We’re talking about practice. Spring practice.
The start of LSU football season is nearly six months away. How important can 14 practice days and a spring “game” be?
For the Tigers: as or more important than ever.
So many questions. So little time, really.
A new offensive coordinator. A new starting quarterback? Filling major holes at running back, and receiver. New cornerbacks. Heck, even a “help wanted” sign at place-kicker.
Is five-plus months enough? Can LSU get a continuance like in a court case?
Afraid not. The sweep of the clock moves inexorably forward — by the way, did you remember to set yours ahead an hour? — for everyone.
Let’s put the three facets of LSU’s team under a bit of the microscope:
• Offense: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there will be changes.
We all thought Les Miles would make changes going into 2016 after his tenure was put on double-secret probation at the end of 2015. Upon further review, Miles never said he would change anything and was, in that sense, true to his word. In 2017, major changes were expected from the new Matt Canada offense. Then Ed Orgeron took a serious look at the game video from what Canada did at Pittsburgh and decided he liked that as much as he would like being audited. He also, apparently, didn’t care for Canada much, either. By the first half of the Troy game, it looked like Cam Cameron was running the show again.
Maybe the third offensive coordinator in three years will be the charm. It’s expected that LSU’s offense will truly come closer to being run-pass balanced than, well, ever with Steve Ensminger now at the controls. Perhaps that will be by necessity. Despite losing DJ Chark and Russell Gage to graduation, LSU still will have a large group of wide receivers this year. That includes newly eligible transfer Jonathan Giles, poised to be projected new quarterback Myles Brennan’s top target. Conversely, LSU’s running back corps hasn’t looked this suspect in years with Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams now gone.
If Brennan can deliver, throwing the ball may indeed be the Tigers’ first, best option. Any glimpses of that in the spring will be appointment viewing.
• Defense: “In Dave Aranda we trust.” That’s what might as well be printed on all those $100 bills LSU stacked up for Aranda’s account, convincing him to remain as defensive coordinator with a guaranteed $10 million, four-year contract.
(Note to Joe Alleva: You could have had me for much, much less. Of course, some people are hung up on, you know, hiring someone qualified.)
Locking down Aranda for the foreseeable future was the smartest no-brainer in the history of LSU athletics. So is giving him carte blanche to weigh in on personnel decisions. Anyone notice that when LSU hired Bill Busch in February to be its new safeties coach it was Aranda, not Orgeron, who was quoted in the news release?
Aranda, Busch and the rest of LSU’s coaches, have their work to do in the secondary. Yes, the Tigers have a serious All-American candidate at cornerback in Greedy Williams. But not landing any true corners in this year’s recruiting class makes LSU’s secondary one thin slice of bread. What mixing and matching goes on between the corners and safeties this spring will also be huge news.
All that said, things could certainly be worse. Devin White is back at inside linebacker, another All-American candidate. Yes, Arden Key is gone at rush end, but was he really here last season anyway? This is the time to shine for K’Lavon Chaisson. If LSU stays healthy, particularly in the secondary, it would be no surprise if the Tigers are better overall on defense than in 2017.
• Special teams: Despite all the questions about quarterback, running back and cornerback, the biggest area Ed Orgeron and his staff had to address in recruiting was probably place-kicker. That position was a mess last season, as the Tigers combined to make just 16 of 27 field goals plus miss three extra points. By comparison, LSU’s opponents were a combined 18 of 21 on field goals. That’s a good target number for 2018.
Kicker is that position you don’t give much thought to until things go kerflooey. It is a virtual certainty that at least one LSU game will come down to kicks. The Tigers have to put this right, though admittedly as far as spring goes, what we see in March and April will be little more than wishful thinking compared to what happens when things get real this fall. Cole Tracy, this is your job to lose.