What conclusions there are to be drawn from a spring game or spring practice in general are highly subjective. And so much guesswork.
What looks like a strength on one side of the ball may just be overpowering a weakness on the other. And what looks like a depth chart chiseled in stone may be just two lines of players drawn in the sand.
That said, there are key questions coming out of LSU spring practice that need to be addressed. We’ll start with:
1. Who will be the starting quarterback? We saw all four quarterbacks in Saturday’s Spring Game: Myles Brennan, Max Johnson, TJ Finley and new freshman Garrett Nussmeier. There appeared to be a clear delineation between the two camps, Brennan and Johnson in Group A and Finley and Nussmeier in Group B, in terms of pocket presence and productivity.
So, if, as it appears, the LSU quarterback tournament has reached the finals, who between Brennan and Johnson will take the first snap Sept. 4 against UCLA?
First, and most importantly, it was simply good to see Brennan back on the field in game-like conditions. He looked 100% recovered from that freak, devastating abdominal muscle tear he suffered last season at Missouri. His delight at being back on the field was obvious, and his passing numbers (11 of 15, 106 yards with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte) were superb. If he reclaims the starting job, which seems a tip of the scale to the probable side, LSU can win with him at a level that can get the Tigers to a New Year’s Six bowl.
But I can’t shake the fact that Johnson took the first snaps of spring practice, and the spring game. This feels like more than just a reward for a job well done as the starter of two redemptive victories last year at Florida and against Ole Miss, games in which he threw for a combined 674 yards and six touchdowns with a .552 completion percentage. Yes, Johnson struggled against a bit against LSU’s first-team defense, going 4 of 10 for 60 yards, but he was sacked three times. Then he was 7 of 7 for 120 yards and two TDs against the second unit.
You have to like Brennan for his experience and certainly for his toughness. Knowing what we know now about his injury at Mizzou, and how he managed to finish the game while throwing for 430 yards and four touchdowns, is utterly remarkable.
But I keep coming back to Johnson. To his escapability. To his work through his progressions. To his ability to remain cool under fire and to shake off a mistake.
If it was me, today, I’d start Johnson against UCLA. But there are many more trials to come in preseason camp, and whoever wins LSU will be the better team for it.
2. How good did the Jake Peetz offense look? It’s hard to tell given the vanilla flavor of spring games. But we saw plenty of big runs and receivers, especially Boutte, getting into open space in an system crafted by LSU's new offensive coordinator, which could be referred to as Joe Brady 2.0.
Boutte, who of course set the Southeastern Conference single-game receiving record with 308 yards against Ole Miss, looks like an All-SEC if not All-American talent. But he needs help. As ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill quite correctly said, the Tigers need more vertical threats than Boutte. Jontre Kirklin showed out with more than 200 yards receiving combined for both teams. Peetz will need him and a host of other receivers like Koy Moore, Jaray Jenkins, and freshmen like Brian Thomas, Chris Hilton and Deion Smith to make this offense sing. Of course, getting Arik Gilbert to come back at tight end could be a dimension that even LSU’s 2019 offense didn’t have.
3. How good did the Daronte Jones defense look? It certainly appeared improved from the 2020 version. Better organized, more aggressive, and this without injured Eli Ricks and Todd Harris roaming the secondary. That said, a collection of those orange construction barrels on the interstate might be an improvement from last year’s LSU defense.
Still, there was a lot to like from the new defensive coordinator's scheme, especially from the pass rush, with Jaquelin Roy and BJ Ojulari teaming for five sacks. Again, this may prove to be a red flag for the offensive line, but defensive line pressure and disruption will be critical for LSU’s pass coverage to improve. Speaking of coverage, Derek Stingley looking like his old self (he had one off five interceptions) has to be a relief for Tiger fans everywhere. If LSU can just lose the lost look in its secondary, having two past All-Americans at your cornerback spots in Stingley and Ricks has to be the cornerstone of improvement. This defense doesn’t have to be the Chinese Bandits, but merely compliment what has the makings of a potent offense.