LSU spring football drills concluded, but few unanswered questions were left behind. Or a least, a degree of uncertainty.
The scheme of the defense may be close to fully installed by Dave Aranda, but there will be some movement on a few of the positions on that side of the ball.
On offense, quarterback Danny Etling, the expected starter had a good spring. He wasn’t really challenged by Justin McMillan, Lindsey Scott or Lowell Narcisse. All improved but in small increments. Whether they are ready to play if needed in the fall is still up for debate.
All is not doom and gloom. There were some noticeable areas that show promise.
Etling closely resembles Matt Mauck. He grasps the offense, understands the skill players around him and knows that he doesn’t have to be the game changer, only the facilitator. He has made good decisions throughout spring drills, with good placement on his offerings to receivers. More mature at 23 years old when he takes his first snap of the season against BYU, Etling has seen enough different types of offensive and defensive looks as a starter at Purdue and LSU under Cam Cameron, Steve Ensminger and now Matt Canada.
A longtime SEC defensive coordinator told me recently that defending Matt Canada’s offense at LSU will be similar to trying to figure out the wishbone attack prominent in decades past, except there is more motion and movement. The uncertainty of who will get the ball and in what direction will keep the defense on their heels. The movement will also set up subsequent plays during the course of a game.
The anticipated starting five on the offensive line did not have much opportunity to work together and gel as a unit due to an assortment of injuries.
Expected starting center Will Clapp sat out the physical portion of spring practice nursing an injury. His spot in the middle was ably manned by redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry, who capitalized on the opportunity to gain valuable reps.
Senior left tackle K.J. Malone is solid, not spectacular. He will grade out well with fine effort. He can do some things better than others, but any one thing special.
Junior Maea Teuhema raised his game to a new level during spring and is entrenched at one guard spot, current on the right side of the line.
Toby Weathersby has fought the injury bug and needs improved reps to help his game and confidence. He is slated currently as the starter at right tackle.
Hulking guard Donavaughn Campbell at 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds shows flashes, then tails off. He can be special if he can sustain more consistency.
Redshirt freshman Willie Allen (6-7, 310) had a good spring, taking reps at left tackle. He graded out well in his opportunities.
New arrival Austin Deculus demonstrated ability to pull from his guard spot. He moves his massive 6-6, 344 pound frame well, and I think he’ll see more time inside as a freshman.
Redshirt freshman Jakori Savage (RT) and Jr. Garrett Brumfield (LG) will have to be minutemen when opportunities arrive.
If you go with best five and try to best place them on the field as a unit, it wouldn’t surprise me if you see RT Weathersby, LT Malone, LG Clapp, RG Teuhema and center Cushenberry if chemistry works. Having a freshman at center is not the ideal scenario, however.
If Derrius Guice remains healthy, he will be among the elite running backs in college football in 2017. Most only concern themselves with the depth behind him in the Tiger backfield.
Do not discount the contributions of senior Darrel Williams, a north/south runner who plants his foot and gets upfield in a hurry. Much quicker with offseason weight loss, Williams has always been a good blocker and picks up the blitz well. He has worked hard on being a complete back. Nick Brossette and Lanard Fournette also took steps forward this spring.
When freshman Clyde Edwards- Helaire arrives on campus this summer, he will fit a role in the new-fangled Canada offense as a “satellite back” who will see chances as a receiver and third down option. His style as a runner is slightly different from the rest.
D.J. Chark, who has awaited his turn behind Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, now wants to show he’s more than a Jet Sweep runner or deep decoy. Chark has shown a solid, dependable pair of hands, good catching radius, improved route running and understanding of his new role as the Tigers’ top option at wideout. He looks to be in midseason form.
Sophomore Drake Davis possesses unique size and skill as a physical 6-3, 217 pounder reminiscent of former LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe. True freshman Manny Netherly reminds me of Craig “Buster” Davis during his early days at LSU in the early 2000’s, with similar size , build and skills.
Talent is one thing, but consistency may lead more talented players to have to split time due to grasping the scheme quickly on both sides of the ball. Those who can execute the playbook best will play.
On the other side of the ball, Neville High product Rashard Lawrence looks to be a future captain of the defensive unit down the road. The big defensive lineman is very advanced and grounded, but possesses physical skill. He along with nose tackle Ed Alexander are future All-SEC types.
Starting senior nose Greg Gilmore has been a conscientious worker who collapses the pocket despite facing double team blockers. Alexander and Gilmore will split 10 plays, each taking five reps to stay fresh.
Having Christian LaCouture back for his senior campaign is huge. It gives the entire defense a mature stabilizing presence in the huddle. You may recall he was in a coaching capacity of sorts in 2016 while recovering from injury.
The anticipated return of Arden Key, the Buck edge defender with All-American skill, will jazz up the pass rush.
The linebacking corps is sprinkled with talent and potential. The Tiger defense will sorely miss the presence of departed linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley. Both had the leadership skills and processed a play quickly. Riley was especially good at communication.
Donnie Alexander gained experience in ’16 in place of the injured Beckwith. Devin White has shown flashes of being outstanding, but has been inconsistent. He played sparingly in base defense as a true freshman. When he puts it altogether, he could be special.
Senior returnee Corey Thompson was granted a 6th season. He has paid his dues and earned his spot. He could be an x-factor for the defense due to experience and maturity. The former safety fully healed and has been stout against the run.
Michael Divinity gained valuable experience in 2016 as a true freshman, and it could pay dividends this fall. He has lined up at both inside and outside spots and understands the concepts.
A pair of redshirt freshmen made a splash during spring. Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton benefited from their time waiting to play.
Anthony, an Edna Karr product, has added bulk and strength. He holds the edge well, making plays like a veteran ‘backer. He has shown an ability to come off the edge.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron loves the potential of Thornton: “He’s physical and fast. He’s a great young man. He wants to get better and will play a lot for us.”
Defensive coaches have been singing praises of Grant Delpit, Donte’ Jackson, Jacoby Stevens and Kevin Toliver in the secondary.
Ed Paris and John Battle are currently slated as the starting safeties . New arrivals Delpit and Stevens may have a say in the pecking order as the season unfolds.
Orgeron really likes what he has seen in Delpit. “He’s a guy that we may consider to start and also Jacoby Stevens,” said Orgeron. “We’ll be playing a lot of young guys on defense.”
Both are good tacklers. Delpit challenges the run with fire. He can cover in space . Kevin Toliver has good closing speed and ball awareness. He remains step-for-step with receivers, causes them to re-route.
LSU is a work in progress on both sides of the ball, but the talent is there to succeed.