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DandyDon.com Questions Mike Detillier About LSU’s 2015 Tigers - Part 2 of 2
Continued from Part 1 posted 08/09/2015 ….
Scott: Now that you’ve given me your thoughts on defense, let’s jump back to the offense and discuss the position that getting the most attention from Tiger Fans, the quarterback position. Last year both of us predicted Harris would overtake Jennings for the starting role, but things didn’t turn out as expected. What say you this year? Is this Harris’ year to shine?
Mike: Scott, For Brandon Harris it is a matter of knowing what to do on every snap and understanding the nuances of calling plays right and getting people in place. It’s not about winging it. He just didn’t pick up the system very quickly and he was thin-skinned about the criticism. He has matured and he has a better grasp of the offense. All QBs go through this maturity process, physically and mentally.
He’s the talent, no question about it. But I see LSU using a two-quarterback attack in 2015. I really think Les Miles likes that element of the game. Both quarterbacks will be better and it was not all about the quarterback last year at times. Young wide receivers were not running routes correctly and it took until midseason for the offensive line to jell. And the coaching staff deserves some of the blame. Use the short area of the field better. They didn’t incorporate the backs and tight ends very much in this system. The key at quarterback is being much better in the short to intermediate part of the game. Use the backs and tight ends better and also a much more experienced spot at wide receiver.
Anthony Jennings throws the deep ball better than the short stuff. Harris is better working the shorter routes. Harris starts the season and he will make mistakes, but also he will build upon what he does best. He is accurate with throws and he has a whip for an arm. Both QBs are good athletes and can stretch the field with their feet and make yardage if a play breaks down. Like it or not, LSU will run the two-QB system unless an injury occurs.
Scott: I’ve written that regardless of whether it’s Harris or Jennings I’m expecting improvement at the position if for no other reason than that each has a year of experience under his belt. And of course it helps that LSU returns all of last year’s talented receivers. You agree?
Mike: No question about it. Malachi Dupre has a chance to be special and I truly believe he could be the next A.J. Green, (Georgia and Cincinnati Bengals). Trey Quinn is a terrific route runner and has good hand, and John Diarse and Travin Dural are experienced also. Travin is lightning fast and has worked hard to physically get stronger. He can run those deep routes as well as anyone early in his career. Dural is a 1st round pick talent. Last season at times they were cutting routes off quick or running them too long and it helped in the breakdown of the aerial game. They have experience now and it is going to help both Jennings and Harris.
Scott: Speaking of the receivers, I know you are a big fan of former LSU wide receiver coach Adam Henry, and I am too. But I’ve got to tell you that I’ve been very impressed with Coach Tony Ball and the energy he brings. I also think his focus on fundamentals will help this young group. What’s your opinion on Ball so far?
Mike: Yes, I thought Adam Henry did a great job with Beckham, Jarvis Landry and James Wright. It was a young group last season and to be honest Travin filled the shoes of Odell very well. What they missed, and I wrote this a year ago, was someone to fill Jarvis Landry’s shoes in working the short area of the field. It is the dirty work, but to get those 9 yards on third and 8 is huge, and they didn’t do that last year. Tony is a good coach and preaches fundamentals. He is a tough-edged coach too. That wasn’t Henry’s personality, but it worked for him at LSU and he had really good teacher/pupil connections. Ball is someone that will let you know, and quickly, about missing a route and running the correct pattern on the route-tree. Last season there was a lot of catching the ball up against the body. They have to do a better job this season catching the ball out front and also it seemed as though they sensed there was an issue at quarterback so they pressed to make a big play on every catch. I understand that, but run the right route and make that secure grab, and then let your athletic talent and speed take over. Ball is preaching that. He’s a good hire for LSU and a damn good recruiter.
Scott: Coach Ball sure has to be pleased with the amount of talent he has to work with. Care to make a prediction as to who will be LSU’s leading receivers this year?
Mike: I am sure he is. LSU is known to be DBU and also the amount of defensive linemen out of LSU has been staggering number-wise, but I have been saying the last three years in a short time LSU will also be known as WRU. The high school kids in Louisiana and the football gifts they have are perfect for the spot.
