Joe Brady said he tells the LSU wide receivers every day "this team is going to go as the receivers go," and when the first-year passing game coordinator spoke about his offensive philosophies Monday evening, that daily phrase seems just about right.
In the promised new-look, up-tempo, no-huddle, run-pass option offense, Brady said the base goal is to get the football into a play-maker's hands in space.
And in the offense's basic form during April's spring game, nine receivers had at least two catches for more than 20 yards receiving, showcasing the long-promised proliferation of slant routes and four- and five-wide receiver sets.
But aside from boosting LSU's point totals and yardage, Brady said the Tigers' new spread offense will also help solve the pass protection issues that plagued LSU throughout the 2018 season, when the team ranked tied for 106th nationally with 35 total sacks allowed.
The high sack total limited an offense that often used tight ends and running backs as blockers in max pass protection in order to aid an inconsistent offensive line that struggled throughout the season.
Brady claimed that statistics have proven that when a team is in five-man protections — meaning only the offensive linemen are blocking — that a team will give up fewer sacks.
"(When) you can get the ball out fast, it limits what the defense can do," Brady said at the LSU coaches caravan stop in Metairie.
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said something similar before Brady was hired, back during Fiesta Bowl media day when Aranda was talking about the difficulties of facing run-pass option offenses.
Aranda said defenses can't really blitz extra pass rushers because players needed to be prepared to defend the slant.
"It limits you some in that way," Aranda said. "You're better off with the (defensive) front of just four guys (with their) hands up, (playing) tight coverage (in the secondary), and (linebackers) seeing the ball and breaking flat. At least, that's how we thought. That really affected us in the middle-half of the season (with) some of the pressure-type stuff."
So instead of seeing running backs and tight ends cracking down on blitzers, while a reduced number of receiver options break downfield, Brady wants to break those options loose.
"Running backs are here to run the ball and catch passes," said Brady, who signed a three-year contract that pays him $410,000 in his first season. "They're not signed to play at LSU because they're dynamic blockers. That's what offensive linemen are for. Are they going to have to do it? Yes. But the more we can get them in the routes, the more defenses limit the packages they can do and it allows us to do what we have to do."
And that's one of the key words now: Routes.
No more is any receiver learning a specific position, Brady said. They're learning route concepts, so that every receiver on the roster can be placed anywhere on the field. It's designed to seek out favorable matchups against defensive backs, which Brady said have the advantage when an offense limits its receivers to specific positions.
"I feel if people know exactly where people are going to be, defenses can dictate what they want to do and take guys out of the game," Brady said. "Now, we're at the advantage."
Just how can that impact play out on the field?
"Once we find the guy who can't cover, that's who we're going after every play," LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph said. "And it's going to be different guys (who are) going to get it."
It's an inherited philosophy.
Brady, who previously spent two seasons as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints, was on staff for the Saints' 45-35 regular season win over the then-undefeated Los Angeles Rams in 2018, when Michael Thomas set a franchise record with 211 receiving yards, most of it coming against Rams corner Marcus Peters.
Saints coach Sean Payton said afterward that exploiting Peters was part of the game plan, and it appeared to continue in the rematch in the NFC championship game.
The Saints are literally picking on Marcus Peters. pic.twitter.com/htmpK4jHq7— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) January 20, 2019
But having wide receivers learn concepts instead of specific positions also allows LSU to play toward their receiver's strengths, Joseph said, moving a player around during the course of the game who may run a specific route better than anyone else.
Joseph said the new scheme will allow Justin Jefferson, LSU's leading receiver last season (875 yards, six touchdowns), to play inside near the slot in 2019, where he'll have more suitable matchups than when he was playing toward the sideline last year.
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"I think he'll be matched up on nickel (safeties)," said Joseph, who signed a two-year, $310,000 per year extension in May, "and I don't know if there's going to be too many nickels that can cover him. So, if he's matched up inside, then they're eventually going to have to take one of their best corners and put him inside."
Maybe you can already track where this is going next. If one of an opponent's best corners gets placed inside to cover Jefferson, that now means that lesser-skilled defender could be placed outside on another LSU receiver, creating yet another potential mismatch to exploit.
That LSU receiver, Joseph said, could be any number of a potential six-to-eight receiver rotation.
It could be 6-foot-6, 229-pound senior Dee Anderson, a "big body" who Joseph said "can catch BBs in the dark."
Perhaps the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Derrick Dillon, whom Joseph said has returned from the offseason hip surgery that held him out of spring practice.
Or maybe it'll be 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore Ja'Marr Chase, who had 10 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in his final three games last season.
But the receiver who has shown the most improvement, Joseph said, is Terrace Marshall. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound sophomore didn't break out during his true freshman year, Joseph said, because the recovery from a broken fibula he suffered in high school was still stunting his breakaway speed.
Joseph said Marshall, a former five-star recruit at Parkway High, has fully recovered.
"He can catch the deep ball better than anybody I've seen," Joseph said.
That sets a high expectation in Baton Rouge, which has seen NFL receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and DJ Chark.
But there's already pressure on the LSU receivers, remember? Brady tells them every day that the LSU offense now runs through them.
"There's not a day we can take off," said Brady, a former wide receiver at William & Mary. "I want them to have that mentality. I'll be damned if the receivers (that came) before us turn on the games on Saturday and don't see that physicality and mentality from this wide receiver unit."