We know the stars on this team, namely Derrius Guice and Arden Key. Name another player on both offense and defense whose development you're excited, or particularly interested, in watching this upcoming season?
Let's not point too fine a point on it: our receivers sucked last year. They were so bad that we've all convinced ourselves that Chark's 26-466-3 line is some portent of big things to come and not a thoroughly mediocre line. Now, maybe he's ready to explode in his senior season, but I've heard that song and dance before. I expect him to be solid, but I think wishing him to be a star doesn't make it so. But remember when we brought in three 4-star wide-outs last year? Well, they combined for one catch, so it's now time to let them loose and see if they can play. Drake Davis, Stephen Sullivan, and Dee Anderson are going to play, and someone is going to have to step up. There's nothing blocking them, and there's really no one behind them. There are no excuses for this group not to produce. There's a veteran QB, a terrific OC, and a great run game to take the pressure off. The kids need to be more than potential, they need to be stars. Not all of them, but somebody has got to step up, and I give all of them an equal chance with a new offense and a new coach. No excuses, produce.
On defense, can you believe that this year we're wondering how to replace Duke Riley? A year ago, no one would have believed that would be much of an issue. But Aranda is a linebacker god, and he was able to turn lightly recruited players into All-conference studs at Wisconsin. Now, he has better raw talent than he's ever had, and it's time to see what magic he can create. Devin White and Michael Divinity only gave us glimpses of their abilities last year, but now they are going to step into larger roles as our middle linebackers (if Donnie Alexander can't hold them off). Arden Key is going to rack up huge numbers, but I think Devin White is going to be guy who makes this defense go. If he takes the next step in his development, the defense is going to be awesome. White has superstar potential.
For offense, I'm gonna go to the dank meme well from the past few seasons.
I want to see how Foster Moreau and Jacory Washington fit into this new offense. Poseur is right about the receiver, but I think that any shortcomings in singular receiver talent can be slightly covered up with a competent tight end group. Under from what I've seen from Matt Canada, tight ends are kind of a jack of all trades: they block, they catch, hell they can even run. We know they can block but I want to see what, if any, impact they have on the passing game. I'm not asking for any Jimmy Graham type of season, but I just want to see the veteran tight ends provide some variance to the offense. I don't care if the scissors on this Swiss army knife are dull, I still want them there.
And as far as defense goes, I want to see how Donte' Jackson improves. He's fast as hell and he was pretty solid in 2016, but he was picked on a lot near the end of the year and kinda picked the worst spots to have lapses. Now he won't have Tre White opposite of him to draw the better matchup and he won't be able to afford those same mistakes. LSU is DBU and has been pretty plug and play for nearly each season this decade, but this is the first time I have some shaky thoughts about the next "that dude" in the defensive backfield.
It's going to be a page-turning, star-making type of season for LSU. Gone are Fournette, Adams, Beckwith, White, and Pocic. It's time to look to that next generation of players that will be the studs we mention in next year's previews. I'm the recruiting guy round these parts, so of course everything to me is what you have done for me lately and unknown potential. So I'll go big.
On defense, Jacoby Stephens is going to be a star. Yes, Ed Paris and John Battle are the starters right now, but don't expect that to hold. Or, in the least, expect to see Stephens on the field in some capacity, even if Paris and Battle are too. He's got unreal potential and will step right into superstardom at LSU.
And I'm going to keep banging this drum, but I think Nick Brossette will do enough this year that we will feel comfortable with our starting running back situation in 2018. He can't put up star numbers unless disaster happens to Guice, but he can be the change of pace and produce produce produce when Guice needs a blow. Brossette is the forgotten man in the LSU backfield, but Brossette was a top-200, All-American prospect before coming to LSU. It was a big time victory to keep him from Texas. It's almost his time to shine.
I already had a moment in the spring game where I thought "man, it's weird seeing somebody else in No. 7."
And the guy that will wear that jersey, Chark, is the guy that could be the big breakout guy here. I don't know about receiving numbers overall, but I do think he'll finish with somewhere between 60-80 touches overall (barring injury of course). Canada's serious about that jet sweep, and he's going to run it with almost every player on the field, but Chark is the go-to receiver on this team and maybe the fastest player, and he's going to probably get three-to-five carries a game in addition to his catches. There are big questions around him at the position, no doubt, but I have a lot of confidence in Chark. You could make the case he was LSU's most consistent weapon at receiver last year, even over the more-heralded Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural.
On defense, I came away from spring practice really impressed and excited by what I heard about two players: Devin White and Kevin Toliver. We all saw the potential White showed as a freshman, but when you're a big, fast athlete like him, it's easy to make plays shooting the occasional gap at a quarterback or a running back. Playing linebacker full-time is about all the unglamorous things you have to do to create those big-play opportunities. Fill and occupy a blocker to spill the play to your help. Contain the outside to force a runner back in. Make a steady tackle in traffic. Little things. But White showed the ability to pick up on those little things, and when you factor that with legit sideline-to-sideline speed, you're talking about a very able replacement for Duke Riley or Kendall Beckwith.
Meanwhile, it's easy to forget how good Toliver looked as a true freshman. You could make the case that early on in the 2015 season he was LSU's best corner, even over Tre White. That all seemed to go away in 2016. He was inconsistent, hurt, and didn't handle the struggles well, by his own admission. And that's what was so exciting this spring — the kid completely owned his problems and resolved to fix them, and by every account he did. Toliver may not have Donte Jackson’s speed, but he's a bigger, more physical player that can just manhandle a receiver. And that's something I expect to see him do a lot in 2017.
I'm going with Drake Davis. He was possibly the player from the 2016 recruiting class with the most raw talent and highest upside. He didn't contribute as a freshman, but after hopefully getting settled in and adjusting, I'm hoping to see him grab one of the starting spots at receiver and showcasing some of that incredible talent we know he possesses. He's a true game breaking talent if he takes advantage of it.
On defense I'll go with Devin White. The coaching staff raved about him and his work ethic as a freshman and we saw shades of it at times, especially against Louisville in the bowl game where he was amazing. With Kendall Beckwith gone to graduation, it'll be his show with the linebackers and I think he's got the ability to be as good as any LSU has had in recent memory.
Maybe it's just because LSU has experienced such poor quarterback play in the past several seasons, but the player I'm most excited to watch on offense has to be Danny Etling. After Brandon Harris was benched in favor of the ex-Purdue quarterback last year, it seemed like the offense almost instantly got better. I'm not saying all the credit goes to Etling, but I do believe he was a vital part of getting things going. He is a pocket passer, but he has enough mobility to extend the play and to make plays with his legs when he needs to. I'm curious to see if he can maintain the consistency he showed last year, and think a solid performance by him can really tie everything together.
As for defense, I buy into Devin White like a few others here have mentioned. He had a few explosive moments last year where he showed he had potential to develop into something more. White only got better as the season went on, and I think he'll continue that trend of steady improvement. Dave Aranda will work wonders with him, and he'll emerge as a key defensive player very quickly.