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Taking Inventory: 17 Things Revealed About the 2017 LSU Football Team
1. Offensive line is biggest concern: Depth was already a issue at this position as the summer unfolded, but the news of Seth Stewart’s departure coupled with a few minor injuries have really exacerbated the concern. Assuming projected starters Toby Weathersby (LT) and Will Clapp (C) return to full health soon and no more injuries are sustained, the Tigers should be fine here. But, obviously, the Tigers can’t afford many more injuries to this ever-important position group.
2. Danny Etling will be the starting quarterback: Maybe not exactly earth-shattering news, but it does lift the veil somewhat on a topic that Orgeron kept mysterious all summer – perhaps as a result of the back surgery and recovery time Etling needed but probably just in order to give all the quarterbacks an honest shot. The good news is that Etling is said to be better than ever. In the backend of this video from Thursday’s practice, you can see Etling (No. 16) throw a couple of long balls on the money.
3. No. 2 quarterback role is up for grabs. Freshman Myles Brennan has generated a lot of hype with his offseason weight-gain and passing ability, but at this point he’s still learning the playbook, which is to be expected from a quarterback who has only been on campus for a couple of months. Coach Orgeron has said that Brennan, Justin McMillan, Lindsey Scott and Lowell Narcisse are all tied for the backup role, which puts LSU’s quarterback position in an ideal position, depth-wise.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has drawn praise as one of the biggest surprises of camp: Somebody has to back up Heisman-hopeful running back Derrius Guice, and his fellow Catholic High graduate seems to be making a strong case to be that person. Coach Ed Orgeron has called Edwards-Helaire the surprise of the camp, and Guice has joked that the Tigers’ defense hasn’t figured out how to stop him. On Wednesday, Orgeron said Edwards-Helaire had been held out of a couple of practices after sustaining a big hit.
5. Jacoby Stevens should make some noise at receiver: The number of stars in front of a recruit’s name can sometimes be misleading, but all indications are that Stevens – a former five-star athlete – is the kind of player who can impact a game as soon as he gets a shot. After transitioning to receiver from the safety position, Stevens was the leading receiver in the Tigers’ first scrimmage and has been drawing rave reviews.
6. Jerry Sullivan was added as consultant: Orgeron is seizing advantage of the opportunity to pad his coaching staff with ‘shadow coaches,’ and the addition of longtime receivers coach Jerry Sullivan makes a lot of sense. Mickey Joseph will head up the receivers but the fact that there is so much youth and inexperience is going to present a challenge. Sullivan’s proven expertise in route-running could be a huge boost.
7. Clay Moffitt moved to tight end: This move may be tied to depth at the offensive line and defensive end spots, and could also be a hint as to how diverse offensive coordinator Matt Canada intends to make the offense. Moffitt was a dominant pass rusher at Catholic High the last two seasons and at 6-foot-2 and 266 pounder is capable of giving the Tigers an athletic presence on the defensive edge. By moving across the line of scrimmage, Moffitt may make it possible for a current tight end to focus more on a hybrid role as an extra offensive lineman while also giving Canada another potential wrinkle as a short-yardage receiver.
8. Kickers Jack Gonsoulin and Connor Culp are in contention for field goal duties: The cliché about ‘if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one’ doesn’t work with kickers because that’s a spot where coaches don’t mind having options and that seems to be the case with Gonsoulin and Culp, who remain “neck and neck” in a highly competitive battle for field goal kicking duties. Each are said to be comfortable from 54 yards out, and in last Saturday’s scrimmage, each went 5-for-5 with the longest makes coming from 43 yards.
9. A leader has apparently emerged for return duties: With TréDavious White in the NFL now, and Derrius Guice presumably too valuable to use in the return game, it was a bit of a mystery as to who would be returning kicks and punts this year. Wednesday evening, Coach O suggested that sophomore speedster Drake Davis is the leader in this position group, but other names to watch are Derrick Dillon, Donté Jackson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
10. Arden Key seems to be progressing: Sorry to set you up, but there’s nothing new to report on the sensational rush end that LSU hopes is the centerpiece of Dave Aranda’s defense. Last week, Orgeron confirmed that Key has been working out with teammates, going through non-contact portions of practice, and progressing with his shoulder rehabilitation. We hope to have an update on his status this evening when Coach O meets with the media at 6:30.
