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LSU quarterback Myles Brennan (15) drops back before the pass in the first half against Missouri, Saturday, October 10, 2020, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

The theme for LSU's future on the football field was unintentionally reinforced at the school's annual Coaches Caravan fundraising event Wednesday night when new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones talked about how his five-year experience as an NFL assistant coach prepared him for the job he has now.

Offensive concepts in the NFL and NCAA are becoming so similar, Jones said, that "before you know it, you won't be able to tell the difference." The separate levels of the game have swapped philosophies in the arms race of football supremacy, and LSU has made moves to get back on the cutting edge in more ways than one.

LSU regressed in its dismal 5-5 season during a pandemic-ridden 2020 campaign in which the Tigers had plenty of problems on and off the field.

The university is still dealing with the fallout of the Husch Blackwell report into the school's mishandling of sexual misconduct cases — which led to the temporary suspensions of two high profile athletic officials — and an NCAA infractions case that has already resulted in a self-imposed bowl ban and scholarship reductions for the football program is still being reviewed by an independent committee.

Meanwhile, LSU coach Ed Orgeron is attempting to reclaim the historic success the team had in its 2019 national championship run by almost completely restocking his coaching staff with young, innovative assistants who can improve the offensive and defensive systems for the over 30 returning players who've started in games.

Four of the five assistant coach hires have NFL experience, and, along with the talent additions in another Top 5 recruiting class, they're supporting Orgeron under the pressure of proving last year's problems were one-year mistakes.

"We're on an upward trend right now," Orgeron said Wednesday night.

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Spring football practice begins Tuesday — a year after the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic halted LSU's spring two practices in — and we'll take a dive into answering the most pressing questions entering 2021.

1. How healthy is Myles Brennan? And is he the starter?

Brennan was QB1 entering the 2020 season, and LSU's offensive productivity took a dive when he suffered a season-ending abdominal injury in the third game against Missouri. Orgeron said Wednesday that Brennan is "healthy" and has earned an "elite" grade in at least thee of the four of the workouts LSU's had in its Fourth Quarter program leading up to spring ball. He's made multiple cameos in the school's official social media posts — including a home-run derby in Tiger Stadium (which takes some ab strength) — and word is he's been fully cleared for football activity.

There's still plenty of competition around him, and Orgeron, like many coaches, doesn't often declare a quarterback battle completely won (although he said Wednesday Brennan was "leading the pack"). Returning freshmen TJ Finley and Max Johnson both showed promise last season, and Johnson was exponentially impressive while leading game-winning drives against Florida and Ole Miss in the final two games.

New offensive coordinator Jake Peetz lauded the quarterback depth at LSU, which also just signed early enrollee Garrett Nussmeier, a four-star prospect and son of Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier. There are expectations to build on the legacy of LSU's 2019 Heisman Trophy winner.

"We want to make this Quarterback University," Peetz said Wednesday. "Joe Burrow set the bar very high."

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1a. Will the defense improve?

This was a constant question in 2020, one that was all but certainly asked in much harsher tones by fans in their private circles. LSU recorded its historic lows in scoring defense and total defense last year, and the constant mistakes that produced those results ultimately led to the end of the one-year tenure of Bo Pelini, whom LSU paid $4 million not to return as defensive coordinator.

In full, cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond is the only returning defensive staff member from last season. Orgeron hired former Miami defensive coordinator Blake Baker as linebackers coach, plus 13-year NFL veteran Andre Carter to coach the defensive line.

There are those who may doubt Daronte Jones because he wasn't LSU's first choice. The monthlong search for LSU's next defensive coordinator played out publicly, with initial candidate Marcus Freeman choosing Notre Dame and the New Orleans Saints hanging on to Ryan Nielsen over a technicality in contract language

But Orgeron affirmed Wednesday Jones is the kind of coach LSU's struggling defense needs, particularly because of his expertise as a defensive backs coach. Orgeron noted Jones spent last season coaching the secondary with the Minnesota Vikings under head coach Mike Zimmer, whom Orgeron called the "best defensive backfield coach in all of football."

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LSU's most glaring defensive issues last year were in the secondary. Blown coverages and miscommunication happened often as a unit that prides in calling itself "DBU" ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing defense.

"Communication" was a buzz word in Jones' introductory news conference, when the 41-year-old explained his vision for a multiple, attacking defense that uses concepts he's tailored in shop talks with former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

And there's an abundance of talent in the secondary, even though two-sport athlete Maurice Hampton entered the transfer portal Thursday. Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks, both named to All-American teams in the past two seasons, return at cornerback, and a rotation that often used three more defensive backs returns veterans with starting experience (Todd Harris and Cameron Lewis) as well as younger talent that saw significant playing time in 2020 (Jay Ward, Cordale Flott, Jordan Toles).

Orgeron also invested heavily in signing safeties in last year's recruiting cycle, and LSU signed three prospects, including Top 100 overall recruits in Sage Ryan and Derrick Davis Jr.

"The room is deep," Jones said.

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Linebacker just may be the most interesting position battle to watch in the spring. Gone to the NFL draft is Jabril Cox, the North Dakota State graduate transfer who was the unit's most consistent playmaker in 2020, and Micah Baskerville, who started in seven games last year, is sitting out the spring while focusing on academics.

Damone Clark was shaky in his junior season, but, after showing improvements toward the end of the year, coaches have expressed confidence that he can still be a starter. He'll have to compete with incoming junior college transfer Navonteque Strong, who enrolled this spring, plus Clemson transfer Mike Jones Jr.

Alignment and communication were common errors in 2020, and Baker said Wednesday that his message to the linebackers during the spring has been "don't be afraid to make a mistake." He's told them to go full speed, and if they mess up, they'll correct it on film.

The defensive line returned every starter from last season, and Orgeron has called defensive ends Ali Gaye, Andre Anthony and BJ Ojulari among the best in the Southeastern Conference. Adding five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith bolsters an already deep defensive line.

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2. Can the offense be as productive as the "Joe Brady" offense?

LSU's 2019 offense was a once-in-a-generation unit that had all of the right pieces in all of that right places all in the right moment. The results were historic. Former passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who won the Broyles Award for nation's top assistant coach that year, was a key enough innovator in that offense that Orgeron hired away Brady's quarterbacks coach, Jake Peetz, and offensive assistant, DJ Mangas, from the Carolina Panthers to try and build the same offense again.

There's plenty of talent. Brennan. All five returning starting offensive linemen. A deep and young wide receiver corps led by Kayshon Boutte, who, as a freshman, set an SEC single-game record with 308 yards receiving against Ole Miss. A full running back stable with veterans Ty Davis-Price, John Emery, two promising young players and a pair of incoming four-star recruits.

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Tight end lost firepower with the transfer of five-star Arik Gilbert, but Mangas said Sunday that Kole Taylor "shows a lot of promise" and just needs to fill in his 6-foot-7 frame.

It'll all be about matchups for this offense. Peetz said they're really looking to put their best five skill players on the field, and they can arrange them in an array of personnel packages — something they did often in Carolina.

The mix-and-match problem solving will aim to fix the third-down and goal line issues the team faced in 2020.

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