Dave Aranda said he noticed plenty improvement in LSU's offense during spring football, especially with returning starting quarterback Joe Burrow.
The fourth-year defensive coordinator repeated a story during an interview on 104.5 ESPN's "Off the Bench" on Tuesday morning, a story which Ed Orgeron told the media after the first week of spring practice.
Orgeron walked over to Aranda between practice periods and asked him, "How's it going?" Aranda told LSU's head coach that it was clear that "Joe knows where to go with the ball."
Aranda added Tuesday that he thinks "there's a calmness, a confidence, a readiness" with Burrow, and he doesn't believe "Joe is one to be easily shook."
Aranda noticed a "huge difference" with how LSU's receivers were running their routes, finding open spots in the field based on how the defense was lined up.
Ed Orgeron's 2020 recruiting class is moving toward capacity, as another defensive lineman announced his commitment to LSU on Monday.
It's one of the several changes that came along with the staff addition of first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who is helping LSU transition into a modern run-pass option offense — a system that leverages a defense's alignment against itself by reading certain defenders during a play.
Sometimes there are reads before the ball is even snapped, where Burrow could glance to the left and see that a cornerback is playing off his wide receiver, permitting enough room for Burrow to sneak in a quick pass for a slant or an out or a hitch.
"That's where we're at on offense," Aranda said, "If we (as a defense) tip anything, the ball is out to the best spot, the safest spot. It's difficult to get hands on quarterbacks, difficult to pressure quarterbacks. So that's very impressive."
Aranda said he was struck by the frequency that LSU running backs are going out for pass receptions, which he said came from the influence of the New Orleans Saints.
"I think it's difficult when there's speed everywhere and you're playing empty (backfields) quite a bit," Aranda said. "So, it's challenging. I think it's going to be a good mix. There's certainly enough for everybody. We're seeing it."
LSU walk-on quarterback Andre Sale has entered the NCAA transfer portal, the junior confirmed with The Advocate on Tuesday.
It's high praise from Aranda, LSU's $2.5 million defensive guru nicknamed "The Professor," and it offers promise for an LSU offense that hasn't cracked the Top 5 in scoring in the Southeastern Conference since 2011, when the Tigers were national runners-up while scoring 35.7 points per game.
Defense has been at the forefront in Baton Rouge for the past several years, and Aranda has had LSU's defense rank within the top 30 in scoring defense nationally in all of his three seasons.
In 2018 — LSU's first 10-win season since 2013 — the Tigers ranked No. 26 nationally with 21.8 points allowed per game. Former inside linebacker Devin White won the school's first Dick Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, and safety Grant Delpit was named a unanimous All-American.
Thanks to White, whom the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected No. 5 overall in the NFL draft, Aranda said the LSU coaching staff isn't "missing too much anymore" on elite linebacker recruits.
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In LSU's 2019 recruiting class, the program signed top inside linebackers in John Ehret's Donte Starks, ranked the nation's No. 10 inside linebacker by 247Sports, and Kendall McCallum (No. 27 inside linebacker) from Oxford, Alabama.
LSU's 2020 class already has commitments from Antoine Sampah (No. 2 ILB) out of Woodbridge, Virginia, and Josh White (No. 5 ILB) from Houston.
"We're getting calls back," Aranda said. "And we're getting people looking at us and all of that."
The rest of the incoming recruiting class for LSU football arrived on campus last week, and on Monday, the school released the jersey numbers …
But before any of those players arrive, Aranda is tasked with replacing White for the 2019 season. He said there's "a lot of good competition" at inside linebacker, including Jacob Phillips, who started opposite White in 2018, and Patrick Queen, who backed up White last season and even started the past three games at outside linebacker.
Outside linebacker Michael Divinity switched to inside linebacker during spring football, and Aranda said there's even a diversity of options with a bigger linebacker like 6-foot-4, 238-pound sophomore Damone Clark — a build that Aranda said was sort of a throwback to Kendell Beckwith, a 6-3, 247-pound Butkus semifinalist who played from 2013 to 2016.
