NCAA Baseball Championships:
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7/10/18 5:45 am CT
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
Last week, we began a five-part series in which we’ll look at five LSU football topics from both a glass-half-full and glass-half-empty perspective. Today, we pick up where left off. If you missed either of the first two installments (The Schedule and Quarterback Play), you can find them here.
LSU FOOTBALL – GLASS HALF-FULL, GLASS HALF-EMPTY
Part 3: Offensive Line
Half Full: You can find positivity in bulk on LSU’s offensive line. The Tigers return a considerable amount of experience in Austin Deculus, Saahdiq Charles, and Ed Ingram, each of whom played in every game last season. Garrett Brumfield, Donavaughn Campbell, and Adrian Magee aren’t exactly green either. So now you add talented JUCO transfers in Damien Lewis and Badara Traore, plus freshman Cole Smith, and depth should be much improved for new offensive line coach James Cregg. Those of us who remember how newsworthy LSU’s offensive line was after all the transfers last summer can make a convincing argument that LSU’s offensive line is in a much better place than it was then. That – plus a highly respected new OL coach who has energized the line with NFL concepts – makes for a ton of optimism in the Tiger trenches.
Half Empty: Though there’s plenty of potential up front for the Tigers, it’s never easy to replace three starters on the line. That’s a task LSU is faced with after losing left tackle K.J. Malone (graduation), center Will Clapp (NFL draft), and right tackle Toby Weathersby (NFL draft). These departures leave LSU with a couple of looming questions. Saahdiq Charles took over for an injured Malone for much of last season and did well, but can he be the “bell cow” at left tackle that Coach O is expecting? And does LSU have an adequate replacement for Will Clapp at center? Lloyd Cushenberry seems to be the heir apparent there and has received a heap of praise for his work ethic and intelligence, but his spring game performance didn’t exactly inspire confidence. As Mike Detillier said in our last Q&A, the center position is one of the toughest and most critical spots on a football team at any level. Unfortunately, it’s also the one position on the line where LSU returns the least experience.
Moving on with our countdown to Game Day, we’ve reached Day 54, and that brings to mind one of the highlights from last year’s 9-4 team – Darrel Williams’ 54-yard run from Wildcat formation against Alabama. I remember like it was yesterday when Williams faked the speed sweep to Russell Gage and streaked up the middle to set up LSU’s only touchdown of the night, a two-yard run by Williams. You can see both plays here.
Williams was easily one of the most unheralded players in LSU history, playing four years in the shadow of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Despite being eclipsed by those two stars, Williams amassed 1,651 yards rushing and 19 TDs with 38 career receptions for 462 yards while splitting time between tailback and fullback. He also developed into a dual threat out of the backfield, finishing third on the team in receptions (23) and second in receiving yards (331) and became the first player in LSU history to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game (last year’s Ole Miss game). Remarkably, Williams wasn’t picked in the NFL draft, but he did sign a free agent deal with Kansas City after posting a 4.59 40-yard dash at LSU’s Pro Day. Here’s wishing him a long and prosperous NFL career, and hoping someone can step in and fill his enormous shoes.
Turning to softball, LSU head coach Beth Torina announced the addition of former Tiger Sandra Simmons as the team’s volunteer assistant. Simmons played under the direction of Torina from 2013-16 and started all but one game of her Tiger career. “We are so excited to bring Sandra back home to Baton Rouge,” Coach Torina said. “Her passion, work ethic, and knowledge will surely make her an extremely successful coach. It is great to add someone to our staff who is familiar with our system and understands the mission and values we want to uphold within our program. We cannot wait for her to get started this fall helping our program compete at the highest level.”
In baseball news, LSU baseball picked up a big commitment yesterday from class of 2019 shortstop Collier Cranford of Zachary High School. ESPN announcer Ben McDonald calls Collier one of Louisiana’s best shortstops, which is high praise coming from such a distinguished former LSU and MLB great. Collier announced his commitment with this tweet.
Lastly, congratulations to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, coached by Paul Mainieri, for winning its series against Japan. Team USA lost last night’s series finale by a score of 4-3 when Japan hit a walk-off sac fly after a sac bunt but still won the series three games to two.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the continuation of our Glass-Half-Full, Glass-Half-Empty series and be sure to vote in today’s poll on LSU’s offensive line.
Reader Comments: Scott, here’s something to share with Dandy Don readers. It’s an apology letter to Derrius from a Redskin fan. The fan has come to know him as the LSU fanbase already has.
7/9/18 5:40 am CT
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
It was great hearing from many of you over the weekend about our Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty series and about the recipe I posted Saturday. Today we’re going to take a break from the new series (I have to pace myself in this slow season) and instead respond to a half-dozen of your comments and questions in the form of our Monday Morning Mail Call. Let’s jump right to it.
