Of all the people to provide insight on LSU’s new offense, the best may have come from a defensive player who has yet to take a college snap.
But don’t doubt Andre Anthony’s description. The sophomore defensive end has practiced against this unit for two weeks. Before that, he watched it evolve during offseason walkthroughs in February.
“It’s more of a pass-type thing. They’re passing the ball,” Anthony said of the offense. “Coming out (in) more of a four-receiver type thing. Everything is not run and pounding. We’re opening up more of the pass, getting more people involved.”
Two weeks into spring practice, the shroud covering LSU’s new offense is beginning to lift, ever so slightly. Players and coach Ed Orgeron are shedding light on a system that will emphasize a passing game with the use of multiple receivers and installing a “West Coast-style run game,” one player said.
Players use terms like "new passing game," "route concepts" and "less predictability" to describe the system, but an accurate gauge of LSU’s new offense, now led by coordinator Steve Ensminger, isn't yet clear. It remains mostly hidden behind the wooden fence that surrounds the Charles McClendon practice fields and, during scrimmages, the concrete structure of Tiger Stadium.
Practices are only open to reporters for 20 minutes of individual drills, and all scrimmages are closed. These policies have become commonplace in the nervy Southeastern Conference, even some six months before season openers.
Piecing together clues is often difficult but not impossible. Interviews with Orgeron and players, combined with bits of information seeping out of closed practice, paint the picture.
This much seems certain: LSU is pouring much of its spring practice into attempting to install a new passing game in hopes of reviving a unit that finished no better than 101st nationally for three straight years, 2014-16, and only marginally improved to 84th last season.
“We’re throwing the ball a lot,” defensive end Rashard Lawrence said.
“Our offense passed the ball a lot,” Fehoko added. “To see the passing game and different route concepts they’re doing right now ... we’ll watch it on film, the D-line, and talk about it: ‘These are Madden plays!’ ”
One of the more telling quotes is from sophomore running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire: “Right now, the run plays we have are designed for a fast-moving offense, designed to spread the field.”
After six spring practices, the description of LSU’s offense is not so different than the one coaches described before drills began.
In his introductory news conference, Ensminger — promoted from tight ends coach after LSU parted ways with Matt Canada — detailed a pass-leaning unit that will rely on play-action and a bevy of former five-star receivers — what he called the Tigers’ “strength.”
It is a stark contrast to LSU’s offense of old, a battering ram of a unit that used burly, between-the-tackles running backs to move the ball in tight formations.
In the spring, the most common formations are shotgun and one-back sets, with three to four receivers. The Tigers, as they did last year, are drifting away from I-formation and two-tight-end looks — something oh-so prominent under former coach Les Miles.
This has resulted in a change in the run game.
“It’s a more patient run game,” Fehoko said. “We run a lot of wide stretches, wide zone, pro-style and West Coast-style run game, similar to the NFL. You see a lot of these patient running backs, and it really allows the holes to develop.”
Myles Brennan throws a “bullet” and possesses a “sharp eye.”
LSU is “forced” to pass the ball, Orgeron said, because of the lack of a returning, bruising back. Edwards-Helaire described the tailbacks as “route runners.”
“All years of my high school career, I played the slot or 'X' and 'Z.' Being able to run routes, it’s going to bring a different aspect to the game,” he said. “For the people we have in the room, we have route runners. Most likely, we’re going to have linebackers on top of us. It’s something I was hoping for and now we’ve got it.”
LSU’s offensive personnel is just as cloudy as its offensive philosophy.
The Tigers lost nine players on offense who could be described as starters. They return just six players who got significant playing time in 2017.
They lost their top passer, top two pass-catchers and top two rushing leaders. They return just 7 percent of their rushing yards from 2017, 36 percent of their receiving yards and 7 percent of their passing yards.
The inexperience is likely behind the struggles in the spring’s first scrimmage last week, which the defense clearly won, players from both units said.
“We had 30 plays out of 58 where we either had a missed assignment or penalty,” tight end Foster Moreau said. “Makes it really tough to win a football game.”
Orgeron spoke to reporters Thursday night after the second situational scrimmage of spring, one in which he said the offense rebounded. During the news conference, the coach said about 35 percent of Ensminger's scheme is installed.
Installation will continue through the summer.
"We’re taking our time, have basic runs in, basic formations, play-action pass," Orgeron said. "We’ve been spending a lot of time on the red zone, doing something different on the goal line. All those things are in. Still a lot of things to put in."
Rashard Lawrence orders the three-piece meal at Popeyes and asks for a fourth.
Many around the program — and outside of it — compare the scheme Ensminger is implementing to the one Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay used last season to lead the NFL in scoring.
The offense is a pro-style attack, but one of its strongest elements is a hurry-up, multi-receiver package where the quarterback reads just one person — maybe an inside linebacker or deep safety — before the firing the ball.
Play-action off of zone rushing is another key element, and deep balls off of bootlegs are a significant piece of the scheme, too.
Denham Springs High coach Bill Conides, who coached sophomore quarterback Myles Brennan at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, mentioned the L.A. Rams offense during an interview with The Advocate in January.
Orgeron said his offensive staff plans to visit the Chargers later in the spring. Coaches have studied “a lot of what the Saints are doing” as well, he said, again indicating a spread-type offense that relies heavily on quick and intermediate passing and scatbacks in the backfield.
Receiver route running and timing are essential in these systems. They are characteristics that new pass game coordinator Jerry Sullivan was hired to implement.
“I’m a big believer in footwork is everything, whether you’re a left tackle blocking, running back cutting or a receiver,” Sullivan said recently during an interview on WNXX-FM. “The footwork element of running routes (is) a huge element. From my perspective, that’s where we start, the foundation of everything we do in the passing game.”
Ed Orgeron is still waiting, he says — waiting for a starting quarterback to emerge from the three-man competition.
WHAT A LOSS
LSU’s offense is brand-new — and not just in scheme.