LSU wraps up spring with more potential, confidence on offense

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Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Versatile junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire (#22) will have to hold off talented newcomers for snaps at running back in 2019 (Photo Terrill Weil).

I thought we’d now take an overview look at LSU with the conclusion of spring football drills. This is not an analysis of the spring game itself, but what was done during practices as a whole in an effort to look ahead to the 2019 season.

The good news is, there were no significant injuries except for the one suffered in the spring game by offensive lineman Badara Traore.

The “new fangled offense” and the arrival of assistant coach Joe Brady have been hot topics. You really didn’t see a true sampling of what’s to come in the spring game but the former Saints assistant has brought new concepts to the Tigers.

Joe Brady took a page or two from the New Orleans playbook, implemented by Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael while orchestrated by the legendary Drew Brees. The Tigers will feature a fast-paced offense this fall, with a goal to run the no-huddle often and snap the ball within 15-18 seconds from the time that the official signals the end of the previous play.

Opening up the passing game with tempo and finding favorable matchups is what LSU has tried to incorporate. Using running backs in patterns and having the tight end flexed out as a receiver are two examples. The fullback will be a receiver more than LSU fans have seen in the past.

The objective is to set the tempo to eliminate lineup changes by the opposing defense and to focus on which player in a given pattern may hold the most favorable matchup. This change in emphasiswill not eliminate the running game, but it should enhance it. The tempo will benefit the entire offense, with plays coming from the sideline to the players already on the line of scrimmage. There concepts are not radical but they do represent changes in past philosophy for the Tigers.

There will be some motion from the slot and backs to help the quarterback get a feel for what the defense plans to do. In this type of offense, the QB is afforded the liberty to check off when he finds a pre-snap mismatch or “hot route” which should favor the Tigers. You should see a fair share of empty backfield looks for LSU as well.

The changes on offense affect the linemen as well. Typical offensive line splits are roughly two and 2.5 feet between the outside of the feet of the guards and tackles. You will see wider splits at times for a variety of reasons. One, it opens up running lanes for the backs. Also, defensive linemen are forced to spread out to maintain their inside/outside alignment with the offensive linemen. Wider splits are somewhat frustrating to a defensive lineman, who sees that the offense is inviting inside penetration only to have the defender attack away from where the ball is headed. Wider splits present uncertainty on the defense.

Brady is a stickler for hand placement by receivers, linemen and backs. It also is imperative to run precise steps on pass routes. This offense is predicated on timing in the pass game. The ball must come out fast with spot throws. Back shoulder throws and out routes will still be used but receivers will need to master separation from the defender through technique as well.

LSU quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan appear to have both made significant strides since last season.

Burrow was a late arrival last August so he faced a cram course on the playbook from the time he stepped off the plane. He looks much more comfortable and confident while showing the savvy and toughness LSU fans already know. Burrow has concentrated on not holding the ball too long and on making tighter throws. All of the 35 sacks he endured in 2018 took their toll on him. His 2,894 yards passing were fourth most in school history but the potential for much more this upcoming season awaits.

Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow (#9) completed his first spring with the LSU program after starting as quarterback as a transfer in 2018 (Photo: Terrill Weil).

Brennan, who was under 190 pounds in 2018, has been between 198 and 206 this spring. He plans to carry 212-215 this season. The St. Stanislaus product has gained strength and confidence. Just as import he is comfortable with his role at the moment behind the senior Burrow and waits as the future behind center at LSU. This offense suits Brennan, who is throwing the football with better delivery and firing crisper throws. Practices have shown he can make consistently good decisions with proper ball placement.

There is a feeling of confidence on the entire coaching staff. Following the accomplishments of 2018, Ed Orgeron’s resulting contract extension and, seemingly, the camaraderie between offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and the new arrival Brady, the offense at LSU could be a much more potent unit. Brady’s youthful exuberance and energy has been contagious.

After a year when the options were less than typical, LSU’s running back position looks to be much deeper from top to bottom.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is running with determination, gaining yards consistently following initial contact. An assistant coach said it’s “like trying to tackle a 55 gallon drum” when the 5-foot-8 bowling ball has the ball. Edwards-Helaire appears stronger than ever while still running with good vision.

A 2018 signee who some hoped would make an instant impact, Chris Curry was limited last fall but he seems to have turned the corner. During his recruitment, Curry was often described as a player with physicality of a Marshawn Lynch-type of runner. That style was shown during this spring’s practices.