DANDY DON’S MONDAY MORNING MAIL CALL
From Charlie: First, I want to say thank you for always bringing us LSU fans all the purple and gold logic and updates. My question is, since LSU has all these 4-star quarterbacks and a somewhat experienced quarterback transfer, do you think that at some point Coach O just might use a 2 quarterback system of sorts? Do you think that we might even see some 2 quarterback sets? Keep up the great work. GEAUX TIGERS!
My Response: It’s funny you should ask, Charlie, because just yesterday I saw this video tweeted by Jacques Doucet of WBRZ in which Coach Orgeron shares his thoughts on the quarterback race. Here’s what he said:
“Here would be the perfect scenario: The best man would win, and it would be clear. I want the team to see it, and I want the coaching staff to see it. If you’re the LSU quarterback, you should be able to stick out. Now, if its very close, we may play two QBs.”
So, with that said, I wouldn’t expect a two-QB system, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sets specifically designed for a “running quarterback” like Lowell Narcisse, assuming he doesn’t win the starting job. Thanks for your message, Charlie, and for the kind words.
From Danny: Scott, I feel our QB situation is entirely dependent upon the coaching. We seem to have a way of decreasing the talent level of a QB. Beginning about the time of Russell Shepherd and continuing. I feel we have had much wasted talent here and attribute it to the coaching. My own feeling is we missed an opportunity to step into the top tier when we chose Ensminger as OC. I hope I am wrong, big time.
My Response: Danny, I am a fan of former head coach Les Miles and think he did a ton of good for the program, but quarterback development was not a particular strength of his coaching staffs. The verdict is still out on whether quarterback development will be better with Coach O at the helm, but I do think his staff did a good job of maximizing Danny Etling’s potential last season. And I’ve been very happy with Coach O’s recruitment of QBs – from getting grad transfer Joe Burrow to landing commitments from Peter Parrish and TJ Finley. But as you alluded to, LSU’s QB problem has been more about development than recruiting.
As for Steve Ensminger, he earned my confidence in his interim role as OC in 2016, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll do now that he has time to prepare his own offensive scheme instead of working with an inherited one. I get what you’re saying about not hiring a “top tier” OC. But remember, Coach O tried that with Matt Canada. Sometimes relationships and compatibility are more important than anything else, and O has that with Ensminger.
From Rick: With so much talent in Louisiana don't you think LSU is making an error using a valuable pick this year for a long snapper when we have one for next year already?
My Response: That’s a good question, Rick. My answer is no, I don’t think it’s a mistake. Specialists won’t help your team’s recruiting rankings (if anything, they’ll hurt it), but I’m of the opinion that they are extremely under-valued. And no player is more under-valued than the long snapper. It’s one of those deals where fans don’t even think about the position until there’s a problem. LSU has been in great shape there since Reid Ferguson of Buford, Ga. joined the team in 2012. Then his brother Blake followed and will be entering his second season as a starter this year. But you bring up a good point: Since LSU will have Blake back next year, why use a scholarship on a long snapper in this year’s class? Well, I think it’s mainly because they really like Quentin Skinner, who happens to also be from the same town as the Fergusons. Not only will he keep that Buford, Georgia pipeline open (how weird is it to have a pipeline for long snappers?), Skinner is arguably the best in the nation. He attended LSU’s specialist camp the last four years and earned MVP honors for his age group each time. He’s also rated as the No. 1 long snapper in the country by kicking guru Chris Rubio. I guess LSU just wanted to make sure they grabbed him when they could rather than risk that someone of his caliber would not be available next year.
From George: Seems to me that our youth and inexperience at running back would have warranted a look to the JuCo ranks for an experienced back to provide our young guys with leadership. Your comments?
My Response: I know a lot has been made about LSU’s running back position not having a Leonard Fournette or a Derrius Guice, or a Jeremy Hill, etc. but I’m not as concerned as some are. I think a lot of folks are underestimating Chris Curry, and I know the staff is really high on Clyde Edwards-Helaire and have been complimentary of Tae Provens. And don’t forget about senior Nick Brossette. He was a big-time back in high school and could be ready to come into his own now, too. But to answer your question, I’m not that surprised that Orgeron didn’t focus on the JUCO ranks to bring in a running back. It’s probably the easiest position of all for a freshman to come in and make an immediate impact. I’m reminded of a quote from Nick Saban about running backs and wide receivers. “No coach teaches you how to make a guy miss,” Saban said. “No coach teaches you how to explode through a hole and outrun anybody. No coach really teaches you how to run past the corner because you're faster than they are. Technically, there's probably less that (players at) those positions have to learn.”
