Stepping Up: LSU players to watch in 2020
Coming off of a perfect 15-0 National Championship season, the LSU Tigers will kick off the 2020 campaign as college football’s hunted. Everyone looks to knock off the defending champion. They will get the opponents’ best effort, week in and week out.
Have the Tigers re-loaded enough to meet the challenge?
The quarterback spot goes without saying, but I’m not going to include Myles Brennan on this list of the top Tigers to watch. I also will not include freshman tight end Arik Gilbert or transfer linebacker Jabril Cox. Both are no-brainers like Brennan in that they are expected to make an impact. Those names have already been bantered about enough.
Here are a Baker’s Dozen to watch….
LT Dare Rosenthal (6-7, 323, Redshirt Soph.)
A converted defensive lineman, he has already played in 5 games with 3 starts. Rosenthal mans a vital spot in the offense. He just needs to develop consistency as he continues to fine tune his skills. The staff feels he has great potential, even to the point where the Ferriday High could have a future in the NFL. Despite limited reps thus far, he would be eligible for the ’21 NFL Draft and potentially a high pick.
OG/OC Chasen Hines (6-3, 349, Jr.)
If he gets the call at center, Hines will have huge shoes to fill. Lloyd Cushenberry, who started 28 consecutive games, was a consistent and reliable pivot. Hines will get a good look at center but his best spot maybe right guard. Hines is a converted defensive tackle who is a true mauler. He played in 10 contests in ’19 as a backup. A very hard worker with nimble feet, Hines could develop into a solid SEC lineman quickly.
DE T.K. McClendon (6’3, 269, Redshirt Soph.)
Yet another converted position player, the former tight end with a 4.7 40-yard time has made tremendous strides since the conclusion of the ’19 season. The Soperton, Ga. product who came to Baton Rouge from Copiah-Lincoln has tacked on 24 pounds since he arrived on campus January ’19. Already considered by coaches to be a terrific open field tackler, McClendon doesn’t get fooled by fakes and uses hands well. Can he be an impact every-down player in 2020? He certainly has the physical tools.
CB Cordale Flott (6-2, 165, Soph.)
A rail-thin defender who has the inside track to the starting spot opposite Derek Stingley, Flott could fill the void left behind by Kristian Fulton. Expect Cordale to see a lot of balls thrown his way. He had one start at Ole Miss as a true freshman last season but saw the field in nickle and dimes looks. Flott has demonstrated great ball skills when challenged, enough to end up with the fourth most passes defended among all Tiger cornerbacks last season. He’ll have to step up quickly.
RB Chris Curry (6-0, 215)
A year ago at this time, no one envisioned Clyde Edwards-Helaire having the season that he had. Curry was considered way behind the rest of the running backs on the roster then as well but things changed. The Lehigh Acres, Ala. product had 16 carries for 90 yards (5.6 average) in the national semifinal against Oklahoma. Curry has a tremendous work ethic. He is a physical, downhill runner who seemed to grow more comfortable in the offense as the 2019 season progressed. Curry is an excellent blocker and flashed skills as a receiver, two key traits he will need to be the every-down back LSU’s offense deamnds. He reminds me of ex-Tiger standout Joseph Addai. Called Baby Beast due his jersey #24 and similar style to Marshawn Lynch, Curry could be star on an offense loaded with weapons.
QB Max Johnson (6-5, 219, Fr.)
I do not expect the true freshman to seriously compete with Brennan but I do see him digesting the offense enough to be the primary backup. Getting adjusted to the speed of the game and getting some game reps as the season moves along may be a challenge with a SEC-only schedule of 10 games this season. Johnson has a bright future, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his Super Bowl-winning father Brad, a 15 year NFL quarterback. Max is way ahead mentally of the average freshman in college. He has good pop on his release and is very accurate. There’s much to like but LSU coaches and fans hope he is not thrust into snaps due to injury.
DB Jordan Toles (6-2, 202, Fr.)
Although he will have to bid his time behind Jacoby Stevens and Todd Harris at safety, Toles has special skills. A two-sport star who will eventually suit up for Will Wade’s basketball team, Toles is an extremely active and athletic safety. He could qualify for a handful of honors before he exhausts his eligibility in Tiger Town. If Harris has more injury issues, Toles could be asked to make a bigger first-year LSU impact.
LB B.J. Ojulari (6-2, 230, Fr.)
A high school teammate of Arik Gilbert. B.J. is explosive off the edge. There is no quit in his game. A versatile athlete with a 4.75 40-yard time and a 42″ vertical, he is too talented to keep off the field. Ojulari could contribute in a number of ways and be a difference maker. The Tigers are looking for impact pass rushers so he may see passing down work early.
EDGE Andre Anthony (6-4, 250, Sr.)
A product of Edna Karr, Anthony might end up as a rags-to-riches story on the depth chart if the season unfolds like I think it may. He totaled nine tackles and a sack in 2019, giving him just 23 career stops at LSU. But staff members and particulary head coach Ed Orgeron have raved about the progress he has shown. He could fill the role as LSU’s designated pass rusher. Adding 25 pounds since his arrival in 2016, Anthony has a quick first step and terrific closing speed. He knows this will be his final chance so motivation and opportunity combine for a potentially big final season.
OL Liam Shanahan (6-5, 308, Sr.)
The graduate transfer from Harvard was a three-year starter, playing in 30 games and earning first-team All-Ivy League acclaim. He tacked on some strength and muscle since he arrived earlier this year. Shanahan will be given every opportunity to find a spot with center perhaps his best fit. Hedoes not repeat the same mistakes and is technique sound but lacks experience at center where the staff hopes he emerges as the top option.
LB Damone Clark (6-4, 245, Jr.)
Ready for a bust out season, Clark had 50 stops last year. He’s flashed enough skill thus far to potentially emerge for next year’s draft like this year’s first rounder Patrick Queen. He will have ample opportunity to turn it on as a full-time starter at a position that may be the thinnest on the roster. He also may be overlooked among a loaded class of terrific SEC linbackers, so Clark should carry a chip on his shoulder.
WR Kayshon Boutte (5-11, 180, Fr.)
A five-star signee this year and the top overall prospect in Louisiana, the Westgate standout cradled 47 passes for 1,005 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall. Boutte has great straight-line speed but also potential as a shifty kicka nd punt returner is needed. It will difficult to keep him off the field despite the loaded set of receivers the Tigers have.
WR Racey McMath (6-3, 225, Sr.)
If anyone takes snaps from Boutte, with will be this Edna Karr alum who had 17 grabs for 286 yards and three scores last season. He has already been invited to Senior Bowl. His combination of size, speed and hands are impressive. McMath will muscle up on defensive backs and will show quickness to run away from pursuit. He has been biding his time. He could have transferred. Now the spotlight will be on him to jump into the void left by Justin Jefferson.
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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…