Projected record: 5-7 (Mia, AU, UF, UGA, MSU, UA, TAM); 2-6 and 6th SEC West
Returning offensive starters: 5 (WR, LT, LG, RG, TE)
Returning defensive starters: 5 (E, WLB, SLB, RCB, FS, SS)
Returning specialists: 2 (PK, P)
QB: Fr DL: Vg
RB: Fr LB: Av
WR: Av DB: Av
OL: Vg ST: Av
Overview: Most observers think there’s a chance the wheels come totally off the Ed Orgeron circus this year; TideFans is outright calling it to happen. This team could still win a lot of games just off the strength of its offensive and defensive lines, but the Tigers have no quarterback, the running backs are no longer special players and then there’s … well, there’s Ed Orgeron. The naming of Steve Ensminger as offensive coordinator is tantamount to head coaching malpractice in today’s game.
Offensive breakdown: Breakdown, indeed. It starts at the quarterback position, which is now a two-way race between Miles Brennan, whose brief freshman trial was unimpressive, and Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow. Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse both quit the team heading into fall, meaning if Brennan or Burrow can’t handle the job, it will fall to yet another transfer, Andre Sale, who comes up from lower-division Tennessee Tech. Brennan and Burrow are basically game-manager types, but that might be good enough if LSU can improve on defense.
For the first time in seemingly forever, the Tigers will have to make do with running backs who aren’t sure-fire NFL prospects. Nick Brossette has been a capable backup for a few years, and will likely get the job on a full-time basis in 2018. Clyde Edwards-Helaire came out of spring as his backup. He’s a smaller back but with a stout build. Lanard Fournette, the brother of the former LSU star Leonard, and freshmen Tae Provens and Chris Curry round out the depth chart.
At receiver, slot Stephen Sullivan returns as a starter, but all eyes are going to be on Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, who produced numbers with the Red Raiders unlike anything most LSU receivers have been capable of doing for years. Orgeron has embraced the new transfer rules wholeheartedly, praising it as “free agency.” Giles gives the Tigers a proven contributor, a coup for a team with a lot of talented players, but not necessarily productive ones. Terrace Marshall Jr., Justin Jefferson, Derrick Dillon, Dee Anderson and true freshman Kenan Jones round out a unit with good depth but few known quantities. Drake Davis was expected to be a part of the rotation but he is now facing accusations of assault on his girlfriend. The tight end combo of Foster Moreau and Thaddeus Moss will help smooth things over a bit.
Three starters return on the offensive line, but several observers foresee issues for this group. Guard Garrett Brumfield is probably the best of the bunch, and left tackle Saahdiq Charles quietly had a decent freshman season and then a good spring camp. The rest could use some work. Ed Ingram was set to return at right guard but he was arrested on felony sexual abuse charges this week and was suspended. Lloyd Cushenberry is set to start at center and JUCO transfer Badara Traore at right tackle. Austin Deculus will be the top reserve tackle while Damien Lewis was set to be the top reserve guard. Lewis will probably step in for Ingram, which likely elevates Donavaughn Campbell to that role.
Defensive breakdown: Another Texas Tech transfer, tackle/end Breiden Fehoko, could wind up being the missing piece to this defense. Up front, he’ll start opposite returning end starter Rashard Lawrence in Dave Aranda’s innovative 3-4 defense. Ed Alexander is expected to get the nose tackle job. LSU is young down the depth chart, but a lot of that young talent – notably tackle Tyler Shelvin – are expected to be difference-makers at worst and stars at best. Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr. are expected to provide depth at end, but LSU doesn’t go much further than two-deep at these three spots.
The linebacker group has been a source of consternation for years at LSU due to subpar recruiting. Apart from stud weakside linebacker Devin White, those concerns continue. K’Lavon Chaisson is being looked to to stabilize the rush outside linebacker spot, but the strongside position will be manned by Michael Divinity, who is somewhat of a stopgap solution. Middle linebacker was supposed to be a battle between sophomores Jacob Phillips and Tyler Taylor, but Taylor was arrested on burglary and gun-theft charges and is suspended. Taylor’s absence will leave either Patrick Queen or true freshmah Micah Baskerville taking snaps behind Phillips, and neither is ready for the role.
The appropriately-named Greedy Williams anchors the cornerback group in LSU’s secondary, but experience is at a premium elsewhere and LSU’s corners largely struggled in spring camp. Stanford transfer Terrence Alexander might come out the eventual winner; if not, it will be inexperienced sophomore Jontre Kirklin. The safeties are in much better shape, with John Battle returning as the unit’s old man, and Grant Delpit working alongside him. Eric Monroe and JaCoby Stevens are quality backups. Look for talented true freshman Kelvin Joseph to find a role either at corner or safety very soon.
Yet another transfer, Assumption College’s Cole Tracy, is set to handle the placekicking duties after apparently displacing returning starter Connor Culp. At punter, LSU will continue to use a combination of Zach Von Rosenberg and Josh Growden. The return game is typically a strong suit for LSU, and with the number of receivers and young, fast DBs on campus, it should remain that way.
Overall trend: Down. One need only look to the number of arrests and transfers this offseason to see that Orgeron’s famous lack of discipline has already infested the program. The hiring and firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada within a year is another indictment of Orgeron’s decision-making abilities. An over-reliance of transfers into the program is what ultimately led to Jackie Sherrill’s demise at Mississippi State, and Orgeron is headed down that same path. If it sounds like we’re being tough on Orgeron, we are. He’s not a head coach; he’s a position coach who recruits well and whose outsized personality charmed LSU fans a little too much. By all rights, this is an 8- or 9-win team at least. But a tough opener and a difficult schedule overall will doubly hurt LSU, particularly if Orgeron starts to come apart at the seams during the season.
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Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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