Optimism abounds for LSU football as the Tigers check in for preseason camp Thursday and open fall practice Friday.
And rightly so. The Tigers have experience, talent, momentum, and just a tough enough schedule to garner respect from the College Football Playoff selection committee — provided LSU wins enough of its games.
But there are some serious danger zones out there waiting for the Tigers as well, personnel issues that could trip them up if not ironed out during August practice leading up to the Aug. 31 season opener with Georgia Southern.
We’ll start with …
1. Quarterback: Joe Burrow is the starter — lock, stock and helmet. And he’s chomping at the mouthpiece to run plays in the new Steve Ensminger/Joe Brady run-pass option.
He also said he wants to block linebackers on reverses. Ha ha ha ha … no.
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But Burrow will likely be carrying the ball more regardless in this offense, exposing him to more hits and more chance for injury. Enter sophomore Myles Brennan and true freshman Peter Parrish. Burrow is a tough nut, but they must be ready to spell him for a few plays or a half or a game if he gets banged up. Brennan, who went on a high-calorie binge in the offseason to beef up, is now listed at 207 pounds. His new Body by Buffet may be put to the test at a critical juncture.
2. Cornerbacks: Even with the departure of All-American cornerback Greedy Williams, this is still a stacked deck of a secondary. Coach Ed Orgeron has said this the best one he’s ever been around. That’s a bold statement, but not without merit.
A USA Today article earlier this month ranked Tigers safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton as the No. 1 and 3 defensive backs in the country. And no less an authority than defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said freshman Derek Stingley was the best cornerback LSU had in pre-Fiesta Bowl practices before the team headed to the desert.
Depth at cornerback is a serious concern, though. No. 1 is still here as Fulton took over Kelvin Joseph’s jersey number, but other than junior Kary Vincent (LSU’s likely nickel back) the Tigers have a lot of other true freshman filling the gaps: Cordale Flott, Raydarious Jones, Maurice Hampton and Jay Ward topping the list. There is skill at these positions, but much of it is simply unproven.
A position-by-position take on how the Tigers look as they prepare to report for camp.
3. Tight end: There is a lot of potential there, but no starter at this point. Stephen Sullivan is a converted wide receiver, while Jamal Pettigrew and Thaddeus Moss come off injuries that kept them sidelined all of 2018. Someone will step up to fill Foster Moreau’s cleats, but getting the production he gave the Tigers last season (22 catches, 272 yards, two touchdowns) is another question entirely.
4. Offensive line: Certainly a lot of teams would love to have three entrenched starters returning on the line as LSU does with center Lloyd Cushenberry, left tackle Saahdiq Charles and right guard Damien Lewis. But offensive line is like the domino theory, where one wobbly piece can take down the whole set. Right tackle has to be sorted out between Austin Deculus and Badara Traore. The same is true at left guard with Adrian Magee and Chasen Hines. Going into camp my money is on Deculus and Magee — but that is what August is all about.
5. Place-kickers: Butkus Award-winning linebacker Devin White is the toughest talent to replace, but kicker Cole Tracy might have left the biggest void. It isn’t every day you have to fill in the spot vacated by then NCAA’s all-division field goal record holder. Avery Atkins and Connor Culp are returning players who will get their kicks, but everyone is expecting incoming freshman Cade York to be the man. He has the leg, but no one knows if kickers can handle the pressure until it comes to live action.