LSU: Myles Brennan (Aug. 19, 2020)

The day after wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the upcoming college football season, Ed Orgeron and his staff discussed how much LSU’s roster turnover reminded them of 2017 and a pivotal loss to Troy.

“The black clouds were all over,” Orgeron said. “It wasn’t good.”

That embarrassing home loss changed the program, however, because Orgeron made the team focus on daily improvement instead of long-term goals.

So as Orgeron met with his staff after LSU’s best offensive player decided not to play this season, the coach reminded himself of an old cliche: take the job one day at a time.

“This is the team we have,” Orgeron said. “Let’s get them better. Let’s see what’s gonna happen.”

Despite losing Chase, the reigning winner of the Biletnikoff Award and one of the most productive wide receivers in college football history, Orgeron remained confident in LSU’s roster. The Tigers have lost nine offensive starters from their national championship team, but they recruited for these situations.

“I know our guys are going to step up,” Orgeron said. “It is a lot of turnover. But it’s a great challenge for our staff.”

Though LSU won’t release an official depth chart until the week of its first game — Sept. 26 against Mississippi State — Orgeron has named starters at every offensive position.

Here’s what the offensive personnel looks like right now, based on three weeks of preseason practice and Orgeron’s comments during weekly press conferences. The defensive breakdown will come out Wednesday.

Quarterback

  1. Myles Brennan
  2. TJ Finley or Max Johnson

Brennan has shown no signs of losing the starting job. The redshirt junior waited his turn to start at LSU, and throughout preseason practice, Orgeron has expressed confidence in Brennan.

Orgeron said Brennan played well in LSU’s first preseason scrimmage last Friday but “had some things to improve.” When asked later what he wanted Brennan to work on, Orgeron said command of the offense, pocket presence, reading the field, making quicker decisions and pre-snap reads.

“All things that take experience,” Orgeron said. “But overall, we’re very pleased with Myles.”

With Brennan entrenched as the starter, the most intriguing position battle at quarterback is between Finley and Johnson, two true freshmen who enrolled early.

Johnson, a four-star recruit from Georgia, broke off an 80-yard run early in preseason camp, showing unexpected athletic ability. Finley has thrown the ball well, Orgeron said, and improved the most throughout practice. Orgeron hasn’t indicated who would play if Brennan missed time, saying LSU would tailor its offense to their skill set.

“We've got to stay healthy,” Orgeron said. “We only have three scholarship quarterbacks.”

Running back

  1. Chris Curry
  2. Tyrion Davis-Price
  3. John Emery

LSU considers all three running backs to be starters. The Tigers intend to use a committee approach at the beginning of the season, utilizing their different strengths and giving all three players a chance for more playing time.

“But if a back is hot and he’s having a great game,” Orgeron said, “we’re not going to take him out.”

Curry gets the edge for now because of his performance in the Peach Bowl last season. Filling in for injured starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Curry gained 89 yards on 16 carries, both career-highs. Orgeron said Curry “has been excellent” during preseason camp.

Davis-Price and Emery will also receive playing time. Video released from LSU’s first scrimmage showed Davis-Price running through a tackle for extra yards, and Emery has “made tremendous improvement,” Orgeron said.

Emery, a former five-star recruit and the highest-rated running back to sign with LSU since Leonard Fournette in 2014, struggled with fumbles last season. Orgeron said he cleaned up those issues and became an every-down running back.

LSU wants to use its running backs in situations that will highlight their skill sets. While Curry and Davis-Price have similar running styles — Orgeron described them as “bulls” — Emery provides a more explosive option on the outside. LSU hopes to mix them together in order to replace Edwards-Helaire.

"I think the situation will dictate itself on who’s going to be playing to start off the game," Orgeron said. "Now if a guy’s the best at every situation, he plays.”

Wide receiver

  1. Terrace Marshall Jr.
  2. Racey McMath
  3. Kayshon Boutte

Chase’s departure left a hole at wide receiver. Marshall, who caught 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns as LSU’s third receiver last season, moved into the featured role of the No. 1 wideout. 

“Terrace Marshall has to be our go-to guy,” Orgeron said.

LSU doesn’t have much experience behind him. McMath, a senior, has 19 career receptions after spending most of his career on special teams. McMath solidified himself as the third option early in preseason camp, but he moved up the depth chart when Chase left. LSU expects McMath, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, to breakout this year.

The third starting spot now belongs to Kayshon Boutte, a true freshman who signed with LSU as a four-star recruit.

