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4th and Long: Four things to watch during LSU’s spring game

Four things to watch during LSU’s spring game

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
Quarterback Jayden Daniels
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LSU is coming off a 10-4 record, highlighted by an SEC West division title and the thrilling 32-31 upset victory over Alabama in overtime.

LSU only lose three starters from last year’s offense while the defense completely replenished its losses through the transfer portal. returned studs such as linebacker Harold Perkins and defensive linemen Mekhi Wingo and Maason Taylor, who was out for the year due to an ACL tear.

With the upcoming season that is full of expectations for the Tigers, let’s look at some areas to watch during the spring game.

The Development of JD5 and Nuss

Repeat after me: there is no quarterback controversy. If you think there is, please express your opinion on Tiger Droppings.

However, it will be fun to see the development of both Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier.

LSU head coach Brian Kelly has said that Daniels has made some major leaps this offseason.

“This is much more about veteran presence than acclimating to a new program. I think that’s really the difference here,” Kelly said. “You’ve got a guy that’s helping the freshmen tight ends, ‘sit down on this route, I’ll get you the football.’ You can sense it based off his interactions with Malik in terms of where he wants the football, how he’s addressing the offensive line. There’s a different presence to him.”

“He’s thicker. He’s stronger,” Kelly said. “This is about veteran presence now and not acclimating to a new program.”

The thing that people need to see from Daniels is not the ability to throw the deep ball, but the willingness to throw the deep ball. When he was at Arizona State, his bread and butter was the deep ball. I understand he may have lost his confidence at Arizona State due to the toxicity, offensive coordinator carousel and lack of talent. However, with receivers like Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas, he has no reason to not utilize one of the best receiver corps in the country.

As for Nussmeier, he was expected to be the front-runner to win the quarterback battle for this upcoming season. However, because Daniels turned down the chance to enter the NFL Draft and return to become a more polished quarterback, Nussmeier will be the backup quarterback once again.

However, this gives Nussmeier a chance to finally turn his weaknesses into his strengths and become the quarterback that he is capable of being.

Nussmeier has become a better decision-maker while getting some reps with the first team. I think it is beneficial for Nussmeier to get reps with the first-team because if Daniels gets hurt, or the unlikely case of him not improving from last year, he has already built chemistry with the guys who get first-team reps.

“He’s really good, he’s had a great spring. He’s gotten a lot of work with the first team and when he’s been with that first group, he’s excelled,” Kelly said of Nussmeier. “I think all you can do is when they’re given the opportunity, it’s fair. We couldn’t give him a fair chance if he was running with an offensive line that has three guys that we moved over. He had to get a lot of that work with the first team and he excelled. All we’ve done is built the quarterback position up to where we have two really good quarterbacks.”

The things that we need to see from Nussmeier is if he has improved on his decision-making in a gameday atmosphere. Nussmeier’s talent is obvious, but he needs to show poise and make the proper reads if he wants to grow as a field general.

The Return of DBU

Although LSU may always be DBU, it lost some of its lusters the past couple of seasons due to inconsistent play, lack of big names and injuries. However, it’s back, baby.

LSU brought in a large haul of defensive backs through the transfer portal, highlighted by Zy Alexander, Duce Chestnutt and Denver Harris.

Alexander, who transferred from Southeastern, is a 6’3, 185 lb. corner who has a combination of height and strength no coach can teach. Alexander was a highly decorated cornerback for the Lions as he was a 2x FCS All-American.

Chestnutt was a two-time All-ACC performer at Syracuse and was a Freshman All-American in 2021.

Denver Harris, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2022, comes to LSU after spending a year at Texas A&M. Harris is no stranger to LSU as his stepfather is former LSU basketball great Tack Minor.

Ohio State transfer JK Johnson will be in the mix as well. When he entered the transfer portal to come to LSU, the coaches at Ohio State were shocked because he was its presumed starter for next year. Johnson also played for cornerbacks coach Robert Steeples at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, Missouri.

Who’s going to be the center?

The center position won’t be started during the spring game, but it will be a good indicator of where things stand. Right now, the battle for the center spot is being fought by returning starter Charles Turner and Marlon Martinez.

Turner started every game but last season for the Tigers. At the end of the season, he was voted by LSU’s players and coaches as the most improved player on the team.

Martinez considered entering the transfer portal this offseason, However, Martinez said last weekend he plans to stay. Martinez took first-team center reps this spring while Turner was recovering from a knee injury.

Special teams

The downfall of LSU’s season last year was special teams as every aspect of special teams aside from punter Jay Bramnlett and kicker Damian Ramos.

The special teams couldn’t get anything going whether it was muffed kickoff and punt returns, crucial extra points getting blocked and knowing when the ball is dead or alive. LSU’s special teams were so putrid last year that Kelly had to reassign then-special teams coach Brian Polian.

To improve LSU’s special teams, Kelly prompted analyst John Jancek, who is Kelly’s longtime coaching compatriot. Jancek was Kelly’s defensive coordinator at Division II Grand Valley State (MI) from 1999-2002 and defensive line coach at Central Michigan in 2004. Jancek also played for Kelly from 1987-90 when Kelly was a young assistant at Grand Valley State.

Jancek will have plenty of options to return kicks as Sage Ryan, Gregory Clayton, Noah Cain and Kyle Parker will have chances to show their skills in the return game. The presumed returner, Alabama transfer and New Orleans native Aaron Anderson will not participate in the spring game due to injury.

While the punter and long snapper positions are set with Bramblett and Slade Roy returning, there will be a kicking competition between Ramos and sophomore Nathan Dibert.

Ramos made 10 field goals on 14 attempts on field goals as the starter last year, including a clutch 47-yarder late in the fourth quarter against Florida that sealed the 45-35 victory for LSU. DIbert, who was the No. 6 kicker in the 2022 recruiting class, handled the kickoff duties for most of last season.

“We’ve got a battle at the place kicker position,” Kelly said on WNXX-FM, 104.5.