As the Tigers’ first season under Brian Kelly nears ever closer, the former Notre Dame Head Coach has a handful of tough questions to answer before the end of LSU Fall Camp.
Rebuilding a roster from 38 total scholarship players, Kelly relied on a strong 2022 freshman class and an all-out transfer portal assault in order to make LSU competitive. He signed just under 20 transfers,
including seven different defensive backs.
Much of college football’s LSU storylines center around Kelly’s inexperience within the SEC. Then there is LSU’s ranking outside of the top 25. And of course, much is written their quarterback competition and the names who left the Tigers’ roster for SEC West rivals (Eli Ricks, Max Johnson, Dwight McGlothern, etc). Many analysts are missing the broader picture.
LSU Fall Camp: Five Questions The Tigers Must Answer
Full of uncertainty and inexperience at different positions, Kelly’s debut squad is still very talented in all three different phases. It is replete with NFL-ready Tigers players. So what are 2022 LSU’s biggest problems?
1. SOLVE THE RUNNING BACK ROTATION
Despite losing talented sophomore Corey Kiner to his hometown Cincy Bearcats or recent rising back Tre Bradford for the second transfer of his LSU career, there is a lot of talent with LSU’s four running backs left on the roster.
John Emery Jr
and Noah Cain
are the headliners. Cain is finally getting a chance to strut his stuff during fall camp. Furthermore, when studying former walk-on Josh Williams’
performance during LSU’s Spring Game or thus far in Fall Camp, you can see an intense combination of violent running & sneaky athleticism. There are also the potentially elite prospects of sophomore back Armoni Goodwin.
You have to feel this could be a substantial rotation for running backs coach Frank Wilson and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock
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Which backs will see the majority of LSU’s carries? Who can stay healthy throughout the campaign and make repeated plays? How will Wilson rotate his running backs and when?
Their rhythm is as important as ever amid Denbrock’s no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Additionally, due to Bradford and Kiner’s transfers, lead backs Emery Jr and Cain’s health is also paramount.
One last question: it’s 4th and goal, on the three-yard line. Kelly and Denbrock elect to run the ball with the game hanging in the balance. Which back will get the ball? We should find that answer out very shortly on September 4th.
2. MAXIMIZING POTENTIAL AT WIDE RECEIVER
Perhaps only challenged by Ohio State’s 2022 unit, LSU’s loaded wide receiving corps could very well be college football’s most elite room. The Tigers are returning with 2,276 Yards, 171 Catches, and 24 touchdowns at the position. They are led by a resurgent, healthy Kayshon Boutte
, now clad in the Tigers’ iconic playmaking #7 jersey. First-year receivers coach Cortez Hankton Jr
can call upon a vast array of talent and versatile profiles across his unit.
Boutte is a Biletnikoff Award candidate. He appears to be at full health throughout summer conditioning and into fall camp. Following an off-season of doubts, transfer questions, and NIL talk, his focus will be key. He had a breakout freshman year that included an SEC single-game record with 308 receiving yards. Boutte was having another big year in 2021. He had nine touchdowns in just six games before injury cut his season in half. Boutte also led the Tigers in receiving, even after missing the final 7 contests of 2021.
Throughout Fall camp, Louisiana Rajun Cajuns’ transfer Kyren Lacy has continued to produce one big catch after another, defying any quiet expectations and making a clear push for Hankton’s #2 wide receiver job.
Second-year wideout Malik Nabers is a big-time talent. In camp, he has been showcasing expert route running, and physicality at the line. He also has shown hand strength when contesting for the football during aerial duels.
Jack Bech asserted his dominance during April’s Spring Game, targeted for two touchdown catches from a pair of different quarterbacks. He led the team in catches and was third in receiving yards last year. He was only the third sophomore ever chosen to represent the school at SEC Media days, joining Leonard Fournette and Odell Beckham, Jr. Despite dealing with shin splint issues early in Fall camp, we have intel that points to Bech being ready for week one against Florida State. His mismatch-creating possibilities on the perimeter or slot could play a big role for LSU’s passing game.
Another receiver to watch is Brian Thomas Jr. He hauled in some one-handed grabs versus Mekhi Garner during the Spring Game and has continued his improvement early this Fall camp. After burning veteran defensive back Raydarious Jones on a stutter-step move, Kelly talked about his potential. “He can be a contributor for us, but I need him to be a key contributor. Sometimes he thinks he’s still a freshman, I have to remind him. ‘We need you, you’re a sophomore now.'”
Thomas is 6-4 with a combination of speed and power. In the Spring, Kelly said the receiver registers among LSU’s strongest overall players.
Kyren Lacy is getting some looks at camp, reeling in deep threat catches. The Lafayette-born former Rajun Cajun possesses an ability to produce a variety of catches from many different spots on the field.
