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DandyDon.com Q&A with Mike Detillier on LSU Football’s Signing Class, Part 1
Scott: There’s obviously a lot to like about LSU’s 2019 signing class, as evidenced by it being ranked as high as third in the nation. But as I say every year, what’s most important is not how high a class is ranked but how well it meets team needs. Give me your general impression of how this LSU class meets team needs, and then we’ll talk about specifics in a bit.
Mike: They would have liked to sign one more defensive lineman, but no team hits every note in recruiting . Now, the second part of recruiting is developing that talent.
LSU filled obvious needs in the secondary and at halfback, and you got a young QB. I like the inside offensive linemen they got, although I would have liked to have seen LSU sign another left tackle prospect. It’s why signing Ray Parker – and I think his development is a key in this group – was critical.
Overall they did a great job and had to in order to keep up with Alabama, Georgia and also Texas A&M, who I think we all feel is the giant emerging out to our West with Jimbo Fisher. Overall, an excellent LSU class. But defensively this group of defensive backs are super impressive. You’ve got potential star players in Derek Stingley and Maurice Hamption, along with Marcel Brooks and RayDarious Jones. And you’ve got a huge man inside with Siaki Ika, who in this defense has to play and play early for LSU, but he’s got some weight to lose.
The guys not getting much attention are the LB’s in Donté Starks, who is an excellent player and a very physical inside LB, and Kendall McCallum. But Donté is a player to keep a close eye on. You can’t teach instincts and athleticism and he has both.
Scott: With the way things are split up into two signing days now, sometimes all of the early signing period highlights are overshadowed by the ones who get away in February. I don’t like to dwell on the misses, but let’s touch briefly on them and get them out of the way so we can talk about the good stuff. What are your thoughts on Ishmael Sopsher choosing Alabama and LSU missing out on the two DTs from Mississippi?
Mike: It’s disappointing, but that’s the recruiting world. You can’t worry about the losses at this point, there is nothing you can do about it. But we live it that world of focusing on the misses and the losses and not what a team got.
We talked about Sopsher in the early period Q&A we did and I felt strongly then he was a hard Alabama lean and so you move on. A lot of folks will dwell on that, but it’s over with and then you focus on what you can get next season. But again, that area, Amite, has not been great for LSU, but you got one of the two in landing Devonta Lee. And at one time, the thought was he was going out of state also.
I believe LSU thought they could get at least one of the DLs from Mississippi and they went hard after them both, but it didn’t happen. I think that disappoints Coach O and his staff every bit as much as losing out on Sopsher.
You know we have spoken about this for the last three years, about how the defensive line spot has become, along with quarterback, the toughest spot to land – and I’m talking about the top ones here – in recruiting. Defensive line is a premium spot for every school now. It makes it the highest priority due to graduation and possible attrition for 2020.
Scott: I know you are a big believer in games being won in the trenches. You may have noticed that I posted my Signing Day Grades by Position on Thursday and gave the class an “A” overall, but the two lowest grades were at offensive line and defensive line. Do you think LSU did enough there to shrink the talent gap between LSU and Alabama?
Mike: For Alabama, it is all about replacing premium starters and then you lose depth too. That’s what happens when you lose folks early to the NFL draft. Coach Saban has mentioned that numerous times since the National Championship game.
That area, LSU is still working on closing the gap. Interior players, defensively, are one thing, but those edge guys are where Alabama has an advantage over everyone else. Well, Clemson too. It’s why they played in the National Championship game, along with the top quarterbacks.
Numbers are more inside, but they have diminished quite a bit on the edge defensively. Seven-on-seven competition has changed the football world forever in that a lot of those 6-4, 6-5 guys who would be playing on defense as a DE or OLB are now playing wide receiver or tight end. That won’t change.
On offense, again I can find that guard and center, but it’s the left tackle spot – much like the pass rusher spot – that is getting harder and harder to find. I mean, someone who can handle the speed/quickness of the top edge rushers and also stand-up versus the “power” point players.
Ray Parker is a key to this class. He’s not ready yet to play left tackle, but eventually that is going to be his spot. He’s athletic, quick-footed, he has length, but more importantly, he has the adjustment skills and feet to play that left tackle spot. Like redshirt freshman Cameron Wire was a year ago. They are built similar coming out of high school.
Redshirt freshman Dare Rosenthal is a bigger player, a more wide-build guy than Wire and Parker and more suited to play left tackle too. So, now you have three young players who project to the left tackle spot. That’s critical to develop this spring and summer.
Kardell Thomas is one of the best offensive guard prospects in the nation and everybody wanted him. He’s ready to play SEC football now. He’s a man out there on the field, and while he will need some technical upgrades he can physically and mentally handle the challenge as a freshman. He’s going to play in 2019.
Thomas Perry is a right tackle prospect. He’s a big man and he has great length and is more of a power player. He needs work on his techniques and his pass blocking skills. I like his ability to steer folks out to the edge as a pass blocker, but it’s doing this play to play and snap to snap that makes some transition time for him.
