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LSU Spring Practice 2018: The Great Blank Canvas

Ed Orgeron’s great challenge is also his great opportunity.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU football is in a crisis.

Of course, that’s probably it’s natural state.

It’s always one thing or another. A lost game, a lost recruit, an assistant change, take your pick. We, as a fan base, are perennially hopping from one crisis to another. I’m old enough to remember fans wanting Nick Saban out after a home loss to Ole Miss in 2001, and being quite sure that a season-opening loss to Virginia Tech meant that he’d never win “the big one,” (fresh on the heels of an SEC championship). The greatest regular season in LSU history is regarded as some as a miserable failure because of a national championship loss. Hell, less than a year ago a portion of Tiger fans were calling for Paul Mainieri’s end while in the midst of taking Tiger baseball back to the College World Series Final (many, in fact, wanted to replace him with a certain former assistant recently ousted from another Cadillac job after being caught, to quote a colleague, in flagrante delicto). And something tells me that Ed Orgeron will be dancing to this tune beyond 2018, with LSU playing it for his successor as well.

Nevertheless, LSU’s head coach does face a crucial year. Orgeron lost his bowl game, replaced his star offensive coordinator with an unpopular internal choice and then closed out the 2018 recruiting cycle with a whimper. Progress will be both expected, and crucial, both on the field and off, as Louisiana will be in the midst of a crucial talent cycle. Improvement on the field, especially on offense, will go a long way in securing keeping that in-state talent at home.

Oh, and there’s the little problem of the Tigers being on the extreme low end of returning on-field productivity, plus a schedule that includes five teams currently ranked ahead of LSU in Bill Connelly’s early 2018 S&P+ projections.

Whether or not you believe in the concept of momentum, Orgeron needs a win. That can begin, in earnest, over the next six weeks of spring football practice.

Of course, the flip side to that lack of production, is that Orgeron and Co. have one of the more unique opportunities of any LSU coach in recent memory: a chance to paint a picture unlike any we’ve seen from Tiger teams of the past.

We know the narrative about LSU and receivers and passing — and even when it wasn’t true, it never really changed. Whether it was Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice, there’s been a play-making, workhorse running back that needed his own 20-25 touches right out of the shoot.

Well...

Spring Football Depth Chart - Offense

Position No. 1 No. 2 No. 3
Position No. 1 No. 2 No. 3
QB Myles Brennan (So.) - OR - Lowell Narcisse (RS-Fr.) Justin McMillan (Jr.) Andre Sale (Jr.)
RB Nick Brossette (Sr.) Clyde Edwards-Helaire (So.) Tae Provens (Fr.)
FB Tory Carter (So.) David Ducre (Sr.) Zach Sheffer (Fr.)
TE Foster Moreau (Sr.) Jamal Pettigrew (So.) - OR - Thaddeus Moss (So.) Jacory Washington (Sr.)
WR1 Jonathan Giles (Jr.) Dee Anderson (Jr.) - OR - Terrace Marshall (Fr.)
WR2 Stephen Sullivan (Jr.) Drake Davis (Jr.) Racey McMath (So.)
Slot Derrick Dillon (Jr.) Justin Jefferson (So.)
LT Saahdiq Charles (So.) Jakori Savage (So.)
LG Garrett Brumfield (Jr.) Damien Lewis (Jr.)
C Lloyd Cushenberry (So.) Cole Smith (Fr.)
RG Edward Ingram (So.) Donovaughn Campbell (Jr.)
RT Badara Traore (Jr.) Austin Deculus (So.) Adrian Magee (Jr.)
Returning starters in bold.

That ain’t this offensive depth chart. Look at the tailbacks — 46 career offensive touches between senior Nick Brossette and sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Granted, both are talented, former blue-chip recruits, but to date there’s nothing to suggest they can be bell-cow weapons.

At receiver, there’s eight scholarship players, including a former All-Big-12 star in Jonathan Giles, plus five more players that were a four-star recruit, or better. Including five-star freshman Terrace Marshall.

And then there’s a senior tight end who caught 24 passes last year, a 6-7 backup (another former four-star prospect) and another power-five transfer that insiders remain high on in Thaddeus Moss.

If the time was ever right to move the Tigers to a pass-centered offense, it is now.

The question is can this coaching staff take these raw tools — two blue-chip quarterback prospects included — and produce. We’ve all seen other coaches work with lesser, or younger talents at both quarterback and receiver. Steve Ensminger and Jerry Sullivan know exactly what they have to do. Take Myles Brennan, Lowell Narcisse, or some combination of the two, and find a way to paint a picture.

Nobody that’s come before them has had a blank canvas like this.

When Matt Canada arrived, there was still the matter of having a Guice, who (when healthy) was the kind of player you knew every week needed to be fed on 30 or 40 percent of the offensive snaps. Sure, it’s a great security blanket to inherit, but when starting from a completely blank slate, there’s a freedom to take offense wherever you want, really.

And in studying Steve Ensminger’s past, that’s not something he’s had the freedom to do too often. Whether it was fitting offense to the demands of head coaches like R.C. Slocum, or straight up working with somebody else’s playbook at Auburn or at LSU in 2016, it’s been more than 20 years since Ensminger has had any kind of freedom to really make this offense his.

Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, the one thing that’s clear — it’s one hell of an opportunity.