On Saturday, LSU will begin the on-field paces of the 2017 season when spring practice opens up at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility.
Ed Orgeron has been running practices for this team for a few months now as the head coach, but now he has his first real chance to put his stamp on how things are done for his team, and not one that is transitioning from a previous head coach.
That transition has been constant — as Orgeron has said, he always approached the job like it was his — but ongoing. Bruce Feldman’s incredible embed piece from National Signing Day detailed some of the smaller changes like decorations in the Football Ops lobby. Videos and other reports, including this wonderful picture of a remodeled Fourth Quarter program, indicate that the changes from a practice standpoint are mostly what we already know: shorter, more intense practices with a focus on particular details and themes like Tell The Truth Monday, Competition Tuesday, Turnover Wednesday, so on and so forth. That will continue through the spring, and may even result in some changes to the usual spring game, aside from it being at night.
But we’re still talking about spring practice, and that still means questions to answer and goals to accomplish. So here we’ll focus on the offense with a to-do list for the 2017 Tigers.
First, the depth chart…
2017 Spring Practice Depth Chart - Offense
|QB||16 Danny Etling (Sr.)|
|14 Lindsey Scott (Fr.-RS)|
|12 Justin McMillian (So.)|
|Lowell Narcisse (Fr.)|
|RB||5 Derrius Guice (Jr.)|
|28 Darrel Williams (Sr.)|
|4 Nick Brossette (So.)|
|FB||44 John David Moore (Sr.)*|
|47 Bry'Keithon Mouton (Jr.)|
|41 David Ducre (So.)|
|X||11 Dee Anderson (So.)|
|39 Russell Gage (Sr.)|
|25 Drake Davis (So.)|
|Z||82 D.J. Chark (Sr.)|
|19 Derrick Dillon (So.)|
|10 Stephen Sullivan (Fr.-RS)|
|Mannie Netherley (Fr.)|
|TE||84 Foster Moreau (Jr.)|
|85 Caleb Roddy (So.)|
|88 Jacory Washington (So.)|
|80 Jamal Pettigrew (Fr.-RS)|
|LT||63 K.J. Malone (Sr.)|
|65 Jakori Savage (Fr.-RS)|
|Austin Deculus (Fr.)|
|LG||75 Maea Teuhema (Jr.)|
|71 Donovaughn Campbell (So.)|
|C||64 Will Clapp (Jr.)*|
|79 Lloyd Cushenberry (Fr.-RS)|
|RG||78 Garrett Brumfield (Jr.)|
|73 Adrian Magee (So.)|
|RT||66 Toby Weathersby (Jr.)|
|74 Willie Allen (Fr.-RS)|
|*Will miss practice with injury.|
|Returning starters in bold.|
And on to the list.
First and foremost, install and transition from Cam Cameron to Matt Canada.
This is hardly a case of the Tigers learning a whole new language. It’s not like LSU’s new offensive coordinator will be asking the players to learn Mandarin or anything like that. Its more, well…Canadian, to turn a phrase.
It’s about the terminology and shorthand. Dialect, to maintain the metaphor. Largely, it’s about players and coaches — quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers all have new position coaches — learning how to communicate and feel for each other. What works and what doesn’t. Canada will likely focus on the basics and create a base of knowledge that the offense can grow out of in the fall. A basic skeletal structure, so to speak.
The intricacy of that structure will likely depend on how the players adapt to Canada.
Figure out the quarterback depth chart.
As Coach O suggested in his press conference, Danny Etling seems like a pretty safe bet to come out of the spring as QB1. With a new offense and new coordinator, it only makes sense to give the whole room an equal shot at the job, but between a relatively solid 2016, particularly down the stretch (bowl game aside), and an offseason that to date has featured a heavy leadership role, Etling appears to have this job locked up.
