Ed. Note: We just couldn't take it anymore. Media days set us off and Poseur, Paul Crewe, PodKatt and myself decided to get some fall practice discussion going. Below is our email chain.
Billy: Well, we're just about two scant weeks from the report date for fall camp. We all know there's going to be some new starters and some old ones trying out new positions. Jai Eugene moving from corner to free safety, Pep Levingston sliding inside to d-tackle and Joseph Barksdale moving to left tackle to name some. Thoughts and opinions, gentlemen?
Paul: Of all the transitions, I think the guy I'm most excited about is Stefoin Francois to linebacker. Last year we saw Harry Coleman make the transition and become an effective playmaker for LSU. Francois gets an extended opportunity to learn the position and enters the Fall as a starter. Always loved his potential back to when he was a Rivals 100 recruit and a safety with a head-hunting mentality. I hope he can bring that speed and edge to the linebacker corps. A year ago, Francois future with LSU seemed uncertain, so it's good to see that he rebounded and is now in line for serious playing time. Our LB corps will be inexperienced this fall, but gushing with athleticism. I trust what Chavis does with his LBs, so I'm really excited to see what Francois can bring to the table.
Poseur: Good call on Francois, but I'm going to say I'm more interested in things that I'm not sure are going to work. Like you, I think Francois' gonna be fine, given Chavis' track record on linebackers. On the other hand, the offensive line keeps me up at night. This means the guy I'm most interested in is how Joseph Barksdale handles the move from right to left tackle.
Barksdale was perhaps our only lineman last season that did not completely suck. Now, he's moving across the line to be the anchor of the unit. There are two schools of thought: leave Barksdale on the right where we know he's comfortable or move your best lineman to the "glamour" position of the line. This move is not without risk, but really, could our line get worse? We absolutely need the line to improve, and that improvement starts with Barksdale at left tackle. We need him to play like a star.
Paul: That's a great point Poseur. I'm most excited about Francois, but mostly because I know he will be a success. Barksdale is a bigger question mark. The shift from RT to LT isn't easy. He seems to have the athleticism and certainly the length to be a successful LT. I've seen some question his footwork, but I think he can make the transition. The offensive line needs an anchor. Barksdale has been mentioned as a potential high draft pick, though Ciron Black was too (for some unforeseen reason). The line need to gel, and fast. Can he be that anchor on the left side? Can you put him on an island against the likes of Marcel Dareus and trust he will get the job done? And how much with Josh D. improve at LG? I think that's a big question mark. Josh D wasn't nearly as bad as many LSU fans made him out to be last season, but he was a bit lean and not strong enough. Those problems should be alleviated this season. An improved Josh D. should make life easier on Barksdale.
Billy: Francois is a guy I've been very high on, because I think he'll be Harry Coleman with better lateral quickness. The question is, can he and Ryan Baker hold up without a particularly big defensive line in front of them?
And I think Barksdale is the linchpin of the line this year. He really struggled against speed guys last year at right tackle, so it kind of makes you shudder to think how he'll do on the blindside. But he looked a little leaner in the spring, and that's a good start. Of course a strong running game that keeps LSU out of third and long will help him out as well. That brings me to the right side -- which I think is going to feature two maulers in Will Blackwell and Alex Hurst.
The potential of the right side of our OL makes me downright giddy. I expect to see blood spilled on nearly every play with Blackwell and Hurst out there. I think they may legitimately eat all of Julio Jones' illegitimate children on the way to many, many rushing TDs. Too far?
Poseur: Let me also agree with Paul. Hurst and Blackwell eat babies. I haven't quite talked myself into our line being good, but it has the potential. If the line gets fixed, this offense can explode. There are just so many playmakers.
And while not a new position, it will be nice to see Chris Faulk get some snaps. Miles needs to ease him into the rotation so we have our anchor at left tackle for the next three years. Long term, Chris Faulk has got to work. We've had so much bad luck on the offensive line recently; I want one big time recruit to pan out there. He might be the one underclassman we absolutely cannot afford to miss his lofty hype.
See how we've gone this far and not even mentioned Russell Shepard at wide receiver? If you're not excited by that, you don't have a pulse. Or, alternately, you don't follow LSU football.
Paul: Billy and I have discussed this some privately, but I really think this year's LSU offense, for all intents and purposes, will be built around Shep. We saw glimpses of it in the Spring Game, and he's bulked up to over 200 pounds for the first time in his life. That tells me the LSU staff is intent on getting him the ball early and often, which was the exact opposite of the ease him in strategy of last season. I expect we'll see Shep take snaps as a RB, QB, WR... and I'm working diligently to avoid using the oft-said comparison.
Are my expectations far too high?
Billy: How Shepard will be used is probably the offense question of the offseason. The way this team is currently set up, I really think he's almost going to be more of a running back than a receiver. He'll more than likely be third in the pecking order behind Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle when it comes to catching passes, so if he's going to get touches I expect it to come from handoffs.
We all know the Percy Harvin comparison is going to get used anyway so let's put it out there. One thing the two do have in common is a body type and running style -- but Harvin was also essentially Florida's go-to receiver. He averaged about four catches per game his last two years along with seven carries. Will that translate to Shepard? Will Gonzales incorporate some of Harvin's go-to plays like the motion-counter and jet sweep? Will he be the designated option pitch man (or quarterback)?