"I think just stepping back as a whole, the talent that we have, finding roles for the talent we got, (we're) finding positions or opportunities for guys to kind of settle in and own and make plays with," Aranda said.
It's been a productive few days on the recruiting trail for Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers.
Aranda hasn't been a coordinator that's allowed his defenses to be boxed in by needing to have certain positions on the field. He's been creative, turning traditional positions on their heads, such as playing Delpit more like a rush linebacker on some plays and like a free safety on others.
The 2018 season demanded plenty of Aranda's creativity, mostly because of the loss of promising pass rusher K'Lavon Chaisson with a season-ending ACL tear in Week 1 against Miami.
Aranda had to concoct new ways to create quarterback pressures without Chaisson, and LSU still managed to tie for No. 32 nationally with 34 sacks on the season.
Chaisson is scheduled to return, although he sat out of the contact parts of spring practice, and Aranda said he and the defensive coaching staff — made up partly of analysts like Kevin Cosgrove, a former Wisconsin defensive coordinator that Aranda grew up looking up to — have been spending part of the summer looking at ways to create "pressures off the edge."
"The most aggressive way," Aranda said, is something that NFL teams are doing: They'll rush a defensive back off the edge and slant the outside linebacker inside, rushing toward the quarterback off the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
LSU has added its second four-star safety of the week to its 2020 recruiting class.
That particular combination rush of the defensive back and the outside linebacker can create a one-on-one matchup between the outside linebacker and the offensive tackle.
Aranda said they pulled up 30 examples of the rush from last year's preseason camp, before Chaisson's injury, and he said Chaisson beat his tackle 28 out of the 30 times.
Reviewing that film, the staff's decision was easy: Let's do it that way.
"It made it simple," Aranda said. "So when you have guys like that, those decisions are made pretty easily. It just makes life easier."
Aranda has repeatedly preached the importance of creating one-on-one matchups for his defenders with all offensive blockers; it increases the probability of creating pressure on the quarterback because it's likely that one of those defenders will win his one-on-one.
And quarterback pressures become even more likely when the defender is an elite player, a mismatch for his blocker. That's something Aranda said he now believes is happening at nose tackle, where 6-3, 362-pound sophomore Tyler Shelvin has "athleticism for a big man" that he hasn't "really seen anything like" and true freshman Siaki "Apu" Ika has "sheer athleticism and savvy."
LSU has added another top defensive back to its 2020 recruiting class.
The traditional thought with large nose tackles is that you'd line them right in front of the center and clog up the middle of the field; but Aranda said he's trying to line up Shelvin or Ika on the outside shoulder of the center and having them rush vertically through the gap, in hopes to create a one-on-one matchup for himself and the other defenders on the line.
"We really force the offense to single block him," Aranda said. "And if we can get into a five-on-five alignment, where we can get a one-on-one block with either of those guys, again, that's a win for us."
A year ago, Jonathan Giles became eligible at LSU as a wide receiver transfer from Texas Tech.
The secondary enters the season with plenty of promise.
Delpit, cornerback Kristian Fulton, a possible first-round pick in 2020, nickel safety Kary Vincent and free safety JaCoby Stevens are returning starters, plus the fresh talent coming in with true freshman safety Marcel Brooks and cornerback Derek Stingley, the nation's top recruit by some sites, who recorded an interception in the spring game.
Aranda, who said Stingley looked like "the best" cornerback when he arrived early to practice before the Fiesta Bowl, said he's continued to be impressed by Louisiana's Gatorade Player of the Year of 2018.
"Generally there's a learning curve," Aranda said. "Generally there's a 'Hey man, there's going to be some pressure.' There's none of that with him. All of that is taken in stride and so there's a comforting feel. You feel like there's a veteran, and I have to keep reminding myself that it's not."
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