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A Glimpse at What LSU’s 2020 Offense Will Look Like

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How’s this attack going to change as we approach spring practice?

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It goes without saying that LSU’s going to have a different look on offense next year. So a month out from spring practice, let’s take a quick look at how the starting unit could look like entering spring competition, and how the coaching staff will fill the holes.

But before we get into personnel, the discussion around of the hire of Scott Linehan to replace Joe Brady makes me think we need to clear a few things up about exactly what LSU’s offense was last year (aside from AWESOME amirite?).

The offense Brady worked with Steve Ensminger to run, yes, was a spread offense, but it wasn’t quite as RPO or option-route heavy as you might think (LSU sat right in the middle of the pack in the SEC in percentage of RPO plays against conference foes). Receivers still worked a full route tree, and this offense was still based in what we typically think of as pro-style principles. It drew from elements of the New Orleans Saints’ and the Joe Moorhead attack, both of which are off the West Coast Offense tree.

LSU ran a fairly small amount of plays through multiple formations and personnel alignments — an extremely pro-style principle — and used tempo and a check system to craft the play-call to what they saw on defense. Use motion to key man or zone coverage, etc...

A recent interview with Dave Aranda on Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel’s podcast was incredibly illuminating about how Ensminger and Brady gameplanned to attack teams. It’s a great listen. To paraphrase: Ensminger and Brady would look at how an opponent aligns against a particular formation or grouping (such as a trips set to the field with a back and and tight end to the boundary, or a bunch set into the boundary with back and another receiver to the field), and what coverages or blitzes they can run out of that look. Then figure out what plays attack that defense the best, and then specify situations like first-and-10, third-and-long, and so on.

And that’s not to minimize what Brady did at all, because he obviously brought expertise in what Ensminger and Ed Orgeron wanted to implement, specifically how to teach it. But it’s very much a style that Ensminger, a crop of new analysts, and Linehan should be well-equipped to work in. It’s not like they’ll be forced to teach a language they don’t speak.

Plus, offenses always have to find ways to evolve with new personnel.

Speaking of that personnel...

What LSU’s Offense Might Look Like

Position Player
Position Player
WR (X) Terrace Marshall (Jr.)
WR (Z) Ja'Marr Chase (Jr.)
WR (Slot) Trey Palmer (So.)
TE (Y) Jamal Pettigrew (Sr.)/Tory Carter (Sr.)/Arik Gilbert (Fr.)
LT Dare Rosenthal (So.)
LG Ed Ingram (Jr.)
C Chasen Hines (Jr.)/Charles Turner (RS-Fr.)
RG Kardell Thomas (RS-Fr.)
RT Austin Deculus (Sr.)
HB Chris Curry (Jr.)/Tyrion Davis-Price (So.)/John Emery (So.)
QB Myles Brennan (Jr.)
Returning starters in bold.

While there’s no question LSU’s losing a ton of production, there’s more experience returning here than you might think just looking at the number of starters back. Let’s look at some of the specific units:

  • On the offensive line, technically, Austin Deculus is the only returning starter. But Ed Ingram started most of the 2017 season as a true freshman and saw a lot of rotational snaps last year after his reinstatement. Dare Rosenthal started a couple of games at left tackle last year with Saahdiq Charles suspended, and acquitted himself fairly well. And while Kardell Thomas redshirted 2019 with injury, sliding in a five-star recruit at right guard isn’t exactly a bad situation to be in. The big question mark will be center, with Chasen Hines competing against redshirt frosh Charles Turner. If neither exerts himself this spring, look for LSU to maybe shuffle some other bodies around, or work the grad transfer market.
  • Receiver returns the nation’s best duo in Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, and replacing Justin Jefferson in that starting lineup should be a heck of a battle. Trey Palmer seems like an obvious fit to slide into the slot position, but it’s also going to be now or never for senior Racey McMath. He’s got all the size and speed you could want. If he proves to be one of the top three, he would likely take an outside receiving spot with Chase sliding inside. This battle will continue once Kayshon Boutte arrives in the summer as well.
  • Tight end is another position that’s going to evolve a lot over the next few months. Arik Gilbert will likely miss the spring recovering from shoulder surgery, but it’s hard to believe he won’t be a big part of things in 2020. But he’s also not likely to be a typical in-line tight end. So that could be an opportunity for senior Jamal Pettigrew or Tory Carter to show their values as blockers and safety-valve types.
  • In the backfield it’ll be thunderdome between sophomores Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. All three had glimpses of breaking out at different times last season, but the question is whether one guy can prove to be as versatile a receiver and blocker as Clyde Edwards-Helaire a year ago. Curry or Davis-Price could give the offense much more of a sledgehammer approach in the running game.
  • For all the talk of Brady, the real missing Joe from last year will be Burrow. There’s just no way to easily replace a quarterback that could be that precise. That surgical. Burrow’s ability to constantly make the right decision, both in and outside the structure of the offense, and the big play isn’t something you just replace. Derrick Klassen of Football Outsiders has a great breakdown/evaluation on Burrow from the NFL perspective here. Just as a point of reference, Myles Brennan can halve Burrow’s production that will still be one of the best seasons in LSU quarterbacking history. Brennan’s going to have to carve his own path, and not worry about trying to be Burrow. And just like last year’s offense was crafted to Burrow’s strengths, Ensminger and Linehan will have to work to tailor the 2020 attack to Brennan. We know that he has the arm to make every throw you could ask. The questions will be decision making and poise under pressure, and how Brennan answers those will determine this offense’s ceiling. That’s the other part of the evolution that we’ll see unfold over the spring.