Travin and Malachi Dupre are the starters and to be honest I think they both end up with about the same amount of catches. Trey Quinn is really a good slot end. John Diarse gives them experience and talent out wide. I can’t wait to watch DJ Chalk as the speed guy and he is the eventual replacement for Dural in 2016. Tyron Johnson is going to see action also. Tyron is very gifted as a receiver with his speed, his quickness and shifty moves and his ability to pull away from defenders. He needs some work on his route running skills and perfecting that, but he’s a very good player. And in time Jazz Ferguson is going to be a really good end for LSU with his size and athletic skills.
With all that talent I would be thrilled to coach that unit.
Scott: Time and time again, we’ve called for LSU to utilize its tight ends more in the passing game. Last year, LSU only completed 12 passes to tight ends in 13 games. But at the end of the year in the bowl game, DeSean Smith was targeted a couple of times, and then he was targeted a couple more times in the spring game. Am I foolish to think that this might be the year we see Smith and LSU’s other tight ends better utilized in the passing game, or is that just not ever going to be a big part of Les Miles’ offense?
Mike: I don’t think the tight end position will ever be a big part of the Miles’ offense. Cam Cameron used the tight end a lot at Baltimore and also with the San Diego Chargers, but it has to be used more at LSU. Why not?
The mismatch downfield with a big tight end is the best spot a young QB could look for in tight spots. Peyton Manning told me at the Manning Passing Academy that other than the center spot, nothing settles a young QB down more than a tight end that can bail him out of a jam in third down conversion spots.
DeSean Smith and JaCory Washington both fit that mold. Both are athletic with good hands and are like big receivers downfield. Dillon Gordon is a good athlete too and he can catch the ball, but Les Miles likes those big tight ends to run block and so he is like another tackle out on the field. That is pathetic to just have one reception per game at the tight end spot in today’s game. That has to be improved.
In the red-zone, when everything is tight, is where tight ends are most effective because of their size mismatch downfield. Basically every offensive coordinator under Coach Miles talks about using the backs and tight ends more in the off-season, but it rarely takes place during the year.
Scott: Ok, we talked about the O-line in Part 1 of our Q&A, and we’ve covered the passing game here. Now let’s talk about LSU’s running game and LSU’s Heisman contender, Leonard Fournette. Last year the game seemed to really slow down for him as the season progressed and he seemed to get better with every contest. What are you expecting of him this year?
Mike: Leonard Fournette is the most gifted offensive player I have ever seen at LSU in my 27 years of scouting. Odell Beckham had a great junior season and blew up in the NFL, but Fournette was awesome down the stretch. I just wished they would have run him more.
He’s a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and I think he will rush for 1,500 yards and I would get him the ball out in the flat as a receiver at least a couple of times per game. He’s really so much like Adrian Peterson with his running skills. Great size, powerful, very fast, shifty in space and he has good field vision. I got to speak to him at length at the Pro Football Combine in Thibodaux and he told me he has worked hard on being more patient. The game didn’t slow down as much as him being more patient late. In high school he was bigger, faster and stronger than virtually everyone. That is not the case in college. He told me he worked on reading his blocks better and becoming a better receiver coming out of the backfield. But he spent a lot of time learning how to block better, especially in pass protection sets. He was not asked to do this in high school. He told me it was hard for him to perfect it, but he has worked extremely hard to get it down.
He’s a well-grounded young man, focused and extremely gifted. He is what everyone thought he would be, and late in the season not many tried to tackle him high or they got run over. I said this a year ago and I will repeat it, Fournette is one of three guys I would have bet everything I have – cars, homes, stocks, bonds, etc. – on being a great player in college and the pros coming from Louisiana as a high school player, barring an injury, along with Peyton Manning and Ed Reed. No. 7 is something special.
Scott: Of course, Fournette will not be the only talented running back in LSU’s backfield. Talk to me about your expectations for Darrell Williams (who I think is one of the most underestimated players on the team), and newcomers Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette. And what about the fullback position which has to deal with the absence of Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones?
Mike: Darrel is a different style runner than Leonard. He is North-South, real strong in the lower body, and has enough shiftiness to get around people in space. He’s a good receiver too. Williams is a bigger, straight-ahead faster, and stronger version of Stevan Ridley. He’ll just pound away at you and then break off a big run. He has always been that sort of runner. That is a brutal one-two shot with Fournette and Williams.
I am a huge fan of Derrius Guice and he will get some touches this season. He can fill the void left by Terrance Magee. Guice is built low to the ground, he is shifty in space, very fast and he is a terrific receiver also. Great hands and he runs good routes. I would also give him a shot to return kickoffs with his speed and field vision. He is going to make a huge mark at LSU before he is finished school.