From Stephen: Scott, As we draw closer to the start of the football season, I'm seeing things from more of the glass half full vantage point. I think you may have mentioned this and if so, I'm agreeing that if the Tigers can somehow come out of the first five games with at least a 4-1 record, they have a great shot at making this a very special year. They would be going into 3 straight home games versus (GA, MSST, ALA) and could peak right about at this point as was the case last year when after losing to Troy the team beat the Gators on the way to 3 straight wins. LSU was 5-1 at home last year and this year's team could potentially be better. But, I will express my biggest concern in the form of a question to you: Going into this season, how confident should we be that the LSU offense will finally be improved in red zone scoring? Offenses under both Ensminger and Canada were most of the times good enough to move the ball but struggled in the red zone, particularly in big games. Our usually stout defense should keep us in the games against FL, GA, and ALA which may be nail bitters but we've got to have above average offensive play calling & execution in the red zone.
My Response: Good stuff, Stephen. I like your optimism and generally agree with what you wrote. As for your question, I’ll give you two reasons why I am optimistic that we’ll see improvement in the red zone: kicker Cole Tracy and quarterback Joe Burrow. Starting with Burrow, I think his accuracy in the short-to-intermediate passing game will really shine in the red zone. As you know, that was not a strength of Danny Etling, and I’ve gotta assume that limited LSU’s play-calling on a short field. But that’s not the only reason LSU was 105th in the nation in red zone scoring. A big part of that was because LSU was 110th in field goal kicking. That simply must improve, and I applaud Coach O for going out and landing Tracy, the former top Division II kicker in the country.
From Craig: Now that the MLB draft is done, can you give us a recap of how LSU made out with its signing class?
My Response: Sure, I kind of touched on this before, saying that only shortstop Brice Turing and pitcher Levi Kelly were lost, not counting outfielder Elijah Cabell, who LSU released from his National Letter of Intent. So, what this leaves LSU with is 14 signees in a class that ranks No. 2 in the nation by Perfect Game (behind only Vanderbilt). The 14 signees making their way to Baton Rouge include seven who turned down MLB offers and a total of ten top-300 prospects. The highest ranked of those are right-handed pitchers Landon Marceaux, Jaden Hill, and Cole Henry, and catcher CJ Willis. Bottom line: LSU did exceptionally well. And when you combine that with Zach Watson, Zach Hess, and Antoine Duplantis all deciding to return, 2019 is looking extremely bright for LSU baseball. I might add that I think the future of all major LSU sports – football, baseball, basketball, and gymnastics – is looking up. It’s a great time to be a Tiger!
Now let’s move on with our Countdown to Game Day, which has reached the 55-day mark. That means its time to remember a pair of All-America Tigers who wore that number 30 years apart, linebacker Warren Capone (1971-73) and center Ben Wilkerson (2001-04).
Capone, a Baton Rouge product, was one of the best linebackers ever to wear the purple and gold. A two-time All-American, Capone went on to a career in the old WFL and spent three years in the NFL. During that time, he won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and also played for the Saints. Some of you older LSU fans will remember his sterling play against Notre Dame in the 28-8 victory in 1971 with two interceptions and three tackles, earning him national defensive player of the week honors. You can see one of his picks, which he returned 26 yards, in this video. Capone’s exemplary play rightfully earned him a place in the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Wilkerson, a 6-5, 275-pound native of Hemphill, Texas, was part of LSU’s monster recruiting class from 2001, which included Michael Clayton, Marcus Spears, Andrew Whitworth, Marquise Hill and Joseph Addai. Wilkerson was a four-year starter, and LSU went 33-8 with him in the lineup. He capped his career as a first-team All America selection and co-Rimington Trophy winner. A good student, he returned to LSU to start his coaching career as a graduate assistant and is now employed as an assistant offensive line coach by the Chicago Bears.
• Congratulations to former Tiger greats Aaron Nola and Alex Bregman for being named to the 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game rosters. Nola, the ace of the Philadelphia Phillies’ staff, was selected as a pitcher for the National League team, and Bregman, the third baseman for the reigning World Champion Houston Astros, was chosen as a reserve for the American League squad. The MLB All-Star Game will be held on July 17 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Here’s more on the topic, including a list of all 12 of the Tigers’ all-time MLB All-Stars.
• Here are yesterday’s poll results: With over 2,800 votes in, a whopping 78% feel positive about LSU’s quarterback situation. (I’m right there with you!) About 10% see it as a negative, and about 12% were neutral. Thanks to all who voted, and stay tuned for the continuation of our Glass-Half-Full, Glass-Half-Empty series.
Have a great day, Tiger Fans.
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