John Emery, Jr. will arrive college ready from Destrehan, and I expect him to be a major factor in the running game. Tyrion Davis-Price possesses the required speed, skills and power to play early as a freshman as well. Lanard Fournette has had a good spring, adding strength ahead of his senior season.

Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall are beginning to have the look of the dazzling Odell Beckham-Jarvis Landry tandem which thrived at LSU a few seasons ago. Both receivers have made a quantum leap from their freshman seasons, and expanded roles in the passing game await.

Justin Jefferson has the swagger and look of an All-SEC receiver. After leading the Tigers with 875 yards and six touchdowns last season, he’s more confident.

Derrick Dillon may be an ideal slot target while 2019 signees Devonta Lee and Trey Palmer will be afforded opportunities if they are advanced enough to see playing time this season. Dee Anderson is a big target who has worked hard to improve in gaining separation from defenders. Racey McMath is a speedy option as a converted tight end.

Even though skill players must handle many duties in a more demanding offensive scheme, the line has drawn the lion’s share of attention. Without blocking, no playbook works.

Saahdiq Charles looks closer to where he was a freshman in ’17 than ’18, which in his case is a good thing. The left tackle has been a standout throughout spring. Ditto for center Lloyd Cushenberry. Right guard Damian Lewis has All-SEC look about him as well. Incumbent right tackle Austin Deculus has maintained his spot and kept competition at bay.

Depending on progress of Deculus and Traore, 2019 signee Anthony Bradford or veteran Adrian Magee could be options to start at right tackle.

Jamal Pettigrew is the better blocking tight end, but 2019 arrival T.K. McClendon could contribute immediately.

Now an experienced unit together, the entire offensive line appears much improved over 2018. Depth will play a major factor, as we saw last year when injuries kept shaking up the lineup. Success will hinge on the continued development of returnees and newcomers since no one can expect the first unit to stay injury free.

The LSU defense, potentially, can be so strong that it could afford the new-look offense the opportunity to enjoy good field position. Plus, it’s always easier when the offense does not have to score 25-30 points in order to win but being able to score more may be in the cards.

Here’s a stab at the offensive depth chart, not based solely on spring but a realistic projection of what 2019 may look like barring injury:

RT: Austin Deculus, Badara Traore, Anthony Bradford
RG: Damien Lewis, Adrian Magee
OC: Lloyd Cushenberry, Cole Smith
LG: Chasen Hines, Kardell Thomas
LT: Saahdiq Charles, Dare Rosenthal
TE: Stephen Sullivan, Jamal Pettigrew, T.K. McClendon
WR: Justin Jefferson, Devonta Lee, Dee Anderson
WR: Ja’Marr Chase, Trey Palmer
WR: Terrace Marshall, Derrick Dillon
QB: Joe Burrow, Myles Brennan
RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chris Curry, John Emery, Tyrion Davis-Price
FB: Tory Carter

NOTE: Former starting OG Ed Ingram’s potential would be a major boost for the o-line.

When we look at the projected LSU depth chart in defense, there are some misleading factors in it when it comes to situational packages. As an example, the best three down defensive linemen are Rashard Lawrence, Breiden Fehoko and Glen Logan, but depending on down and distance, Apu Ika and Tyler Shelvin may line up at nose tackle and push Fehoko out to defensive end.

Michael Divinity will spilt time from at both outside and inside linebacker, thus allowing Patrick Queen, Damone Clark and 2019 signee Donte Starks the chance to earn snaps.

The best four Tiger defensive backs are Derek Stingley, Kristian Fulton, Grant Delpit and Kelvin Joseph, but the safety Joseph is more than capable of manning a corner, allowing Jacoby Stevens to slide into the lineup more frequently.

F-LB; K’Lavon Chaisson, Andre Anthony
DE: Glen Logan, Justin Thomas
NT: Breiden Fehoko, Apu Ika, Tyler Shelvin
DE: Rashard Lawrence, Neil Farrell
B-LB: Ray Thornton, Travez Moore
Rover LB: Michael Divinty, Patrick Queen, Donte Starks, Damone Clark
MLB: Jacob Phillips, Micah Baskerville
CB: Kristian Fulton, Maurice Hampton
CB: Derek Stingley, Jr., Raydarious Jones
Nickel CB: Kary Vincent, Todd Harris
SS: Grant Delpit, Marcell Brooks
FS: Kelvin Joseph, Jacoby Stevens

NOTE: The uncertainty of ILB Tyler Taylor’s status with the program continues.

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Rene Nadeau

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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