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Competition Tuesday: How did LSU find Depth Issues?

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The depth issues are real. What lead us here?

Troy v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Since a litany of poor performances dotted the roster on Saturday, let’s take a different bent on Competition and ask “Why can’t we compete?”

Saturday, amidst the ugliness, Booger McFarland decided to chime in with his opinion on the “why” this was happening:

First, the obvious: I don’t care what talent issues LSU is facing, none of them should result facing a 17-point deficit to Troy. Saturday’s loss had nothing to do with talent and you are lying to say otherwise.

But Booger is only stirring the pot that’s been boiling a couple weeks and even asked of Orgeron in recent press conferences: Where’s the depth?

When pressed, Booger turned to Ross Dellenger’s excellent piece from two weeks ago. Ross does a superb job of breaking down the numbers. So let’s dive into some even deeper breakdowns of both sides. The why and how of this undisputed depth problem.

Defensive Line

Unfortunately, a nightmarish scenario of transfers and injuries/suspensions have left LSU with only 6 players even eligible for playing time on the DL.

The question remains: How much blame is Orgeron to bear for this?

O was hired in 2015 and on his watch Maquedius Bain, Trey Lealaimatafao, Travonte Valentine and Isaiah Washington all exited the program.

DL Transfers Under O.csv

Player Composite Ranking
Player Composite Ranking
Maquedius Bain 4
Trey Lealaimatafao 3
Travonte Valentine 4
Isaiah Washington 3

Of the foursome, Orgeron only recruited Washington, whom LSU had offered and accepted his commitment before O’s hiring. Of this group, arguably only Travonte Valentine would be in the mix for playing time. The only other arguable contributor is Bain, who transferred and never materialized anywhere else. The others were 3-star project players. The transfers aren’t a compelling explanation for depth losses as these are heavily fringe or non-contributors.

Injuries and suspensions, on the other hand, have majorly bitten LSU.

2017 DL MIA.csv

Player Composite Ranking
Player Composite Ranking
Frank Herron 4
Ed Alexander 4
Rashard Lawrence 5
Tyler Shelvin 4

Three of LSU’s best DL are currently on the shelf. Toss in a freshman they had hopes for contribution and now you can see why LSU has only 6 guys that can even take the field. So, who are those guys?

2017 DL Available.csv

Player Composite Ranking
Player Composite Ranking
Greg Gilmore 4
Christian LaCouture 4
Deondre Clark 4
Glen Logan 4
Neil Farrell 3
Justin Thomas 3

Gilmore is a solid player that should be rotating with the beefier Alexander at NT.

LaCouture is also solid player that should be sharing snaps with Frank Herron at DE.

Deondre Clark is a 4-star bust that hadn’t registered a tackle in the past 2 seasons, now playing significant snaps due to need.

Glen Logan is a RS Freshman that was expected to be in the rotation but is now starting.

Neil Farrell is a 3-star player that should likely be taking a RS.

Justin Thomas is 3-star player that hasn’t taken snaps in the last three games, despite depth issues, who should also be taking a RS.

O gets no excuses, but that’s a very thin group with no options to turn to. You can run with Gilmore/LaCouture as starters playing alongside a great player like Lawrence and rotating with talented guys like Alexander and Herron. Take away the superstar and their opportunities for rest and any team would struggle.

If O was hired to recruit DL and promoted to recruiting coordinator in 2016, why isn’t there more depth?

Let’s take a look at the players he’s landed on campus for official visits since his hiring:

LSU DL Official Visits.csv

Player Composite Ranking Team Year
Player Composite Ranking Team Year
Arden Key 4 LSU 2015
Isaiah Washington 3 LSU 2015
CeCe Jefferson 5 UF 2015
Prince Tega Wanogho 4 AUB 2015
Rashard Lawrence 5 LSU 2016
D'Andre Christmas 3 Texas 2016
Ed Alexander 4 LSU 2016
Glen Logan 4 LSU 2016
Shavar Manuel 4 FSU 2016
Justin Harris 3 Baylor 2017
Neil Farrell 3 LSU 2017
Marvin Wilson 5 FSU 2017
Tyler Shelvin 4 LSU 2017
Phidarian Mathis 4 BAMA 2017
Justin Thomas 3 LSU 2017

2015

Key is only here because of O. Washington was offered before O’s hiring, as noted above. O lost out to in-state schools on both CeCe Jefferson and Tega-Wanogho, who are both now starters for their respective programs.