Paul: To me, Shepard will be LSU's UPS man. "What can Shep do for you?" He'll dabble in everything. We'll definitely see play specifically designed for him. But even better is that instead of like last year, defenses will have to account for where he is on the field every play. He can affect the game in so many positive ways for LSU. It'd be a shame if he didn't touch the ball 10 times a game.
Poseur: Last year, I was the lone voice calling for Shep to not touch the ball a lot. Mainly because he looked like he was gonna get killed. But now that he's had a chance to put on some bulk, I want Shep's touches to touch the ball early and often. His time is now. He showed flashes of the player he could be last season and the spring game, but I truly believe he's about to explode into a next level player. If Shep doesn't have a big year, I'm going to be pissed at our coaching staff.
PodKatt: Speaking of lines, I'm really looking forward to seeing how the new guys on the DLine gel together. We've heard a lot about how it's going to be more of a Speed than Power Line and while it worries me because this is clearly a result of the personnel we have right now, I can't help but envision free Defensive Ends decking a QB at a million miles an hour. Specifically the co-opetition to replace Rahim Alem between Montgomery and STEAMPUNK EMPEROR Mingo (who I've probably been over hyped on ever since the NOTY victory) is what I most want to see.
Adams, Levingston, and Nevis will likely keep doing their jobs, but the depth chart is loaded with unproven talent. By now they have to know that every snap they take is an audition for a starting role, not just for next year, but this year in place of the inevitably injured personnel. That kind of competition breeds good defenses and if things work out it could lay the foundation for a few seasons to come.
Billy: I'm of two minds on Pep Levingston. On the one hand, I think his skill set is a much better fit inside. He's not an up-the-field guy, but he can hold at the point of attack and occupy blockers. Won't make a lot of plays in the backfield, but won't get driven off the line too much. That being said, he's going to need to get his body into the 290-pound range if he's going to hold up over the course of a season. The bulk of this line concerns me at least a little. It's a deeper overall unit, and for the first time since 2007 LSU will be able to just send waves of guys opposing offenses (especially if they can build a lead and get teams in catch-up mode).
But you have to wonder how it's going to do against the power-teams like Alabama.
Poseur: I wasn't concerned about the size of the line until the Tomahawk Nation posted those numbers about size. Now, I'm paranoid. What keeps me sane is what Billy pointed out: we have depth. Defensive line depth is absolutely critical, and I like the fact we'll be able to go two-deep at every position on the line. I'm also very excited about what Davenport and Steampunk Emporer Mingo can do. I don't expect either to start, but both will contribute. Depth completely changes the look of the line. It might be smallish, but it shouldn't get worn down because of the sheer amount of players.
Stopping Bama's power game is a concern, but most teams in the SEC are running some variant of the spread right now. We absolutely have to have speed on the defense to stop Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn. Alabama becomes a major stylistic change, and I think that's when we might have to play more of a "big" lineup. But we can't manage the season just for one game, no matter how big it is. Maybe Brockers moves to the starting lineup when we play Bama, to counter their power run game. We'll deal with it in a few months. Overall, I think going for speed over power is the right call. A slow defense will get absolutely killed by the video game offenses.
Billy: LSU does have one luxury in this regard -- a pair of corners good enough to allow the defense to stack the line of scrimmage. The lack of size can be overcome with numbers.
Paul: I actually think Pep could be surprisingly good in the middle. Sure, at DE he was too slow to get good penetration, but at DT, his speed should actually be an asset. The concern is can he hold up in the run game, but as Billy mentioned, that's a strength to his game already, so I think he should be okay.
Like everyone else said, a DCs best friend is a billion bodies to throw at the opponent. Chavis has an endless list of options in that regard.
Paul: Jai to safety should have been made two years ago. I don't think he'll be a superstar out there, but he should be a veteran leader that knows the defense and can make all the proper calls. I also think he could be an upgrade from Chad in the sense that he won't freelance like Chad did. He also won't be the enforcer that Chad was, but it's a give and take. Chavis obviously values speed in his back seven, and while Jai's speed may not be great for a corner (by no means bad though), it will be outstanding for a safety.
Billy: He reminds me of the typical Tampa-Two style of corner you see in the NFL. Athletic and smart, but not fast enough to turn and run with most receivers. And that makes Jai a much better fit as a safety, where he can play with his eyes on the ball and the quarterback. He's already shown he can be a pretty good tackler, and while he doesn't have the ideal size, he's put together for a 5-9 or 5-10 guy. If he's got some decent ball skills, he could be put in position to make a lot of plays.
Poseur: Agree with both of you on Eugene. What was a negative at corner will be an asset at safety. He's now going to be fast for his position. We will miss Chad Jones' crushing hits, but we won't miss him playing 25 yards off the line of scrimmage to make sure he's never beaten. Eugene might actually make more tackles by his positioning and ability to get to the ball. He just won't deliver a devastating hit when he gets there.
Also, this is a chance for Loston to slide into the safety rotation on obvious running downs. However, I am quite excited by the possibility of playing essentially four cornerbacks in the secondary. Hopefully, this will be a team exceedingly difficult to pass on.
Billy: I expect Craig Loston to play a lot regardless. Last year even though Taylor and Jones were the starters, Danny McCray and Karnell Hatcher both still got a lot of snaps in, and I expect the same with Loston, especially against spread teams. And there's still a chance he overtakes Eugene -- remember, everybody thought Ron Brooks was going to be the starting strong safety until Brandon Taylor started working there last August.