Nick is slightly taller, runs a bit straight up, but he is fast and what I really like about him is that he runs with great balance. He just has that instinct to always be falling forward.
Not a lot of experience depth here and to be honest I think last year LSU was trying to divide the carries too much. Let Fournette carry the load, Williams comes in to give quality time and touches and get Derrius a few carries, but it seems to have been divided too much last season and Miles wanted Magee and Hilliard to get their touches in games too. Sometimes play the hot player until he cools.
John David Moore is the blocking guy at fullback and the body bodyguard for Fournette and Williams. David Ducre is making the transition from mostly a runner and receiver to blocking at LSU. I like him a lot. But Moore is the lead blocker and the better one at this stage and he gets the nod. If this team threw the short pass better, David Ducre would be really effective as a receiver.
Scott: Alright, time is getting short and I know you’re a busy man. We didn’t cover special teams, but let me just ask this: Do you expect Fournette to return kicks again this year, and, if so, what do you think of that?
Mike: Fournette will still get some touches as a return man like Georgia did with Todd Gurley. But I would want Donté Jackson, Derrius Guice and the wildcard here – D.J. Chalk – returning most of the kickoffs. For LSU to contend for the SEC title again (and I think they will again in 2015) and be a double-digit winning team, they have to play great on special teams. OBJ and Tyrann Mathieu changed field position and momentum so many times on returns. You have to have that element and be more consistent in the kicking game, especially with field goal attempts.
Scott: You have spoke about Arden Key and Isaiah Washington as freshman impact guys upfront defensively. You always say there is one offensive lineman that always steps up. Who would that be?
Mike: It’s going to be Maea Teuhema. He’s a huge young man at almost 6-5 and he is around 330 pounds, but it is his balance skills and his quickness off the snap that make him promising. He plays low, he is hard to knock off balance, and his hand and arm quickness gives him a shot to play early. He would play in a reserve role, but his play is a lot like Vadal Alexander. I like him on the right side as a power player inside.
Scott: Last off-season you predicted an 8-4 2014 regular season and a possible 9th win in the bowl game. That was very close. Before the Ole Miss game you thought LSU would win only one more game, Texas A&M, but you saw the quarterback issues long before most did. What are your thoughts on the Tigers’ record for 2015? I have heard you on national shows saying LSU will contend for the 2015 West title.
Mike: They won two, Ole Miss and A&M, but it was obvious early on that they were having troubles and LSU fans might kick, but throw out the Notre Dame game and John Chavis maybe had his best coaching season ever with little help from the offense.
That defense played well and we got to see Davon Godchaux, Tré White, Jamal Adams, Christian Lacouture and Kendell Beckwith really step up their games. It bailed the Tigers out. The Notre Dame game was just so disappointing because defensively they couldn’t stop the Irish and we know now about the distractions with "Chief," but he did one hell of a job in the regular season with a turnover-prone QB situation, so many three-and-outs, and he was having new pieces in place too.
I pick the Tigers to go 10-2 in 2015. Fournette, great receivers, improved play at QB, and they are loaded everywhere on defense, other than defensive end. Surprise, surprise… and I think they beat the Tide in Alabama.
Scott: Sounds good to me! Alright, to close this out, give me your biggest concern about this year’s team, and your biggest reason for optimism?
Mike: Quarterback and production is first concern. Depth and production at defensive end and how quickly the offensive line is aligned and jells are a close second.
My biggest reason for optimism is they were 8-5 with poor quarterback play last year. Slightly above QB play gets them to 10 wins. Next is Leonard Fournette, the most dominant player in SEC. The Tigers also have a terrific receiving unit and a potentially really good offensive line. Plus… great, and I mean really great, safety play with Adams, Mills and Jefferson. Tré White and Kendell Beckwith are All-SEC players at cornerback and middle linebacker. I pick Auburn to win the West, but LSU is breathing down their necks.
What makes the difference is dominant play on special teams. All those championship clubs at LSU had that terrific kicker, punter and return man.
Scott: Thanks, Mike. As always, I greatly appreciate your time and know the DandyDon readers do too.
Mike: Thanks, Scott. Much appreciated. Your dad would be so proud of the work you have done on this site. I get asked about it all the time.. Thanks again, and the readers’ responses are terrific, even if they don’t agree.
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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