Top 20 Players on DL in State in 2015: 1 (Jerry Tillery went to Notre Dame)

2016

Landed Rashard Lawrence after making him an immediate priority upon hiring. Re-secured commitment of Ed Alexander. Lost on in-state D’Andre Christmas, who isn’t listed in the Texas 2-deep and hasn’t registered a stat for them in 2017. Lost on this list is Shavar Manuel, who never made it to FSU and appears to be out of football.

Top 20 Players on DL in State in 2016: 6 (Orgeron landed the top 3). Stephon Taylor was never offered (17th in state, transferred from South Carolina), Briston Guidry was never offered (18th in state, Arkansas), D’Andre Christmas was offered (on Texas roster)

2017

Landed Tyler Shelvin, no. 1 player in the State. Lost on Phidarian Mathis. Lost on Marvin Wilson. Landed Neil Farrell Jr. and Justin Thomas.

Top 20 Players on DL in State in 2017: 3. Landed Shelvin. Lost Mathis to Bama. Didn’t offer 3-star Bryan Jones, who went to Houston.

What Does It Mean?

Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to fathom what better he could have done besides secure Phidarian Mathis or Marvin Wilson in last year’s signing class and that wasn’t from lack of trying. In 2016 O pulled three top 200 players on the DL, including 5-star Rashard Lawrence. It’s hard to expect more than that. 2015 he showed up on a shortened cycle and still pulled a top 100 player.

It seems that O has done as reasonably as possible at stocking the DL during his tenure, but the team is buried with bad luck injuries and player disciplinary issues. That’s a tough pill to swallow in the short term. But it’s also not one of major concern long term. Next year’s unit will be bolstered by Breiden Fehoko. JUCO DE Travez Moore is also already in the fold with more recruits on the way. O is continuing to emphasize the need for JUCO bodies on the DL. Add in the continued maturation of the players currently on the roster and LSU should be in better depth position, even with the losses of LaCouture and Gilmore to graduation.

Offensive Line

The OL is a different story entirely. Jeff Grimes arrived in 2014 after Cam Cameron reportedly butted heads with long time OL coach Greg Studrawa. On the trail, Grimes has largely been a success, landing an abundance of talent.

LSU OL Commitments.csv

Player Composite Ranking
Player Composite Ranking
Garrett Brumfield 4
Will Clapp 4
Jevonte Domond 4
Maea Teuhema 4
Chidi Valentine-Okeke 4
Toby Weathersby 4
Adrian Magee 3
George Brown 3
Donavaughn Campbell 4
Willie Allen 4
Jakori Savage 3
Lloyd Cushenberry 3
Austin Deculus 4
Ed Ingram 4
Saahdiq Charles 4
Seth Stewart 3

16 players in four signing classes, with a 3.68 composite rating average. That’s both volume and quality arriving on campus. The problem? Keeping them here.

LSU OL Attrition.csv

Player Composite Ranking Still Here?
Player Composite Ranking Still Here?
Garrett Brumfield 4 Y
Will Clapp 4 Y
Jevonte Domond 4 N
Maea Teuhema 4 N
Chidi Valentine-Okeke 4 N
Toby Weathersby 4 Y
Adrian Magee 3 Y
George Brown 3 N
Donavaughn Campbell 4 Y
Willie Allen 4 N
Jakori Savage 3 Y
Lloyd Cushenberry 3 Y
Austin Deculus 4 Y
Ed Ingram 4 Y
Saahdiq Charles 4 Y
Seth Stewart 3 N

Of the 16 recruited, 6 have departed before completing their eligibility* or declaring early for the NFL draft.

*Jevonte Domond’s eligibility would have expired last season but he did transfer before the season, so I included him on the list.