“We're looking at Kayshon Boutte starting as a freshman,” Orgeron said Tuesday. “I think that's locked in.”

Though LSU has set its three starting wide receivers, it wants to rotate six to eight players at the position throughout the season. Freshman Koy Moore could earn playing time, but he pulled his hamstring, Orgeron said, slowing him down at practice. Senior Jontre Kirklin has also been mentioned as an option, as has sophomore Jaray Jenkins.

“Guys are going to step up,” Orgeron said, “and there’s going to be one new superstar that we don’t know about because it’s his time.”

Tight end

  1. Arik Gilbert
  2. Kole Taylor
  3. Tory Carter

Gilbert scored two touchdowns during LSU’s scrimmage last week. On one of them, he caught a short pass, broke two tackles and sprinted to the end zone.

“He looked phenomenal on a couple of big-time plays,” Orgeron said.

The true freshman has impressed throughout preseason camp, and Orgeron has never wavered on Gilbert's role as the starting tight end. A 6-foot-5 and 250-pound athletic marvel, Gilbert brought a new dimension to the tight end position at LSU. He can block defensive ends and linebackers, but he runs like a wide receiver, able to stretch the field and provide mismatches because of his size.

LSU wants Gilbert to learn the tight end position this season, but he may split out as a true wide receiver in the future. Regardless, Gilbert will line up throughout the formation in LSU’s offense.

“We're doing a lot of stuff with him,” Orgeron said. “We're flexing him out. He's in motion. We want him to learn the tight end position and get good at that. Then, eventually, we can move him out.”

LSU doesn’t have much experienced depth behind Gilbert. Taylor signed as the No. 10 tight end in the country last year, according to 247Sports, and Carter is a converted fullback whose strengths come as a physical blocker. But Orgeron believes LSU has more talent at tight end than ever before — largely because of Gilbert.

Left tackle

  1. Dare Rosenthal

Orgeron sees Rosenthal as a possible All-American and future first-round NFL draft pick. Rosenthal signed with LSU as the highest-rated defensive tackle in Louisiana, but his 6-foot-7 and 327-pound frame was better suited for the offensive line.

Rosenthal filled in at left tackle last season with starter Saahdiq Charles in-and-out of the lineup. Rosenthal played in five games. He started against Northwestern State, Utah State and Mississippi State, playing 229 snaps, the third-most of any returning offensive lineman.

Left guard

  1. Ed Ingram

After starting 12 games at right guard his freshman year, Ingram missed the 2018 season because of an arrest. Ingram split time at left guard once he was reinstated last year, playing in 10 games with two starts.

Though Orgeron predicted at the time Ingram could take over as the starter, Ingram spent last season as LSU’s primary backup offensive lineman, often rotating with senior Adrian Magee. Ingram played 379 snaps last year. He stepped into the position full-time during the offseason.

Center

  1. Liam Shanahan

Shanahan has all but solidified himself as the starting center after transferring from Harvard, where Shanahan started 30 consecutive games. Shanahan has handled the physicality of LSU’s defensive linemen, Orgeron said, while making the correct calls during preseason camp.

“That's where it all starts,” Orgeron said. “Communication goes down the line of scrimmage. He's giving our offensive line confidence that he can do it.”

Right guard

  1. Chasen Hines

LSU considered Hines at center early this offseason, but Orgeron said he’s “more natural” at guard.

Hines, a 6-foot-3 and 349-pound junior, was highly-rated at offensive guard in high school before he switched to defensive line his senior year. Hines returned to the offensive side at LSU.

The backup at center last season, Hines played in 10 games. He reached a season-high 39 snaps while playing left guard against Vanderbilt. Hines has started one game during his career, at left guard against Mississippi State in 2018.

Right tackle

  1. Austin Deculus

Deculus is LSU's most-experienced returning offensive lineman. The senior started 13 games at right tackle last season. He started 22 straight games at one point in his career until an injury forced him to sit against Ole Miss and Arkansas last season.

After the five starters, Orgeron hasn't clarified the second-team offensive line. Sophomore Cameron Wire appears to be an option at either tackle spot, practicing at right tackle when Deculus missed time at the beginning of preseason camp, but the rest of the second team remains unclear.

“We feel good about our front — our first five,” Orgeron said. “We've got to be able to develop depth because as we know at offensive line somebody's going to get hurt. Somebody's going to have to step up. And more than likely it'll be a young player. We need to get them ready.”


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Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com