Soon LSU football will be back — with its first day of spring practice starting Saturday — it's as good a time as any to project what the Tigers' two-deep will look like when they open the 2020 season Sept. 5 against UT-San Antonio.
The key word is "project" here, since LSU has eight total returning starters (4 offense, 4 defense) from its 15-0, national championship season, and lot of spots can shuffle, especially since the Tigers will be changing to a 4-3 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
But hey, making educated guesses is part of the fun of spring football.
LSU's spring football game on April 18 will begin at noon and will be televised on ESPN2, the school announced Monday.
So we'll start with offense first, a unit that set numerous records in 2019 with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow — an all-time player that LSU will have to replace, along with four starting offensive linemen and the school's single-season leader in catches, Justin Jefferson.
If you want to check out our projected defensive two-deep, click here.
Below is a chart for the offense, and a breakdown per position follows.
Can't see chart below? Click here.
Offensive line: Right tackle Austin Deculus is the only consistent returning starter on the offensive line, so there'll be as open a position battle across the unit as there's been on campus in some time. LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said that Dare Rosenthal will be the team's starting left tackle. A former defensive tackle, Rosenthal was Saahdiq Charles' backup in 2019, and he started in three games while Charles was serving suspensions. Orgeron told WWL-Radio in February that he believes Rosenthal will be "stellar" and "eventually be a very early round pick in the NFL." Orgeron has also said it's time for Chasen Hines to step up at center and replace Lloyd Cushenberry. Orgeron said the 6-3, 336-pound Hines is already stronger than Cushenberry, which give the unit a good one-on-one blocker in the middle. Hines played in 10 games in 2019, and he's unlikely to be surpassed by Charles Turner, who appears to need more development after finishing his freshman season. Orgeron told 104.5 ESPN's "Off the Bench" that defensive tackle Joseph Evans has flipped to center, and he's "right behind" Hines for the starting spot. Ed Ingram seems to be the clear starter at left guard. Ingram started in two games in 2019, after he was reinstated after a year-long suspension after an arrest. He started in 12 games at right guard as a true freshman, so it's possible he flips to the right to replace Damien Lewis. The other guard spot will likely be a battle between redshirt freshmen Anthony Bradford and Kardell Thomas — two former four-stars who were a major part of the 2019 recruiting class. Bradford saw minimal time in three games last season, and Thomas spent the year recovering from season-ending ankle surgery he underwent in preseason camp.
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Quarterback: And now, it's time to see how far Myles Brennan has come. Orgeron has tempered expectations for LSU's front-runner at quarterback, trying not to add to the inevitable pressure that comes with following a Heisman Trophy winner like Joe Burrow. Orgeron has often called Brennan a "championship" quarterback, and, on national signing day, Orgeron said "we want Myles to just be the best Myles Brennan." So what does the best Myles Brennan look like? Hard to say with just small glimpses in mostly meaningless games. Perhaps it looks a bit like the 58-yard touchdown pass he threw to Racey McMath at the tail end of a 50-7 blowout against Texas A&M (although that score had as much to do with McMath's breakaway speed on what was initially an accurate, 10-yard sideline pass). But after being buried in previous quarterback battles, this is Brennan's job to lose with redshirt freshman Peter Parrish and true freshmen TJ Finley and Max Johnson having only just enrolled. Brennan's performance will perhaps have much to do with his own personal development as how much the LSU offense is maintained after former passing game coordinator Joe Brady's departure to the NFL.
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The backfield: Running back will probably be one of the most competitive position battles on either side of the ball for LSU. Returning contributors Chris Curry, Ty Davis-Price and John Emery each have their own strengths, and they each had their own breakout moments in the 2019 season. Orgeron has repeatedly spoken about how impressed he was with Curry's performance in the Peach Bowl semifinal, when he rushed for 91 yards on 16 carries while starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire was limited with a hamstring injury. But the powerful and speedy Davis-Price and Emery combined for 483 yards and 10 touchdowns as true freshmen in a championship season. This is likely where you could see the influence of new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, who, as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, ran a spread system that produced three NFL rushing champions. For now, Curry has the edge, but a by-committee attack is more than possible, which would also include incoming four-star Tre Bradford.
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Wide receivers/tight end: LSU will return the nation's top wide receiver, Ja'Marr Chase, the Biletnikoff Award winner, unanimous All-American and Southeastern Conference record-holder for most yards (1,780) and touchdown receptions in a season (20). The Tigers return another deep threat in Terrace Marshall, who recorded 671 yards and 13 touchdowns despite missing three games after he underwent surgery following the Vanderbilt game. To be as fully dangerous and lethal as the unit was last year, the Tigers will have to replace the school's all-time single-season catch leader, Justin Jefferson, who opened up big plays for his teammates while dominating at slot receiver. Jefferson showcased his 4.4 speed at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Trey Palmer, who returned a punt for a touchdown against Northwestern State, and incoming five-star Kayshon Boutte would likely be the speedy play-makers who would fill in. Boutte doesn't arrive until June, but he combined for over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior at Westgate High. Five-star tight end Arik Gilbert is the closest newcomer to making a Derek Stingley-type impact on LSU. He's the highest-rated tight end in 247Sports history, and Orgeron said Gilbert could also play on the outside as a wide receiver. He'll miss spring football after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he'll still likely have the edge at starting tight end over Jamal Pettigrew, a senior with two career catches for 17 yards.