That’s 37.5% of Grimes recruited players no longer in the program and none left for positive reasons. LSU’s current mess of OL issues cannot be attributed to bad injury luck or suspensions. It also can’t be attributed to lack of recruiting attention. Here’s the breakdown:

2014: 3 OL signees
2015: 5 OL signees
2016: 4 OL signees
2017: 4 OL signees

And here’s the list of visitors during the Grimes era:

LSU OL Official Visits.csv

Player Composite Ranking Team Year
Player Composite Ranking Team Year
Jevonte Domond 4 LSU 2014
Derrick Kelly 3 FSU 2014
Garrett Brumfield 4 LSU 2014
Will Clapp 4 LSU 2014
Toby Weathersby 4 LSU 2015
Zach Robertson 4 ASU 2015
Chidi Valentin-Okeke 4 LSU 2015
Maea Teuhema 4 LSU 2015
Adrian Magee 3 LSU 2015
Jalen Merrick 4 ARK 2015
Martez Ivey 5 UF 2015
George Brown 3 LSU 2015
Matthew Burrell 4 OSU 2015
William Sweet 4 UNC 2015
Jerry Tillery 4 ND 2015
Lloyd Cushenberry 3 LSU 2016
Scott Lashley 4 BAMA 2016
Jauan Williams 4 FSU 2016
Jakori Savage 3 LSU 2016
E.J. Price 4 USC 2016
Willie Allen 4 LSU 2016
Donavaughn Campbell 4 LSU 2016
Jean Delance 4 TEXAS 2016
John Simpson 4 CLEM 2016
Greg Little 5 OM 2016
Seth Stewart 3 LSU 2017
Saahdiq Charles 4 LSU 2017
Edward Ingram 4 LSU 2017
Austin Deculus 4 LSU 2017

29 visitors in 4 recruiting cycles. That’s downright phenomenal. Grimes is doing an excellent job of keeping LSU in contention with a bevy of OL prospects, both top tier players and project types alike.

Grimes earned some leeway for coaching under Cameron’s ineffective system, and he was the lone coach on the offensive side of the ball that Orgeron opted to retain after cleaning house. Yet, under a new offensive coordinator and featuring a veteran group, LSU’s OL looks as porous as ever. While depth is certainly not a strong suit of the unit, LSU’s top 4 OL (Malone, Brumfield, Clapp and Weathersby) have only missed a combined 1 start (Weathersby, last week). The staff continues to struggle to find an answer for the RG spot vacated by Teuhema’s departure, but playing a single inexperienced player, even a true freshman, shouldn’t sink the entire unit.

Ultimately, depth hasn’t stung this unit in terms of costly injuries or suspensions, forcing the staff to turn to a unit of unproven or unqualified players to play key snaps, like we see on the current DL. No, the 2017 OL is in the same state today as it was on the Monday before playing BYU. All attrition issues should have been factored for during the season plan.

This illustrates Grimes’ failure on two fronts. He’s holding up his end of the bargain on the recruiting trail, but his inability to retain players (nearly 40% lost) and failure to develop them (unit with four upperclassmen is struggling mightily) paint a gruesome picture of LSU’s offensive struggles in 2017.

There’s no clear solution, either. True freshman Austin Deculus has yet to play in 2017, even against Chattanooga. Adrian Magee is beginning to see more snaps, but to little success. RS Freshman Jakori Savage, a Grimes project, has seen action in 3 games, though without note. Lloyd Cushenberry, who O extolled praise on during the Fall, has only seen relief duty in three games. Donavaughn Campbell hasn’t seen action since BYU. So options to replace struggling players don’t really exist. At this point, the only hope is the unit taking a massive step forward.

What’s Next?

Both units are depleted for entirely different reasons. Time for recovery and another week may just restore LSU’s DL to near it’s full expected 2017 strength. This could mean we are closer to good returns there. The return of Rashard Lawrence, our best player, should yield significant dividends.

The path ahead for the OL looks murkier. Five weeks into the season, I doubt O is planning a midseason staff move, if for no other reason than the optics of a crumbling foundation. Yet, it remains a mystery what Grimes brings to this team. Landing top targets on the recruiting trail means little when they don’t turn into contributors on the field. His roster management issues and the failure to develop talent are glaring indictments. LSU currently only holds commits from 2 OL, both 3-stars (though 4-star Dare Rosenthal may best project on the OL in time). With no current JUCO commits, LSU is still looking for immediate help for the depth chart.

So what landed LSU here? A little bad luck and a little bad strategy. Weakness up front can undo entire units and it appears to significantly be hurting LSU’s 2017 chances. How quickly the staff manages to mitigate those issues may determine how many games they are able to win the rest of the way out.