LSU ready to prove elite football status is sustainable
Let us take inventory of the losses incurred by the LSU football program after the most impressive, biggest winning season in program history.
With all due respect to all three previous national championship teams, the 2019 LSU Tigers were the most impressive team in the history of the storied Tiger football legacy and what a legacy that team left!
First, you lose perhaps the two most important coaches (next to Ed Orgeron) on the staff in Joe Brady and Dave Aranda. Then, you replace another important coach with perhaps an even better option.
Then, there is the matter of losing great players, including Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, certain to be the top pick in the NFL Draft.
Other potential first-round picks are gone as well in Justin Jefferson, Patrick Queen, K’Lavon Chaisson, Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit.
In the second round, names like Lloyd Cushenberry, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jacob Phillips are expected to come off the board, as will Fulton and Delpit, if they do not go late in the first round.
That is nine players among the top 64 players in the NFL Draft, a sobering thought to consider for the immediate future of LSU football.
Others certain to be drafted include Saahdiq Charles, Rashard Lawrence, Damien Lewis, Thaddeus Moss and Stephen Sullivan. That brings the total number of LSU players going in the draft to 14.
Linebacker Michael Divinity, who missed most of the season due to disciplinary action, could be a late round pick or an undrafted free agent. Long snapper Blake Ferguson will likely get a shot as an undrafted free agent as well.
How do you overcome such massive losses to be a contender for the national championship, much less the conference title in the best league in the country (SEC) in 2020?
By recruiting well and coaching well.
Orgeron mitigated his coaching losses in fine fashion, hiring a pair of coaches with great resumes and proven success in their vast experiences in Scott Linehan and Bo Pellini.
Linehan replaces Brady.
Linehan was an NFL head coach for three years. He has also served as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
On the college level, Linehan worked as an assistant at Idaho, UNLV, Washington and Louisville.
Linehan has coached excellent players and he has seen it all.
He is still in the prime of his career, just 56, with plenty of game left.
Linehan will bring his vast experience and ideas to mesh with Steve Ensminger, the unsung hero of LSU’s brilliant offensive showing in 2019.
Ensminger will no doubt incorporate the principals of the New Orleans Saints passing game brought so effectively to the table by Brady while adding the Linehan touches to the gourmet spread so the Tiger offense can continue to eat.
Defensively, Pellini returns to Baton Rouge after a successful stint as defensive coordinator from 2005-07 under Les Miles.
While in the same position, things are certainly different now, working with Orgeron.
Pellini was excellent with LSU the first time around and he was good as the head coach at Nebraska from 2008-14, going 67-27.
Amazingly, Nebraska did not value the fiery Pellini and let him go. The Cornhuskers have faded into oblivion since, going 28-34 in the five seasons since Pellini departed, going through two head coaches. File that one in the “be careful what you wish for” category.
At Youngstown State, Pellini went 33-28 in five seasons as head coach, taking his team to the FCS championship game in 2016.
Pellini previously served as defensive coordinator at Nebraska and Oklahoma before arriving at LSU the first time around. At the NFL level, Pellini worked as an assistant with San Francisco, New England and Green Bay. Pellini is still in the prime of his career, just 52, with plenty of game left.
Then, Tommie Robinson departed for rival Texas A&M and he was replaced by former Tiger great Kevin Faulk, a great hire and potential upgrade.
By all accounts, LSU is a top 10 team entering the 2020 season, perhaps even top five, yet the Tigers figure to be behind Alabama and Georgia in national rankings.
So much of the success of the 2020 Tigers will fall on Myles Brennan.
There is little doubt that Brennan is totally prepared for the ask at hand.
Brennan is entering his third year at LSU.
He has gotten on the field in 15 games over three seasons and earned a redshirt season in 2018 after playing in just one game.
Brennan has completed 60 percent of his passes (42-of-70) for 600 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Brennan has a good arm, perhaps even stronger than Burrow. He has experience and knowledge of the offense of Ensminger and Brady and he has learned from Danny Etling and Burrow.
