The traffic Saturday in and around LSU was regular-season home game caliber, as thousands of students stormed their campus dorm rooms and apartments for the fall semester.
Over in Tiger Stadium, a comparative island of calm away from the sea of red taillights and carbon monoxide, the football team that those students will be screaming for this fall was going through the second of its three preseason scrimmage “games.”
There is still one more scrimmage on the schedule next Saturday, one week before the Tigers launch the campaign Aug. 31 against Georgia Southern. But that will be a glorified walk-through sans pads and real hitting, with more of an emphasis on substitutions and other logistics.
This was the scrimmage that likely will go a long way to determining who starts and who comes off the bench.
Given where LSU has been most of this preseason camp with injuries, things for the most part sounded upbeat.
Yes, freshman guard Kardell Thomas from Southern Lab is done for the foreseeable future after having surgery on last week’s leg injury. Coach Ed Orgeron wouldn’t say Thomas won’t play at all in 2019, but he won’t be back anytime soon. And yes, defensive stars Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and K’Lavon Chassion were held out once again. So was nose tackle Apu Ika, locked in a battle for the starting spot with Tyler Shelvin but missing lots of practice time of late.
Coach O made sure to point out that Delpit, Fulton and Chaisson could have played if there was a real game Saturday. Though there are still a lot of practices to go before Georgia Southern, it appears the Tigers are “coming to health,” as former coach Les Miles might have said.
Orgeron says more about injuries than Miles used to allow, which is what might have contributed to the concern around the program that Tigers have been going down at an alarming rate. But other than Thomas, no one appears to be out long-term, which is fairly encouraging at this late stage of the preseason.
The offensive line continues to be a concern, though. LSU fans will recall that last year the Tigers went through something like 106 starting combinations because of a parade of injuries.
The shuffling and position flipping has continued at a high spin rate during preseason camp. Jakori Savage has moved from defense back to offense, while freshman Anthony Bradford is sliding over from tackle to guard. Coach O spoke of senior Badara Traore being able to play both spots.
Left guard continues to be one big question mark.
“I'd like another Damien Lewis” there, Orgeron said, referring to his entrenched starting right guard. “Chasen Hines has all the physical tools and skills to be an outstanding player, but he's had a hampering injury. He hasn't been put through the fire yet. Adrian Magee is another guy who's a veteran there, has played some good football. I think those two guys are vying for that starting spot right now.
“Obviously, we're thin on the offensive line, so we have some guys who are going to have to play both positions.”
That is hardly what anyone wants to hear two weeks before their season opener, but it’s worth remembering that every college team out there has issues. At Alabama, for example, they’re lamenting a lack of depth at linebacker despite having All-American and former U-High star Dylan Moses in a starring role.
Speaking of linebacker, though, it was interesting that Orgeron spoke almost nonchalantly about the battle at the rover linebacker spot between Jacob Phillips (LSU’s top returning tackler with 87 stops), Patrick Queen and Damone Clark. The latter has been hyped so much this month I’m starting to expect a hybrid of Patrick Willis and Dick Butkus come the regular season.
“I don’t think we have to make that decision now,” Orgeron said of naming a starter there.
Any uncertainty, though, does add to an air of concern on that side of the ball. Especially after former LSU great Ryan Clark got on WNXX-FM’s “After Further Review” radio show this week and said that at least early on, the defense could be a concern.
“For the first time in a while I think the offense is going to have to play well and carry the defense for a little bit,” Clark said.
Clark also tweeted that after watching practice, he was more impressed with Joe Burrow than he was when the former Ohio State transfer first arrived last summer.
“I’m standing next to a scout at practice and there’s a throw he makes from the opposite hash, a deep out route; he puts it right over one defender and in between another,” Clark said. “It couldn’t have been thrown anyplace else and be caught.
“Three plays earlier there was a throw down the sideline to JaMarr Chase. He hits Terrace Marshall on a deep post and it’s right where it’s supposed to be. We didn’t see those things from the offense last year, so we didn’t get to see him (Burrow) in those moments.
“I’m not saying he’s a great player. But if you’ve ever been on a team with a great player, you see these people do things in practice. To see Joe Burrow, in that type atmosphere, make those throws, be as focused as he was throughout the practice, I think he has something to prove.”
So do the Tigers in general. But if this week's preparations were any indications, they're finding the answers to the big questions.
Now if they could just find a way to do something about the traffic ...