The question is likely more about the backup role, particularly with Brandon Harris transferring out. Justin McMillian is the only other quarterback on the roster with game experience, but redshirt freshman Lindsey Scott could be poised to knock him down the depth chart. Scott has made an impression to date in terms of his leadership abilities and presence with the team. If there’s a potential X-factor in terms of pushing Etling for the starting job, he’s it.
And of course, the very talented freshman Lowell Narcisse brings a different level of athleticism to the position. Between his recovery from knee surgery, and generally raw skill set, Narcisse will likely take some time to adjust. That said, he was promised a chance to compete for the job, and that competition is the name of the game for this team over these 15 practices.
Who's left at center?
Would-be senior Andy Dodd has transferred. On its face, that's not a big loss because the plan has been to move Will Clapp to that position. Clapp, however, will be sitting out the spring while he recovers from a shoulder injury that plagued him all of 2016. Now, ordinarily, Clapp would be on the list of guys that don't really need spring, but between a new position and a new offense, that's definitely a concern. Redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry is the presumptive backup, and the extra work for him isn't necessarily a bad thing. Though Cushenberry was a late add to the 2016 class and largely viewed as a developmental/depth type of project, the staff like what they've seen early on, and he was likely going to win the backup job anyway.
Still, LSU will either be relying on walk-ons for depth, or they'll have to cross-train other veterans at the center spot. Watch for K.J. Malone here. He's got the on-field experience, and would likely be a better fit inside versus left tackle. Not a concept that is lost on the coaching staff...
Find offensive tackles.
LSU returns four offensive linemen with starting experience, including three players that have seen time at the tackle positions, but, injuries at center aside, the line seems much more set on the interior. Toby Weathersby seems likely to maintain the right tackle job, but on the left side look for Jeff Grimes to try and move forward from Malone, who struggled at times last season. Maea Teuhema will likely slide inside to a guard spot, which seems like a more natural fit.
Malone’s main competition will come from true freshman Austin Deculus and redshirts Willie Allen and Jakori Savage.
A new pecking order for receivers and tight ends.
A new receivers coach and a new offense should mean a new lease on life for a group of wideouts that is long on talent and short on experience.
D.J. Chark returns as the No. 1 option coming off a nice breakout season, and could shine under Canada, who really puts a premium on getting the ball to his receivers in open space. The rest of this depth chart features a ton of highly recruited talent that hasn’t had much of an opportunity to date. But Mickey Joseph has no reason to play favorites yet, and that likely means that vets like Russell Gage and Derrick Dillon will be on the same level as youngsters like Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan and the uber-talented Drake Davis.
Likewise, there could be a lot of opportunity for a talented group of tight ends. Foster Moreau has proved his value as a blocker and occasional receiver, and it’s not hard to imagine him becoming a safety blanket for the quarterbacks. And reserves like Jacory Washington and Jamal Pettigrew have the talent to add different size dimensions to the passing game.
Backup plans at running back.
Derrius Guice is set. Put him in bubble wrap, develop his role in Canada’s offense and make sure he stays healthy, because after him, things get a little dicey.
Darrel Williams has served as a reserve/power back for three years now, and while he’s had his moments, he’s yet to really distinguish himself, despite more opportunities last year with Leonard Fournette’s injury. It would be nice to see him develop into something of a late-game masher and short-yardage specialist, a la Kenny Hilliard his senior year.
Nick Brossette may be something of an x-factor. It’s easy to forget he was a very talented recruit himself, after an injury redshirt and very limited role as a freshman. But now could be his time to shine, and frankly, the opportunity is there to become the counterpunch to Guice. As of now, the Tigers only have three scholarship tailbacks with Lanard Fournette transferring out of the program.
Watch for reserve fullback David Ducre to possibly slide over as well. He’s really struggled to find a role, and the dreaded “soft” label has been bandied about behind the scenes — frustrating for a 240-pounder — but with Canada’s creative use of H-backs at Pitt, maybe Ducre’s size/speed combination could land him a role out on the edge a bit.
LSU opens spring practice on Saturday, with 15 sessions running through the spring game on April 22.