Of course, the ever-tumbling dominoes of LSU’s quarterback battle finally crashed…revealing the path for LSU’s immediate future.
In the wake of Myles Brennan
‘s Monday transfer, the race is on between Jayden Daniels
and Garrett Nussmeier
, backed by a strong 3rd option in freshman Walker Howard.
Following a week of Fall camp practices where Daniels assumed control of starting reps, Brennan battled for his LSU life. Nussmeier was limited through a small ankle injury.
Now after Myles’ departure, it’s a two-man race. You’d have to think the former Arizona State quarterback is now the favorite. Despite his recent display of intermediary passing improvement, there is still some convincing to be done. There are many extreme stereotypes attached to his passing skills. A large contingent of LSU fans considers Daniels to be a run-first quarterback incapable of making the big plays through the air.
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Daniels led the Pac 12 in completion percentage last season at 65.4%. He has continued in that vein during Fall camp with solid situational touchdown throws. It is entirely plausible that Daniels’ detractors are going overboard.
While Nussmeier may be banged up, he won’t be backing down or calling it quits. His injury does not appear to be severe. However, it’s never positive when you lose valuable Fall camp reps during a competition such as this. Nevertheless, Nussmeier’s condition improved at the start of the week, enough for the redshirt freshman to participate in drills without any limitations. Last week, Kelly remarked that, “Nussmeier would have taken as many first-team reps,” as Daniels. That proved that the top two would have to be Nussmeier and Jayden at that point, a message made even more clear to Myles over the weekend.
Starting this week, it will be down to the two, Nussmeier and Daniels. They are a pair of exciting, multi-faceted, dual-threat quarterbacks working with plenty of potential, confidence, and just enough pressure to keep the fires lit.
The separation will have to arrive during the Tigers’ upcoming scrimmages. Although for quarterback coach Sloan and Kelly, the departure of Brennan will make the playcalling more streamlined and their jobs a lot easier.
Is it even important for LSU’s defensive coordinator Matt House to figure out his best 11 Tiger defenders before week one? Or is the priority ironing out an unassailable rotation, making strong use of LSU’s depth at defensive line or linebacker? What are the main areas House must solve? Who are his four best defensive backs? Who will assume DBU’s starting nickel role? Which Tigers can be considered House’s two to three best linebackers?
In the secondary, Jay Ward and either Major Burns or Joe Foucha appear to be favorites at safety. Cornerback becomes murky when scanning across the depth chart. Mekhi Garner, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, and Colby Richardson received the majority of first-week reps, while Sevyn Banks works his way back from injury. Can we expect Richardson to be LSU’s starting corner vs Florida State? Maybe, but since DBU is carrying many inexperienced options (Welch, Davis-Robinson, Allen) one of LSU’s five cornerback transfers has an open window. A lot of eyes are on Bernard-Converse, the All-Big 12 CB for Oklahoma State. Others are expecting Banks, the former Buckeye, to step up.
Nickel is a battle between Sage Ryan and Greg Brooks Jr. Ryan would seem to have the edge for now after his blistering start to fall camp.
LSU’s two best linebackers, deployed in House’s 4-2-5 scheme, will need to be athletic, calculating, and capable of playing at high speed. Throughout LSU’s off-season, House often started Mike Jones Jr and Greg Penn III as his two-man combination. But West Weeks, Harold Perkins, and veteran Micah Baskerville are all staking claims to consideration in Fall camp. It is making for a competitive rotation.
Because he is aiming for this third national championship, Jones would be the logical leader of the group. But Penn is a young upstart, and Baskerville and Jared Small are longtime veterans taking their final chance. Transfers Kolbe Fields and West Weeks could both provide solid backup.
Harold Perkins is going to get some looks as well. The New Orleans product stands out immediately for his athletic ability. The five-star prospect was one of the more productive high school athletes Texas high school football has seen for many years. He is likely to make it tough for House to keep him off the field.
Now that offensive line coach Brad Davis started utilizing tackle Garrett Dellinger at center, it likely eliminates straightforward positional moves.
Davis seems to be moving his versatile Tigers all over the offensive line trench in order to find the precise five-man unit. We’ve seen guard Anthony Bradford stationed at right tackle, left tackle Cam Wire at right guard, and left guard Marlon Martinez moved to center. Plus, Davis isn’t afraid to deploy youth. Freshman left tackle Will Campbell is carrying himself like a potential first-round pick. He has been handling LSU’s best defensive linemen in practice.
Right now, Davis seems to favor Campbell at left tackle, Tre’mond Shorts at left guard, Dellinger at center, Martinez or Wire at right guard, and Bradford at right tackle.
Watch out for Miles Frazier, Kardell Thomas, Xavier Hill, Marcus Dumervil, and Emery Jones to really push for LSU’s right guard/right tackle jobs, or settle for a spot within Davis’ rotation.
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