Article courtesy of: Geaux24/7
By: Billy Embody
LSU is a day shy of two weeks into spring football practices and there are two scrimmages in the books already for the Tigers. Head coach Ed Orgeron is thrilled so far with the new energy around the team and his new hires in the offseason.
"I see our guys happy, wanting to be at LSU. Coming out early. I get to work at 6 and the parking lot is full already," Orgeron said last week. "I leave at 9 o'clock, some guys are still working. Guys are coming in early. You've got some young coordinators that want to prove themselves, that are very hungry, that are very detailed, working very hard. Yes sir, no sir. They're doing a great job of organizing the staff. Got a lot of guys that want to be here. That makes a difference."
With a large group of returning veterans along with an influx of early enrollees from the 2021 class, Orgeron sees the group making serious improvements already just in terms of their habits. Practices have been competitive, physical and reenergized with the new faces on the coaching staff as well.
"We have some older guys obviously that have been around coming back that are leading the football team," the coach explained on his Zoom call with reporters last Tuesday. "I think our coaches are doing a tremendous job with energy, things seem to be flowing very good right now."
Which players are turning heads so far? Geaux247 dives into 10 players making noise as spring ball continues on for Orgeron & Co.
WR Kayshon Boutte: While Boutte is a coming off a Freshman All-American season, he's worth noting. After a record-setting performance against Ole Miss to close out the season, rave reviews continue to come in about the former five-star prospect. As the quarterback competition remains unsettled, Boutte's reliability, big play ability and continued development is critical no matter who the trigger man ends up being for Jake Peetz' offense.
"Coming in, I didn't really know what to expect, but now that I played a whole season, I kinda know what to expect," Boutte said of his experience. "We didn't really have an offseason so this is really my first real offseason in my life. My focus on this next year because this next year is going to be a big year."
DT Maason Smith: One of the prized recruits in the 2021 recruiting class has lived up to the billing in a big way. Orgeron said last week that the former five-star prospect is already making waves and is pushing for a spot as a starter early on. Coming out of Terrebonne High, Smith enrolled early at LSU for the reason of getting ahead of the game. He's making big strides early on. As he gets more comfortable, it wouldn't surprise anyone if he was indeed a Week 1 starter for LSU, but it's clear he's already going to play a major factor right away.
"Maason Smith, he came in ahead of the game. We won't even know he was a freshman if it wasn't on paper. He teaches me, we teach each other. I learn from him," defensive lineman Neil Farrell said last week. "He's a good pass rusher so I take notes from him. He taking notes from me. Every day on the field, we help each other get better."
LSU Quarterbacks: All four quarterbacks have been praised by sources and Orgeron alike. While Max Johnson is taking the first team reps over Myles Brennan, TJ Finley and Garrett Nussmeier, it's been Nussmeier who is showing the future is bright for the quarterback room at LSU. Nussmeier has stepped in as an early enrollee — and coming off a broken non-throwing hand — to shine right away.
While most would expect a veteran to take the reins of the offense in Week 1, that's an encouraging sign. What's been made clear to us is the LSU quarterback room is off to a strong start this spring in what should be a competitive next few months leading up to the season opener against UCLA.
DE BJ Ojulari: As a freshman in 2020, Ojulari made waves as a situational pass rusher. With spring ball rolling on, the former Marietta High standout is getting strong reviews once again. From the first scrimmage to now, he's been making a push for an even bigger role as LSU looks to apply more and more pressure to the opposing quarterbacks under new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones. Ojulari notched 16 tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks in 2020. Going into next season, most are eyeing him to break out even more.
LB Navonteque Strong: LSU needed a difference maker in the linebacker room with Jabril Cox off to the NFL and Micah Baskerville not with the team right now. LSU flipped Strong from Mississippi State late in the recruiting process, getting him to Baton Rouge as a January enrollee. Competing with Damone Clark for snaps when Baskerville returns and Clemson transfer Mike Jones Jr. arrives this summer, Strong is making his push. Orgeron highlighted the former No. 1 junior college linebacker just last week.
"You're looking at Bugg Strong," Orgeron said last week of his performance in the first scrimmage. "He was the best junior college linebacker in our opinion. He had some big hits, man. He had a tough hit. He's a hard-nosed football player."
LB Damone Clark: After a disappointing 2020 season which saw Clark get overtaken by Baskerville, he's back and looking to show that was a fluke. Oozing with potential, the Baton Rouge native is athletic and is showing more comfort in the new defense while working with new linebackers coach Blake Baker. Clark's been shining as he competes for a starting spot once again.
"Last year a lot of times I second guessed myself. I am not going to second guess myself this year," Clark said last week. "Like I said, one of my biggest things was using my hands more. That is one of the things I aimed at before spring started. Now that spring is actually here, we are going against the offensive linemen and I'm using my hands and creating separation and really just not second-guessing myself."
DB Jay Ward: After LSU's safety group had a tough showing in 2020, LSU is looking for answers at the position. One answer could potentially be Ward, who was moved from cornerback to safety in time for the scrimmage this weekend. Ward had a strong showing, multiple sources said and could very well end up starting opposite Todd Harris, who is the veteran of the bunch standing out as he's now recovered from his knee injury suffered in 2019. If Ward can be a difference maker on the back end, that'll help LSU make a big stride defensively in 2021.
WR Trey Palmer: After a standout career at Kentwood, Palmer finished as one of the best wideouts in the country. Since arriving in 2019 though, Palmer has just 11 catches for 114 yards, but has made a splash with a punt return and a kick return for a touchdown. As spring ball is underway, most sources have shared that Palmer is coming on strong as an option in the slot, battling for Koy Moore, who saw plenty of time as a true freshman in 2020. With Palmer's game breaking speed, if he continues to put it together, it might be enough for him to take the starting job.
OL Anthony Bradford: One of the strongest Tigers on the team is making a big push for snaps on James Cregg's offensive line. While Orgeron said the offensive line that returns all five starters will be tough to unseat, Bradford was the one Orgeron highlighted last week, but he still must continue to get in shape. Bradford has been dominant in Big Cat drills and has shown continued improvement in spring practice. While LSU's two guard positions seem to be settled, Bradford could make a run at the right guard spot.
DL Joe Evans: After being moved back and forth between offensive and defensive line, Evans is back on the defensive line, looking to make a push for snaps. After the latest scrimmage, the praise of the former Haynesville High standout came through from multiple sources. He's made 20 tackles, a half tackle for loss and a sack in two seasons over 15 games. With Evans focusing solely on defensive line, maybe he can break out as a contributor for Andre Carter's group. There are the likes of Neil Farrell, Glen Logan, Jaquelin Roy and others back, but Evans is making a push.