a team I consider to be pretty darn good.
Why would you do this? Unlike the previous strategies, this is a risky move that could make the difference between wins and losses. It comes down to just how much Arnold can play. If he isn't playing in the first quarter, you can evaluate how your team is doing without him while saving him for crunch time. Combined with the idea of removing him from games when we're ahead by more than one score, it could keep him out of several of our games.
I don't know how much Will Arnold can play. I hope he can play quite a bit, but I think realistically he has to be limited in his playing time or he won't be around for the most important stretch of games in October and early November, which will see us play Florida, Auburn, Kentucky, and Bama.
*Am I the only person who noticed that after Arnold got injured against Auburn, our offensive line actually improved significantly. I'm not saying it's because we lost him, but it suggests that maybe Arnold isn't as essential as some believe.