Welcome to the Wednesday edition of the Bayou Bengal Briefing, Tigers fans. As you know, this means we’ll break down some wide receivers. But today in the Briefing we’re also going to look at the team’s practice on Tuesday, revisit our discussion of Leonard Fournette from Tuesday morning and remember Mike the Tiger VI. Let’s get to it.
Competition Tuesdays are fun, guys
For those of you who aren’t well-versed in Orgeron-ese, the biggest changes made by LSU’s interim head coach have all related to the practice schedule. On-field practices are shorter and less physically intense, film room sessions have been extended and expanded, and there’s more of a focus on getting better as a team instead of figuring out how to beat an opponent.
Perhaps most notably, coach Ed Orgeron has given each day a theme, as SEC Country LSU’s Alex Hickey wrote here. Practices on Tuesday are “Competition Tuesdays,” where the No. 1 offense lines up against the No. 1 defense. And boy, was Tuesday competitive.
The showcase moment was when the quarterbacks and receivers competed in ball drills against the cornerbacks and safeties for aerial supremacy. As anticipated, this drill had no shortage of smack talk, most notably from cornerback Donte Jackson. After ripping the ball away from a wide receiver in mid-air, Jackson ran back to his position mates and coaches repeating something along the lines of: “They’ll need Spiderman to take a ball out of the air from us!”
Sadly, the coaches ran the drill with the sun directly behind them, so all my footage of that drill was unusable. But here’s a quick series of clips from practice on Tuesday that you can see without squinting.
Also worth noting from practice: By my count, there were scouts from 15 different NFL teams on hand to watch the first half of LSU’s practice. In no particular order, those scouts represented the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders. The man most would expect to top their respective draft boards, running back Leonard Fournette, was once again not at practice.
Well, isn’t that a segue?
On Tuesday in the Briefing, I asked for your thoughts on Fournette’s health. There are plenty of schools of thought regarding the health of the nation’s most highly regarded running back. Some people think he should never play in college again. Some people think he should come back as soon as possible, health be darned. Here’s what you guys think:
6 percent of you think that Fournette should come back immediately, even if he’s still hurt. 7 percent of you think that it would be wise for Fournette to never lace up at LSU again and prepare for that NFL paycheck. 29 percent of you want Fournette to take this week off, but be back on the field against Ole Miss no matter what. And a large majority of you, 58 percent of you in fact, took the altruistic stance of waiting until he feels 100 percent healthy, however long that may take.
To speculate a little bit, given that poll, I’m going to guess that only 6 percent of you will be disappointed this weekend. Unless LSU loses. Then a lot more of you will be, probably.
Wide receiver Wednesday
LSU’s offense feels like it’s coming together. It might be a couple weeks too late, but the unit seemed to really click as a whole against Missouri.
That said, the offense is still lacking in one phase: deep passing. Quarterback Danny Etling has struggled all year connecting on deep passes, especially to his leading receivers, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. His most effective deep threat, D.J. Chark, has been averaging a little more than 13 yards per reception.
According to Chark, there’s a focus on fixing this. But that’s not new. It’s just a matter of ironing out some of the details to make the process more efficient.
“I feel like we’re still paying attention to the small details, but we’re just utilizing our plays a lot more and trying to get guys in the open field,” Chark said. “I think we have big opportunities, but I think we just have to capitalize on it when we have those chances.”
One way that the Orgeron administration has differed from the Les Miles braintrust, even if it has just been one game, has been the way the team rotated wide receivers and used more diverse sets. Players such as Russell Gage and Jazz Ferguson, who received next to no playing time under Miles, were fixtures in the Orgeron-Steve Ensminger offense against Missouri, with Ferguson even catching 2 passes.
And to Chark, this helps the deep passing game.
“I feel like, for instance, say if me and Danny made that big play, maybe for the next drive if I was tired or something, another guy could step in and you never know, we might dial up another play and then boom, he gets a big play,” Chark said. “I feel like that goes hand in hand.”
Against Missouri, LSU’s running game bailed out the passing game, as the Tigers rushed for 418 yards in the rout. But by Chark’s explanation, it’s time for the receivers to pay back the favor, and going long is just the way to do that.
“Like the last game: If we did make those big plays, it would back guys up. Now, they have to back up,” Chark explained. “Since we were already hitting guys for big plays in the run game, now it’s even easier since there are less players in the box and there’s less guys coming downhill. The passing game will definitely help the running backs.”
Remembering Mike VI
Ending today’s Briefing on a bit of a somber note, the city of Baton Rouge and Tiger fans everywhere were shocked and saddened to hear the news Tuesday that beloved LSU mascot Mike the Tiger died at the age of 11. Under Mike’s nine-year reign as LSU’s mascot, the school won four national championships, including a football title in his first year back in 2007 and a baseball title two years later in 2009.
Now, it’s your turn. If you have memories, stories, feelings, pictures or anything else that reminds you of Mike VI, feel free to share them with me either in the comments section of this article or to me on Twitter @nicksuss. Also, if you have strong opinions on whether LSU should replace Mike or retire the tradition because of PETA’s pressure to end the practice of “condemning yet another tiger to a lifetime of exploitation,” please share those as well.
The best answers will be featured in tomorrow’s Bayou Bengal Briefing.
Until then, I’ll leave you with this tweet from the SEC Network.
He was more than a mascot.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 11, 2016