LSU’s pleasant surprises early in 2022 season

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Jayden Daniels
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

Progress could be made on the field for Brian Kelly’s LSU Tigers without being fully reflected in the win-loss record.

There is no question that Kelly and staff have the program headed in the right direction though, but the challenge of the upcoming schedule will test LSU to be certain. Injuries are going to happen (and already have) but it’s how the Tigers adjust on the fly that will be key.

Losing top defensive player Maason Smith in the season opener for the season was quite a blow. Defensive back Major Burns suffered a neck injury that puts him on the shelf for 3-6 weeks. The defense has improved each week so far despite losing players for the short or long term. It’s injuries that open the door for others to step up.

The Tigers have already had players take advantage of their chances to impact the 2022 effort for the better. Several are brand-new to the program while a few have gone from expectations that they’d be down the depth chart to key performers.

No question that Jayden Daniels is the biggest surprise on the entire team. It wasn’t that long ago that the QB battle was a three-man competition. The Arizona State transferJayden seized it and has run with it, figuratively and literally. His late game drive against Florida State was impressive, and Daniels has continued to grow more comfortable in the offense as it is also adapted to his strengths and comfort level.

With his 4.5 speed, Daniels has big play ability as a runner. He also has demonstrated the arm to make big time throws. His decision making has improved by the week. Now considered among the top 7-10 college dual threat quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus, Daniels has thrown for 835 yards with a career-best 73% completions so far. He has tossed six touchdowns with no interceptions. His 262 yards and two scores while averaging six yards per tote on the ground have mostly been through ad libs. Daniels has a 158 QB rating.

Mason Taylor
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

Mason Taylor, the 2022 signee, has asserted himself as the No. 1 tight end already. The Florida State contest told coaches everything that ythey needed to know. With the game on the line and the clock ticking down, Daniels thought enough of his true freshman playing in his very first game to get the ball to him. Taylor had the football instincts to get out of bounds, saving one second on the game clock before a final-play touchdown.

Famous father Jason Taylor, a 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, had 139.5 career sacks. Blessed with a great deal of that athleticism, Taylor has displayed reliable mitts with 10 grabs for 92 yards thus far.

Charles Turner was a 242-pound senior at IMG Academy when he signed with LSU in the 2019 class. Rated the No. 6 center in that class, he has waited patiently for his big chance. Backing up Liam Shanahan the past two years, Turner possesses a hot motor and quick hands.

The native of Canton, Ohio, has worked tirelessly since his arrival, playing mostly on special teams with some mop up duty at guard and tackle. Now 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Turner in his fourth season has a keen understanding of defensive fronts and the responsibilities of his linemates. Following Garrett Dellinger’s experimentation at center against Florida State, Turner appears to have taken the job on a permanent basis.

Well-respected by teammates on both sides of the line, Turner has earned his head coach’s trust for now. Much credit goes to holdover offensive line coach Brad Davis.

Emery Jones
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

Right tackle Emery Jones was a four-star 2022 signee out of Catholic of Baton Rouge. Few expected he’d be a starter before the end of September though. Jones has started the past two weeks. In 70 plus pass atempts, he has not allowed any QB pressures.

In his first start against Mississippi State, Jones more than held his own. He has played very well overall and seems to be the type who learns quickly. Jones (6-6, 342) showed some rare athleticism for such a big man against State by making an open field tackle on special teams that was impressive for any player.

“I would say that (Jones) exceeded expectations. He’s got great feet,” Kelly noted. I thought Jones could be a redshirt candidate but I was wrong. Fellow true freshman Will Campbell was named a starter a left tackle during spring drills. The Tigers have a pair of bookends on the offensive line playing way better than anyone could have expected.

It is far less surprising that Harold Perkins is making an impact so quickly. Many expected the true freshman to see the field, but few anticipated he would serve in such a wide variety of roles. The five-star talent has played inside linebacker abd edge rusher, handling those duties so flawlessly that coaches are looking for more ways to use him as a weapon.

Perkins displays rare instincts, athleticism and maturity for such a young player. Early comparisons have been made to LSU legends who became NFL standouts like Bradie James, Devin White, Ali Highsmith and Kevin Minter.