Freshmen TJ Finley and Max Johnson are battling to see who can possibly be the reserve in 2020 while Peter Parrish has taken a step back after being suspended earlier this month for violating team rules.
Those close to the program feel Brennan is a pretty good leader. He has the height (6-4) and he has gotten bigger and stronger, which was needed.
The running back position is well stocked with Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery. All are good and bring different skill-sets to the table. Curry rushed 38 times for 189 yards a last season. He is a slasher with the ability to read and react.
Davis-Price is a banger who rushed 64 times for 301 yards and six touchdowns last season. Emery had 39 carries for 196 yards and four touchdowns and brings sudden speed to the position.
The wide receiver position remains strong, despite the loss of Jefferson.
Ja’Maar Chase is the reigning Fred Biletnikoff winner as the best wideout in the country. The former Archbishop Rummel star has it all. He is physical, has strong hands and good speed. Chase is a smooth athlete who can run all of the routes. Chase had 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
Terrace Marshall had a breakout season after battling through injuries in his freshman year. Marshall is a huge target and runs well for a big man. Marshall had 46 catches for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Former Karr star Racey McMath played a solid role as the fourth wide receiver last season, catching 17 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. McMath is a big, physical receiver, a good target.
Trey Palmer of Kentwood has natural ability and could break through as a starter. Palmer has speed as a former track star in high school and he averaged 25.8 yards per catch in his senior season with the Kangaroos.
Jaray Jenkins and Dontre Kirklin are back while newcomers Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore bring speed and athleticism to the position. One could certainly figure in the rotation while the other may be a candidate for a redshirt season.
Tight end will be an interesting spot.
LSU has been blessed most recently with Foster Moreau, now a solid NFL player, and Moss, who figures to play in the NFL.
The returning players are senior Jamal Pettigrew of St. Augustine, Aaron Moffitt of Catholic High and Tory Carter.
Pettigrew (6-6) has a chance to emerge as a senior. Moffitt is a converted defensive lineman who has battled injuries for two seasons. He certainly can block in the run game. The same is true of Carter, a converted fullback, who caught two passes a year ago.
The players to watch are newcomers Arik Gilbert and Kole Taylor.
Gilbert is a 5-star player who can do it all. At 6-5, 253, Gilbert has the size you love for the position. He can block at the point of attack. More importantly, he can create various mismatches with his freak athleticism for his size as a potential prized receiver.
Taylor is even taller (6-7), presenting an amazing target in the passing game. Taylor will not be counted on in the run game as he has a slim build but he can be a huge asset in red zone situations and up the seam in the passing game.
Up front, Chasen Hines would appear to have the edge at center. There is always the possibility of Hines playing guard, though Orgeron called Hines the frontrunner to man the spot.
Turner has to put on weight but all reports point toward that happening. Martinez can play center or guard. The wild card is Joseph Evans, who has moved from defensive line to center and is a good athlete. Turner has to put on weight, get stronger and improve his snaps while Marlon Martinez is in the mix.
At guard, junior Ed Ingram is back and ready to become a dominant player, which everyone thought he would be before his off the field issues sidelined him. Sophomore Anthony Bradford is the likely starter opposite Ingram, having played in three games last season.
Kardell Thomas returns from an ankle injury. Martinez can play guard while the newcomer is Xavier Hill. Former Ponchatoula star Donavaughn Campbell entered the transfer portal in January.
At tackle, LSU has a pair of good athletes set to step in. Austin Deculus is now a senior and really improved a year ago. Deculus is the only returning starter up front from 2019. Dare Rosenthal is an outstanding athlete who has made a successful move from defensive end. Rosenthal started three games a year ago and he is just a sophomore.
Thomas Perry was injured a year ago but the mammoth product of Teurlings Catholic returns to provide depth. Cameron Wire redshirted a year ago to get stronger and could be in the mix. The newcomer with the best chance to get on the field is Marcus Dumervil (6-5, 305) who is a good athlete for his size. Senior Jakori Savage provides experience.
