The good, the bad and the uncertain for LSU as season draws near
LSU is set to enter the 2018 season with more depth overall than last year’s Tigers enjoyed. However, there are more questions and lower expectations in some quarters compared to 2017.
Make no mistake, LSU is not a finished product but the ingredients matter more than anything when trying to get there. Quality talent is not a problem with this group.
If you recall from this time last football season, LSU was enlisting every able body on campus to compete for an offensive line position. It may not have been quite that dire but numbers were down and experience was scarce.
Starting center Ethan Pocic had just bolted for the NFL while his backup Andy Dodd had transferred to McNeese. Versatile junior Will Clapp was moved to the middle. Mae Teuhema was to enter his third year as a starter but he was suspended prior to the beginning of camp, eventually transferring to SLU.
Overall, it appeared that the fate of the offensive line last season rested on freshmen.
Fast forward to 2018. Clapp departed to the NFL with eligibility remaining but the quintet could conceivably be an area of strength.
Left tackle Saahdiq Charles has the makings of one of the elite at his spot in the SEC after earning a starter’s role as a true freshman. Fellow ’17 freshman Ed Ingram was set to start again at right guard until things hit a snag off the field. His indefinite suspension is apparently being handled by the school.
In the meantime, the depth chart up front for the Tigers has not only been restocked, but there is a healthy competition across the board.
If and when Ingram returns, he may or may not slide back into the first five. I believe junior college transfer Damien Lewis remains at a starter at right guard while Garrett Brumfield holds down the the other guard position. Look for Chasen Hines and Donavaughn Campbell to lend a hand as backups as well.
Lloyd Cushenberry is the best option at center and he should be a good one in time.
Austin Deculus is trying to hold off junior Adrian Magee at right tackle. One concern is that heralded JUCO signee Badara Traore has not demonstrated enough to earn a spot, which included his participating in spring drills.
If the tackle spot is not resolved, the right side could be a haven for opposing pass rushers to feast on the quarterback.
The receiving corps welcome a shot of adrenaline with new arrivals. Thaddeus Moss has demonstrated excellent skills to provide a huge boost to tight end. Incumbent starter Foster Moreau is poised for a breakout senior campaign.
A glut of potential playmakers comprise the wide receiver depth chart. Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles immediately elevates the group. It has been a while since LSU has had a receiver with the skills of Giles, who will draw the lion’s share of the attention from opposing defenses. That will open up opportunities for others.
Justin Jefferson showed in spring drills that he has shaped into into solid SEC receiver heading into his sophomore season. Derrick Dillon, a junior, hopes to take it up a notch after posting moderate numbers in ’17. Racey McMath has exhibited improved abilities.
Much like the offensive line last year, some true freshmen have grabbed attention early. Don’t be surprised is multiple newcomers make a major splash. Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall, Kenan Jones and Jaray Jenkins have all impressed in camp and show enough talent to force their way into the lineup.
LSU’s running backs lack experiences overall as a group but shifty sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire is almost certain to play a big role. Senior Nick Brossette finally has a chance to establish himself as a regular contributor but true freshman Chris Curry is making a push.
The quarterback position is still the big elephant in the room. I predicted a couple of months ago the Myles Brennan would take the first offensive snap against Miami on September 2. While that could still happen, Joe Burrow has shown enough on a daily basis to perhaps have separated himself from the pack.
UPDATE (8/15/18): The other two contenders at QB are now out of the picture. Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse have decided to transfer, leaving the Tigers with just Burrow and Brennan on scholarship at the position.
The wave of emotion around the program seems to favor Burrow, but the job will be decided over reps this month. Some players weighed in recently that they felt McMillan appeared to be the best suited to operate the offense based on practice reps.
Although the staff continually implement strategy for the Hurricanes opener, as of August 25, all starting positions will be afforded a majority of the snaps, as the team begins serious game planning for Sept. 2.
The truth is, whether head coach Ed Orgeron has decided on his starter or not, he really doesn’t have to make it known until gameday. The longer the process plays out, the more Miami defensive coaches will have to prepare for a combination of very different options. Burrow and Brennan are tradition pocket passers while McMillan is the greater running threat.
I expect the competition to spill into the season and perhaps not be settled until the third or fourth game.
One thing is certain. You won’t see the pre-snap motion offensively that was implemented by Matt Canada as coordinator last season. Expect more direct “our best against your best” LSU football on offensive but not to the point of the predictability that frustrated fans in many recent seasons.
The defense is the lynchpin of the 2018 LSU squad, allowing offensive coordinators Steve Ensminger’s crew to not be forced to chase points each outing. Yet there are still some unknowns on that side of the ball.
Christian LaCouture, Arden Key, Greg Gilmore, Frank Herron, Donnie Alexander, Donte’ Jackson, Corey Thompson and Kevin Toliver are gone. Collectively, the group represented 344 tackles last season.
The front lines for the Tigers have plenty of potential stars in the making. Another Texas Tech transfer, Breiden Fehoko, Can play anywhere up front and cause chaos. Glen Logan (two starts last season) and edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson (three starts) enter this year with high expectations. It appears LSU has recruited well in the trenches defensively, with depth to challenge opposing offenses for four quarters this season.
Grad transfer Terrence Alexander provides a steady performer at cornerback while youngsters Kary Vincent and Jontre Kirklin have shown in practice that they can play in the SEC at a high level. True freshman Kelvin Joseph may force his way into the rotation.
Devin White’s SEC-leading 133 tackles last season give LSU the best of the best at middle linebacker while providing stability and leadership. True freshmen Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark will learn plenty from White at the position, and either of them could be ready to play key snaps if called upon.
The Tigers could be strong up the middle with safeties John Battle IV and Grant Delpit as experienced options behind the front seven.
Four sophomores who didn’t record stats last season should play major roles on defense this fall – safety Todd Harris, outside linebacker Ray Thornton and defensive ends Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas.
We’ll soon discover just how well the coaching staff has recruited the past three seasons. Work ethic, mental toughness, practice habits and scheme all play into the final results as well.
LSU looks more promising on paper than some critics acknowledge, but the games are won on the field.
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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…