Currently, Perkins paces the defense with 21 tackles including a pair for losses and 1.5 sacks. His first start came against New Mexico but the Cypress, Texas product opened eyes first with a big effort rushing the passer in the win over Mississippi State. You could make a case that Perkins one of the best true freshman in college football regardless of position.

Defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo, a transfer from Missouri where he was a Freshman All-SEC last season, was expected to make a guaranteed positive impact as a newcomer. He has not disappointed with three starts after he came off the bench early against the Seminoles after Maason Smith went down.

Pencilled in as a rotation player to start the season, Wingo leads all of his Tiger linemates with 13 stops. He has been moved around by defensive coordinator Matt House to create matchup advantages.

Wingo received the Iron Tiger Award from coaches this past summer due to his weekly consistency in his workouts. The Missouri coaches viewed him as a superstar in the making. The LSU staff now sees him as indispensable.

West Weeks
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

West Weeks, sophomore transfer from the University of Virginia, has been a key contributor on special teams and on defense in certain packages. He played six positions in high school, proving to be ultra versatile.

After suffering a broken leg in the ’21 season finale, Weeks moved on after head coach Bronco Mendenhall resigned at UVA. Their loss is LSU’s gain. The linebacker recorded four tackles and a sack against New Mexico last week.

Colby Richardson, a transfer from McNeese in June, has been a revelation. Adding over 10 pounds of muscle since he arrived on campus, Richardson opened eyes during summer workouts. A big, physical corner who displays lots of confidence and moxie, he played in 27 contests for the Cowboys under Frank Wilson, now an assistant at LSU.

A four-year starter at McNeese, Richardson prepped at McMain in New Orleans where he was twice All District as a wide receiver. Originally committed to Colorado State until Wilson convinced him to come Lake Charles, Richardson is now showing off his talent at the highest level.

Calling Micah Baskerville a surprise may come off as, well, a surprise. I know that he recorded 83 tackles in 2021, but the veteran linebacker seemed to slip through the cracks when the new staff came aboard. When fall camp arrived, a light seem to come on for the redshirt senior. Baskerville has been a leader on the defense and a difference maker.

A key contributor to the defense’s success, an evolving defense benefits from his vast experience. A four-year starter at Evangel Christian, Baskerville has made no official starts this season so far but has 13 tackles and an interception. He’ll keep playing plnety of snaps.

Desmond Little was buried on the depth chart under the previous administration. One start this season against Southern where he made six tackles was impressive despite the mismatched competition. Little has flashed his star quality in practice.

Depsite appearing in only seven games at LSU, Little will continue to have opportunities this season. Kelly seems to have tapped into his potential. As an edge rusher, he will be limited behind Ali Gaye and B.J. Ojulari, but the 6-5, 230-pound product of Pritchard, Alabama fits the profile to provide depth in an attacking front.

Sai’vion Jones, much like Little, will have limited reps due to Gaye and Ojulari, but make no mistake – the staff his high on the St. James alum. He started against Southern and New Mexico.

Arriving at LSU as a four-star recruit, the 6-5, 234-pounder was a menace on the field to offences. Jones recorded 27 sacks, 56 tackles for loss and 48 QB hurries his final two seasons for the Wildcats. He also excelled in basketball, discus, shot put, long jump and high jump. Jones reminds me a great deal of former LSU star Danielle Hunter, now a Pro Bowl performer for the Minnesota Vikings.

Jones was wisely mirrored teammate Ali Gaye since he landed on campus. Savion’s time will come. Both Little and Jones will be key as attrition and fatigue in games require depth in the trenches for LSU’s budding defense.

Lagniappe: Former Tigers find new homes

Maurice Hampton arrived at LSU in 2019 from Memphis with aspirations of playing baseball and football for the Tigers. He spent two years in Purple and Gold but contributed little in either sport. Now at Samford University where he went to rekindle a dual sport star dream, he hasn’t played football yet.

However, in 54 games starting 48 last season on the diamond, Hampton managed 43 hits in 170 at bats (.253 BA) and led team with 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts. He adde dnine homers, four doubles and one triple with 12 multi-hit games last spring. He will return this spring. Pro baseball scouts are watching.

Jordan Toles, who entered transfer portal August 11, found a new home at Morgan State on August 31. He has four tackles this season at the HBCU. The former four-star 2020 signee also had hopes of playing two sports (football and basketball) at LSU.

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Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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