The defensive front has four players with significant experience returning to likely man starting spots, including seniors Glen Logan and Neil Farrell, along with junior Tyler Shelvin and sophomore Apu Ika.
Logan played in 11 games with 10 starts last season. The former Destrehan star had 18 tackles, including a sack. Shelvin (6-3, 346) and Ika (6-4, 354) are gigantic obstacles at the point of attack. Shelvin played in 14 games with 13 starts and was in on 39 tackles. Ika played in 12 games with 17 tackles last season.
Farrell played in 14 games with three starts. Farrell was in on 45 tackles, including three sacks. Joseph Evans adds depth. He had five tackles last season.
Andre Anthony figures to be excellent at defensive end. Anthony converted from outside linebacker and he played in nine games a year ago while another incoming freshman, BJ Ojulari, has been very impressive early on.
TK McClendon, a former tight end who runs very well, could well earn a starting spot at defensive end with his athleticism. McClendon is a junior college transfer.
Senior Justin Thomas could also earn a starting spot at defensive end, battling Oulari and Anthony for playing time.
The additional depth will come from incoming players in Jacobian Guillory, Jaquelin Roy and Eric Taylor, along with junior college transfer. Justin Thomas is also back.
Linebacker is a concern area as all starters from a year ago are gone.
One spot will be occupied by junior Damone Clark, who had 50 tackles last season, playing in all 15 games and starting three.
Junior Micah Baskerville could hold down one outside linebacker spot in the 4-3 front.
Baskerville played in 12 games and had 15 tackles a year ago. Senior Ray Thornton is back after injuries stopped him cold a year ago. When healthy, Thornton has the size and the quickness as an edge rusher that can really help.
Freshmen Antoine Sampah and Phillip Webb were highly touted signees and one, if not both, could figure in the mix.
Sophomore Marcel Brooks is a bit undersized but he is a very good athlete who could start on the outside as a hybrid player who can line up at safety as well.
Former wide receiver Devonta Lee has moved to linebacker as well and could emerge if he adjusts quickly.
The cornerback position is in good hands (and legs), despite the departure of Fulton.
Sophomore Derek Stingley Jr. is just a sophomore and could be the best corner in the nation. As a freshman, Stingley had 38 tackles, six interceptions, defended 15 passes and recovered a fumble.
Sophomore Cordale Flott emerged as a good cover corner a year ago, playing in 13 games with one start.
Prized freshman Elias Ricks and freshman Jay Ward will have a shot to contribute quickly. Ricks is recovering from a shoulder injury. Raydarious Jones is another freshman to keep in mind.
At safety, senior JaCoby Stevens returns and he is superb. Stevens played in all 15 games and was in on 92 tackles five sacks and three interceptions. He is a premier strong safety.
Senior Todd Harris returns after tearing his ACL against Northwestern State. If healthy, Harris will be outstanding. Senior Kary Vincent also returns. He stepped in and played well a year ago, playing in all 15 games with 47 tackles, four interceptions and eight passes defended.
Sophomore Mo Hampton returns as well after playing in 12 games with one start last season. Hampton injured his back with the Tiger baseball team before the season was abruptly halted due to the Coronavirus. Brooks could figure at safety as well.
The kicker, Cade York, the punter, Zach Von Rosenberg, and kickoff specialist Avery Atkins are all back, giving the Tigers a huge edge in the kick game. Stingley is back to return punts and kickoffs while Chase and Palmer could figure in the kickoff return game as well.
York slumped late in the season but is still solid and has to be as Connor Culp entered the transfer portal following the season. Quinten Skinner is the new long snapper.
While LSU lost a significant number of elite players and two elite coaches, the cupboard is not bare. There are elite players returning, elite recruits on hand and two elite coaches to fill the bill, the sign of an elite program in the making for years to come.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…