More LSU players may opt out of the upcoming football season.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron told reporters Tuesday morning "maybe there's one or two" who he knows are considering sitting out. The coronavirus pandemic is still crawling in the background, and four of the head coach's players have already decided they aren't playing.
Two of LSU's best opted out in the past two days. News broke of wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase's decision on Sunday, and a source confirmed Monday that starting defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin will also sit out the season and become eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.
Paired with the departures of defensive lineman Neil Farrell, a key rotational piece, and starting nickel safety Kary Vincent, LSU's roster now only has five total returning starters from the lineup that won the College Football Playoff national championship in January.
Orgeron did not name which players are considering sitting out.
"Maybe there's one or two that I know are thinking about it," Orgeron said. "Hopefully they don't. But if they do, that's what we're living in. But we have depth. If they do opt out, we're still going to have a great football team."
An urgency to protect the team has emerged in a program that is also dealing with social issues beyond the field.
On Friday, LSU players eschewed practice and marched from Tiger Stadium to the president's office in a protest against racial injustice. Orgeron did not march with his team — as other head coaches, like Alabama's Nick Saban, have done — and said it was because he wasn't informed of the march.
Orgeron said he arrived for a 1:30 p.m. team meeting Friday. Few people were there, and, when he began searching upstairs, he got a call that the team wanted to meet with him at the president's office.
Orgeron met with the players for an hour. Players voiced their concerns and experiences and opinions. The conversation has continued in the days since, and Orgeron said he spoke with his mentor, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, for advice.
The team met again Monday, and Orgeron said starting quarterback Myles Brennan, star safety JaCoby Stevens and starting defensive end Andre Anthony held a 15-minute, player-only meeting to discuss the departure of Chase and Shelvin.
LSU can't afford much more of its talent to depart if the team expects to defend its Southeastern Conference and national titles this season.
Yet, the SEC decided in mid-July to allow players to opt out and keep their scholarships so that players can choose to protect themselves further from a dangerous virus that still has little available information on its long-term affects on people.
No player who has opted out seems to share a singular perspective. "Everybody's situation is different," Orgeron said. He spoke with Chase and Shelvin and he said both players "had legitimate reasons why they left the team."
"Those guys obviously talked to their families and made a decision," Orgeron said. "That's their decision. Guys are going to opt out for different reasons. That's the time we're living in. We have guys that are going to step up. There's some opportunities for new guys to come in and we have a good roster that can handle that."
"Obviously, I don't want anybody else to opt out. That might be the last one, hopefully, but it may not be. We've got to deal with it."
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have surged on LSU's campus as the football program continues preparing for the SEC's 10-game, league-only season the Tigers begin against Mississippi State on Sept. 26 at Tiger Stadium.
LSU reported 182 new cases of COVID-19 from Aug. 25 to Aug. 30, the school's second week of the fall semester. The total number has surged from 47 to 229 since LSU began reporting cases Aug. 15.
Last week's on-campus surge occurred at the same that all but four LSU offensive linemen were in quarantine for either testing positive for the virus or were determined to have high-risk exposure.
Orgeron said the team didn't have any physical practices last week because of the incident.
LSU-provided video from Monday's practice showed all starting linemen have returned, and Orgeron said as far as he knew, the whole offensive line has returned.
LSU's athletic department hasn't publicly released information on coronavirus cases and has declined to confirm specifics on outbreaks. Orgeron said Tuesday, "I'm not going to give numbers."
"It's just a situation, and it may come up with another unit," Orgeron said. "We just have to deal with it."
Among the roster losses LSU has sustained so far, Chase is likely the greatest.
He was last year's Biletnikoff Award winner, a projected first-round pick who set SEC single-season records with 1,780 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns.
Still, Orgeron, a defensive line specialist by trade, had a unique relationship with Shelvin.
Orgeron planned on having a front that attacked the backfield more — a tenacious and disruptive line that would produce more sacks and tackles for loss. It's part of the reason he hired defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who ran such a defense when LSU won the national championship in 2007.
Orgeron said he spoke with Shelvin's father, mother, grandmother and mentors. He thought Shelvin could come back and "be a dominant football player." Orgeron said "I love him like a son" and "hope the best for him."
Orgeron had often compared Shelvin to LSU's College Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Most of Shelvin's improvements surrounded keeping his playing weight down. Orgeron said Shelvin's at 375 pounds right now, and they had a final conversation about getting down to 330.
"Make sure you're in shape and go have one heck of an NFL career and make us proud," Orgeron said. "That's all I can say."
The losses of Chase and Shelvin — plus the recent transfers of defensive ends Justin Thomas and TK McLendon — are significant depth hits; but Orgeron said that if there were any position groups that are deep enough to handle such losses, it's the wide receiver corps and the defensive line.
Siaki "Apu" Ika, a powerful tackle listed at 6-foot-3, 346 pounds, will start at nose tackle, Orgeron said. Glen Logan, last year's starting defensive end, will also contribute, and Orgeron praised true freshmen Jacobian Guillory and Jaquelin Roy, both four-star recruits who were going to see plenty of playing time anyway.
Still, Orgeron said Joseph Evans will be moved back to defense to help with depth on the interior. The 6-1, 319-pound sophomore moved to backup right guard this offseason and was expected to take over at center next year. But the Haynesville native played in four games last year and recorded seven tackles.
Anthony and Travez Moore are still starting at defensive end, and Orgeron said they'll be leaning on true freshmen BJ Ojulari, Phillip Webb, Desmond Little and junior college transfer Ali Gaye for depth.
"They're going to have to play," Orgeron said. "We have to get better as the season goes on."
Terrace Marshall is now LSU's most talented receiver. A 6-3, 200-pound speedy deep threat, Orgeron said Marshall doesn't get enough credit for his greatness. He had the team's most touchdown receptions before he suffered a foot injury against Vanderbilt, and, after he returned against Auburn, he finished the season with 46 catches, 671 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Marshall and senior receiver Racey McMath will likely be LSU's top two receivers, and Orgeron said senior Jontre Kirklin and true freshmen Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore have impressed in practice — although Orgeron told WNXX-FM on Tuesday morning that Moore is dealing with a "minor injury."