11. Freshman K’Lavon Chaisson is poised to help ease the pain while Key is absent: Other than the QBs, no player has gotten more mention from head coach Ed Orgeron that Chaisson, who is rotating at the ’Buck’ position left open because of Key’s absence. In the most recent scrimmage. Chaisson was described as ’dominant’ by Orgeron after recording three tackles for loss, a sack and four quarterback hurries. The off-the-record word we’re getting is that Chaisson is further along in his development than Key was at the same point in his career.
12. Chaisson isn’t the only emerging star up front: Regardless who winds up at the ‘buck’ spot, the best chance for LSU’s defense to thrive requires both ends to be sound and that shifts plenty of onus on sophomore Rashard Lawrence. After some surface scratching last fall, the highly touted former 5-star is being pegged as a breakout player, particularly by the guy who will man the opposite end of the three-man front, Christian LaCouture, who said the 6-foot-3, 300-pound specimen has “bought in” more to what he has been coached to do. By the way, Lawrence is a 4.0 student.
13. There’s a ton of depth and talent up front, literally: Building depth has been an ongoing process on the defensive line since Ed Orgeron joined the staff in 2015 as D-line coach, but this season seems to be the first season when the Tigers will reap the benefits of this focus. It’s been said that LSU is very comfortable with a three-man rotation up front, which includes four seniors – LaCouture, Greg Gilmore in the middle, and veterans Frank Herron and Deondre Clark as backups on the ends. Ed Alexander adds quality depth at the nose, giving LSU the deepest D-line its had in a while.
14. Deep defensive line could get even deeper: Massive defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin from my hometown of Lafayette has reportedly slimmed down from his 380-pound zenith and would be a major addition to an already stacked defensive line. The problem is that he has yet to jump through the necessary NCAA hoops and can’t even practice yet. Orgeron has stated that Shelvin and the school have done all they can and are in a holding pattern. Stay tuned, we should be hearing something soon.
15. Young inside linebackers will be counted on: A healthy Donnie Alexander and a year-older Devin White get their chances to step into the huge shoes left open when Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith departed, and there is plenty of optimism to believe those two vets will hold their own as Aranda’s defense continues to evolve. After that, though, the Tigers will lean on a handful of players without much or any college experience until the season gets rolling: Michael Divinity, Jacob Phillips, Tyler Taylor and Patrick Queen. Divinity logged significant snaps a year ago and is the most seasoned of the crew, while Phillips may be the most talented linebacker on the roster, period.
16. There’s powerful 1-2 punch at the corners: As tough as it is to replace the veteran presence the Tigers leaned on in the secondary the last few years, No. 1 Donté Jackson and No. 2 Kevin Toliver aren’t a bad place to start that process. Both have future NFL potential and Jackson has a chance to step into the hole vacated by TréDavious White as a ’take-away-half-the-field’ presence. Toliver is back healthy after missing the last third of 2016 with a shoulder ailment and LSU needs him to be a solid bookend to Jackson.
17. Defense will be nickel-heavy. Coach Orgeron caught a few people by surprise when he stated last Saturday that LSU employs a nickel back about 85% of the time on defense. With last year’s starter, Dwayne Thomas, now in the NFL, there could be a revolving door at the position this year. Freshman Kary Vincent has gotten plenty of time there in fall camp and Xavier Lewis operated at the nickel in the spring game and is a third-year sophomore who has gotten on the field plenty. Those two seem to have a leg up and give Aranda and secondary coach Corey Raymond a chance to play match-ups to a degree – Vincent on smaller, quicker receivers and Lewis when there is a need to bump-and-cover more physically.
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