Charles Turner doesn’t have a lot of bulk, but he is very athletic and he has the skillset to get to the second level to throw a block. He just needs to physically get stronger and add weight to his frame. He may play in some blocking TE schemes this year, but he eventually will play center. He’s a very intelligent young man. He understands the game very well and has good adjustment skills. Eventually he will be a good center in college football.
Anthony Bradford is a right tackle or right guard prospect. Physical young man; gets good movement with his drive blocks, and he finishes off his blocks strong. He has some body balance techniques that need to be upgraded along with some pass blocking upgrades, but I like his approach to the game and he is a big man who is physical. Adjusting to more of a speed game will be his biggest move as a player, because he just overpowered and mauled people in the high school ranks.
Of the five, it’s Kardell Thomas who is ready to play SEC football now. You got something special with a freshman who can play right off the bat. That’s why for Tiger fans, the development of Cameron Wire, Dare Rosenthal, Chasen Hines and center Cole Smith is so critical and an area to keep a close eye on in the spring. They have a year under their belts in the program and Hines saw playing time along the offensive line last year. Of all the things offensively, that is the spot to watch this spring.
Scott: Moving beyond the trenches, there’s no doubt that LSU knocked it out the park at two positions of extreme need, running back and defensive back. Let’s start with the latter. In 2018, LSU signed only one DB, and it really caught up to LSU at the end of the season, particularly in the bowl game. This year, LSU landed five defensive backs highlighted by the best player in the country, Derek Stingley, Jr. Talk to me a bit about LSU’s DB haul, and Stingley in particular.
Mike: Derek Stingley is arguably the best prep football player in the country and someone who can play and play quickly at cornerback and also help on special teams. It’s a lot to put on his plate, but he comes in with Patrick Peterson-type skills as a cornerback. That’s saying something. He’s a special person and player. He gets it and it’s a tough spot to play because many times you are left on “Gilligan’s Island” to cover someone, but he’s athletic and very tough mentally. But his biggest impact early may well be returning punts. Good gracious, LSU needs an impact player at that spot.
Maurice Hampton is a special player, too. I don’t know what will happen with him and Major League Baseball, but he’s a stud football player. He tracks the ball so quickly in flight. You can’t teach that. Either you have that ability or you don’t. And he’s got it. He’s a physical player who could play cornerback, in the nickel, and even free safety. And I’m not sure free safety is maybe not his best spot. That’s a huge pickup for LSU, if he doesn’t turn pro in baseball.
Jay Ward is a long, very lean cover-corner with speed and catch-up recovery ability. What I like about him is his length and his ability to plant and drive hard to the football in flight. He’s a mentally tough young man and that’s important also to play cornerback.
I can say the same about RayDarious Jones. Excellent size and length and he spots and tracks the ball well in flight and he’s tough coming up the field in run defense. He’s a heck of a prospect.
Cordale Flatt is a very lean athlete who will need to add some weight and strength, but he can read and react quickly to what is happening out on the field vertically. He’s another athlete with quick feet and he can turn and run smoothly with receivers downfield.
The sleeper player, and he is really no sleeper, is Marcel Brooks. I think he is one of the best signees of this recruiting class and has some traits similar to Grant Delpit. He’s a long, very lean athlete; very intelligent, and you can move him around the football board. He just flashes up the field as a pass rusher and yet he can put that body in reverse so well and eat up so much ground out on the field. Brooks is a big-time prospect, along with Stingley and Hampton. And to be honest, with some technical upgrades RayDarious Jones is right there too. Great class after only landing Kelvin Joseph last spring.
Scott: I don’t know what’s more impressive, LSU’s cornerback haul or its running back haul. And both address major positions of need. I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize the significance of signing two of the nation’s top 10 running backs in a single class. Talk to me about the kind of impact you expect John Emery and Tyrion Davis to have on the program, and your expectations for them as freshmen.
Mike: I saw a ton of John Emery at Destrehan. He is a heavy-duty back, if you need him to carry the ball 20 to 24 times a game. He reminds me so much of a young Ezekiel Elliott. He has excellent rushing vision; he is quick to hit the hole; he can kick the play out wide and out-race folks to the edge, and he is a tremendous receiver coming out of the backfield. He has good size, quick feet and runs with a combination of power and speed. For any young back, the college game is more physical and you have to pay attention to ball security more, but he’s a big time player.
Tyrion Davis is a power player. He runs strong between the tackles and he keeps those strong legs churning after initial contact. He’s a one-cut, take it up hard inside and he’s a load to tackle one-on-one. Davis reminds me so much of a guy Coach O had at USC in Lendale White, who played in the NFL also. He is hard-charging and can wear you out with his physicality.
And running backs can come in and make a quick impact. They have to learn how to pass protect because they aren’t asked to do a lot of that in high school, but we aren’t reinventing the wheel learning that feature. You have to want to do it.
I expect both to play and play a lot in 2019. They are two different style runners, but Coach O and Ensminger like to play multiple backs and they want to run the ball. Not a lot of depth anymore defensively upfront so keep those backs fresh and get after them late running the ball.
To be continued...
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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