Da Boot Sports
By: Terrill J. Weil
BATON ROUGE, LA: It's what many of us have been waiting for. LSU football is back as the players reported back to campus on Thursday, then begin practice for the 2021 season on Friday with a morning walkthrough, then an afternoon practice in helmets.
The excitement for the 2021 season is building, but several questions have yet to be answered. Will this LSU team
that returns 18 of 22 starters rebound big from last season's disastrous 5-5 record? Will this new, much younger coaching staff breath a new high level of energy into this squad, especially on the defensive side where last season the team fielded perhaps the worse defense in LSU history with the Bo Pelini disaster?
This team can only improve after several key players, mostly defensive front and offensive linemen, chose to return for a final season, angry over last season's disappointing collapse and determined to help the proud LSU program rebound back into championship form. 'One Team! One Heartbeat!' ....
But like I mentioned, several questions will need to be answered even with a roster full of talent and experience. The biggest and most recent news has been the loss of quarterback Myles Brennan. As many of you know, Brennan was the victim of a freak accident while on a fishing trip, breaking his left arm which required surgery. Hopefully he will be able to return the week of the Auburn contest.
Brennan's injury ended the starting quarterback competition for the beginning of the season, as sophomore Max Johnson has been named the starter for now. Brennan's absent also puts a huge dent in the quarterback position's depth. If Johnson was to go down before Myles' return, Orgeron's only other options would be true freshmen Garrett Nussmeier and Matt O'Dowd, a freshmen from Plantation, Florida.
So question one! Can Max Johnson show improvement and continue to play at the high level he displayed during the final
two games of last season? Coach O has been quoted calling him a championship quarterback. Johnson is very athletic and likes to tuck it and run, willing to take the big hit instead of sliding. Can he stay healthy until Myles Brennan returns? If not, things could go south quickly.
Second question... Can Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas take the LSU offense back to 2019 form? Expect to see a fast, aggressive pace, with play calling that will keep the defense back on their heels and sucking wind.
Third question... Will new offensive line coach Brad Davis help get the second offensive line unit ready for play in case anyone on the O-Line goes down? Coach O mentioned several times during spring camp that the depth at that position must improve before the season arrives. If needed, who will be 'Next Man Up'...?
Question four... Will the running game show improvement? It must improve and return to the type of production we
saw during the 2019 campaign. The running back stable is full with Ty Davis-Price, John Emery Jr., Corey Kiner, and Armoni Goodwin.. Hopefully one will separate themself from the rest to be named a true every game starter before the team heads to California.
Question Five... Who will step up to be the #2 receiver behind Kayshon Boutte? Koy Moore and Jaray Jenkins performed well at the end of last season and Jontre' Kirklin chose to return for another season. Trey Palmer is more valuable as a special teams performer, then as a receiver. Other options will come from sophomore Alex Adams, junior Devonta Lee and a group of very talented incoming freshmen,... Brian Thomas Jr., Chris Hilton, Deion Smith, and Malik Nabers. It will be a ferocious battle for playing time with this unit.
Last question... Will the defense bounce back? The defensive front is strong, has depth and could very well be the best in all of college football.
Both Demone Clark and Micah Baskerville return for a group of linebackers who underachieved last season. Last year in Bo Pelini's defense, the linebackers struggled as they couldn't stop the run and always seemed to be confused in pass coverage. New defensive coordinator Daronte Jones and linebackers coach Blake Baker will look to get this unit playing at a high level. Sophomores Josh White, Antoine Sampah, and Phillip Webb return, but have little to no game experience. New additions are a bright spot as Mike Jones transferred in from Clemson and should take over the linebacker/safety hybrid type role that Jabril Cox played as Coach Jones will run a 4-2-5 scheme. Navonteque Strong is a transfer from Miss. Gulf Coast Comm. College. He put up nice numbers there and should see some playing time during the season.
The corner back position is as good as it gets. The Tigers may have the top two cover guys in the nation with Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks. Loads of quality depth behind them with Dwight McGlothern, Jay Ward, and Cordale Flott.
The safeties are the only concern here. Seniors Todd Harris and Cam Lewis return, as well as sophomore Jordan Toles but they all struggled last year. If highly rated true freshmen Derek Davis and Sage Ryan are as good as advertised, they should both see more and more snaps as they gain experience.
Coach Orgeron spoke to the media on Friday after the afternoon practice session. “It was a great first day for us, everybody was fired up and ready to go,” Orgeron said. “We had a great walk-through this morning and we had a pretty tough practice this afternoon although it was only helmets. We got a lot done."
“We have to get in football shape. Summer conditioning gets you ready for camp, camp gets you ready for the season so that’s the part of camp we are going to be in for a while. It was pretty warm today, but I think in a couple days they will be used to it.”
All the quarterbacks threw the ball well and had a good practice. “We miss Myles,” Orgeron said. “It (the accident) was very unfortunate. I think Max and Myles and the entire team were looking forward to the competition. It was very close; we didn’t’ know who was going to be the starting quarterback. I thought the competition would have been very good for the football team because there is competition at almost every position.”
Kayshon Boutte had a great practice as did the rest of the receivers. The incoming freshmen caught the ball well.
Coach O said Kevin Faulk is doing a super job with the running backs and that he is expecting Davis-Price and Emery to lead the team in the rushing game, but says he will give others an opportunity.
True freshmen safety Sage Ryan had a good first practice as he had an interception at the end of the day, as he will start
out backing up Cordale Flott at nickel back and will apparently be a huge part of the return game.
The Tigers will practice again in helmets on Saturday and then add shoulder pads for Sunday’s workout. LSU is scheduled to practice in full pads for the first time on Thursday.
Below is a video of today's press conference... Enjoy... Geaux Tigers!!!!
Photos By: Michael Bacigalupi
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