LSU football spring practice kicks off on Saturday.
It will be the first spring in which Ed Orgeron is at the helm of the Tigers’ football program. Given that the team said goodbye to 18 starters from the 2016 season, expect an influx of competition at a number of key position groups.
LSU just finished off the No. 7 recruiting class in 2017, but let’s not be so quick to forget about the stars from the 2016 class.
Andre Anthony, DE/OLB
Anthony was forced to take an academic redshirt last season after transferring from Miller-McCoy (La.) Academy to Edna Karr (La.) High School toward the end of his junior year. Miller-McCoy was set to close down permanently that May, and the LHSAA could not uncover documents related to Anthony’s coursework in the transition.
As a result, Anthony did not qualify to play his freshman season.
Nonetheless, Anthony took advantage of a fall without football to concentrate on his grades and stick in the weight room. Sources have indicated that Orgeron has consistently rained praise about the former 4-star weak-side defensive end this offseason, and he could be on the verge of cracking the lineup as a starting outside linebacker or defensive end, or possibly be a part of the rotation behind Arden Key.
Of course, Key has taken a leave of absence from the team this spring, which should give Anthony a chance to take added reps at the BUCK. Those reps loom large for Anthony’s chances of securing playing time if Key does not return in time for the fall, or his chances of earning a spot in the pass-rusher rotation.
There is no question that Anthony is highly motivated to make his dent on the LSU defense in 2017. Sci Martin and Ray Thornton also should make their climb on the depth chart in Key’s absence.
Kristian Fulton, CB
Fulton was the crown jewel of LSU’s 2016 signing class. The former 5-star cornerback from New Orleans should have a chance to earn playing time either outside behind Donte Jackson or in the nickel in place of Tre’Davious White.
The latter is the more likely option, particularly as LSU becomes more accustomed to using five defensive backs on the field at the same time.
Fulton saw an increased role toward the end of last season, and a strong outing this spring could propel him up the depth chart. Sources in the building believe Fulton is the favorite to be the team’s starting nickel corner, which makes sense. He is already a gifted cover corner, and if he continues to add muscle to his frame as he did his first year, it should continue to bolster his physicality.
Of course, Fulton faces stiff competition from fellow blue-chip corners Saivion Smith and Greedy Williams, as well as veteran Ed Paris. At 6-feet and 180 pounds — and growing — Fulton is developing into a prototypical nickel corner.
Additionally, Smith and Williams may be best suited as outside corners and could push Kevin Toliver II for playing time.
Eric Monroe, S
LSU reeled in a star-studded group of safeties in 2017, but let’s not look past the collection the program reeled in the February prior.
Monroe headlined the two-safety class along with Cameron Lewis, and Monroe was the No. 3 prospect at the position in the cycle.
Last summer, the Houston native was eased through fall camp as he recovered from a leg injury, but during his senior season at North Shore (Texas) High School was absolutely dominant. LSU lost Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson, as well as the versatile Dwayne Thomas, so Monroe should push for a starting job along with Lewis and early enrollees Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens.
Keep in mind that defensive backs coach Corey Raymond prefers veterans starting in his secondary, and that edge favors Monroe.
With a full year in Baton Rouge under his belt and positive reviews coming out of the Tigers’ offseason weight room program, it’s easy to count on Monroe being a contributor in the secondary in 2017. That very well could mean a starting safety spot is well within his grasp as a redshirt freshman.
Lindsey Scott Jr., QB
The lone quarterback in the Tigers’ 2016 signing class was Scott, a record-setting, state championship-winning quarterback at Zachary (La.) High School in 2015.
The former 3-star recruit took a redshirt year in 2016, but with Brandon Harris out of the fray, poses the biggest threat to Danny Etling as LSU’s starter.
Of course, Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan will both make pushes this spring, but Narcisse needs to return to full strength and is likely the quarterback of the future in Baton Rouge.
Etling is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, but don’t discount Scott, who is diligent and extremely knowledgeable. With a new offense and offensive coordinator, Scott should be considered a viable threat to take the job away from Etling or at least cement himself as Etling’s primary backup heading into the fall.
While Etling has experience in his favor, Scott has the higher ceiling. This boils down to whether new play-caller Matt Canada wants a pro-style or dual-threat quarterback behind center, and if he chooses the latter, Scott could bring another dimension to the LSU offense this fall.
Rashard Lawrence, DL
The other 5-star signee in LSU’s 2016 signing class, Lawrence solidified his role in the defensive line rotation rather quickly last fall.
Lawrence earned himself a good deal of playing time in the second half of the season once Orgeron took over from Les Miles. That includes a sack in the Citrus Bowl against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Of course, Christian LaCouture‘s return and veterans such as Frank Herron and Deondre Clark are all that stand in the way of Lawrence nabbing a starting job. It would be a bit of a surprise to see Lawrence beat out both Herron and Clark for a starting defensive end spot, but not the least bit shocking to see Lawrence work himself into the three- or four-man rotation and eventually take over the role.
At 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, Lawrence is shaping up to be a better fit at defensive end than nose tackle, particularly with Greg Gilmore and Ed Alexander already in place. However, Orgeron and Pete Jenkins are well aware that Lawrence can play inside or outside, and can handle one of the two tackle spots when LSU elects to show a four-man front.
That means that Lawrence will be a key cog in the defensive line rotation at multiple spots and in differing fronts, which bodes well for his chances of being a significant factor this fall.
Drake Davis, WR
D.J. Chark is the lone veteran returning to LSU’s wide receiving corps, which leaves a serious competition among the rising underclassmen. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Davis.
The Baton Rouge native and former IMG Academy (Fla.) standout is easily the most gifted athlete that LSU has at the wide receiver position, and maybe even the entire roster. Dee Anderson is a proven vertical threat, which allowed him to earn playing time as a true freshman last fall.
But if Matt Canada is looking for a true possession receiver opposite Chark, he may not have to look further than Davis.
However, Davis should face stiff competition from Stephen Sullivan, too. At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Sullivan is an obvious candidate to push Davis for playing time with his huge frame and ability to create mismatches, particularly in the red zone.
Derrick Dillon and Russell Gage should earn playing time out of the slot, but depending on what sort of offense Canada elects to run, Davis should find himself among the top three or four receivers. Canada’s offense typically features three- and four-receiver threats.
Michael Divinity, LB
Much of the focus in the 2017 recruiting class was on the linebacker position, and it was a major get when LSU landed All-American Jacob Phillips, in addition to Georgia linebacker Tyler Taylor and in-state star Patrick Queen.
However, the year prior, LSU reeled in Divinity, who cracked the lineup early on as a true freshman. Devin White should be penciled in as one of the starters now, but Divinity is certainly capable of playing beside him as a middle linebacker or even push senior Corey Thompson for a spot on the outside.
Divinity, a former 4-star linebacker and the No. 5 prospect at the position in the 2016 class, has the size to be a true thumper on the inside. With some added depth at outside linebacker from Thornton and Martin, and the return of Thompson and Anthony, it could result in Divinity shifting inside and possibly securing a starting role.
Divinity will face competition from Phillips, who is seemingly ready to compete in the SEC already. But there was a similar feel regarding Divinity when he enrolled at LSU last winter. If he elects to switch roles in the linebacking corps, he and White could create a dynamic 1-2 punch in the middle of the Tigers defense.
Here is a chart of the freshmen who played for LSU.
|Name||No. of Games||No. of games started|
|Michael Divinity Jr.||9||0|