LSU begins spring practice on Sunday and there is no shortage of questions hovering over the football program.
The most glaring, of course, is behind center, where coach Ed Orgeron and first-year offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger are tasked with finding a quarterback to replace Danny Etling. Quarterback is always a polarizing topic in and around Baton Rouge, and for good reason.
Sophomore Myles Brennan, redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse and junior Justin McMillan will battle it out for the starting job this spring. Whoever emerges from this pool will have the backing from the coach.
“Someone’s got to step up. That’s been the question for LSU for a long time,” Orgeron said Thursday in an appearance on ESPN 104.5 FM’s Off The Bench.
“We have three outstanding quarterbacks, a great quarterbacks coach in Steve Ensminger, a great offensive coordinator, and I think it’s going to finally happen,” Orgeron said. “I see talent in all three guys and I believe in them. Finally, I think we have the quarterback that LSU has been looking for for a long time.”
On center battle
Offensive line stalwart Will Clapp declared early for the NFL draft, leaving a wide-open competition at center.
Lloyd Cushenberry III saw action there with Clapp sidelined at this time a year ago, but he will have to stave off junior college transfer Damien Lewis and 2018 signee Cole Smith.
“You gotta give it to Lloyd Cushenberry. It’s his time,” Orgeron said. “Cole Smith is right behind him. So is JUCO [transfer] Damien Lewis. He benched 315 pounds for 10 reps the other day. I guarantee that caught the defensive line’s attention. I expect him to have an outstanding spring. I’m excited about the O-line.”
On Breiden Fehoko
Breiden Fehoko was forced to sit out last season after transferring to LSU from Texas Tech. A two-year starter with the Red Raiders, Fehoko is projected at the Tigers’ starting left defensive end opposite junior Rashard Lawrence.
“In practice, he was hard to block,” Orgeron said. “He had a tremendous offseason. He benches over 500 pounds, so he’s strong, but a better young man. He’s going to be our starting left end. He’s strong, agile. He’s going to have a great spring and a great year.”
On defensive line
Fehoko isn’t the only newcomer to LSU in the trenches. Former 5-star recruit Tyler Shelvin will be eligible to play after taking an academic redshirt in 2017.
Orgeron helped the Tigers sign eight defensive linemen to their 2018 class, including five prospects who can play either at nose or in the 5-technique.
“We’re getting there, especially with the five defensive tackles we signed,” Orgeron said. “We got to keep everyone healthy and we’ll have a good rotation inside. We have some great outside linebackers and we feel good about our defense. We feel good about our whole team right now.”
On LSU’s new offense
Ensminger was tabbed as the offensive coordinator in January. He previously served in that capacity at several different schools, including under Orgeron on an interim basis in 2016.
Now the full-time coordinator, Ensminger plans on implementing a pass-heavy system in Baton Rouge. Orgeron estimated that install is about 25 percent complete.
“We’re going to be physical,” Orgeron explained. “We’re not going to forget about the run, but we’re going to run out of some spread sets. When we have to, we’re going to hammer the football and be physical. We’re going to do that well. We’ll be great on short yardage, but throw the ball deep, be multiple in what we’re doing and not be tied to anything.
“Steve has done a tremendous job, but we have a long way to go,” he added. “We’re taking our time putting it in, building a foundation and doing it right. Twenty-five percent is in right now. We’ll go through spring. We have things to do throughout summer and throughout fall camp. Our target is Miami opening day.”
On new safeties coach Bill Busch
LSU hired a handful of new assistants this offseason, including safeties coach Bill Busch and offensive line coach James Cregg. Jerry Sullivan and Greg McMahon were promoted into full-time roles. Dennis Johnson replaced Pete Jenkins as the team’s defensive line coach.
“All of them are home runs. They’re game changers,” Orgeron said. “Bill Busch brought in some ideas with the secondary, working with the safeties primarily, which gives Corey [Raymond] a chance to work with the corners. Both work with the nickels and need a lot of work. It’s more eyes, more ideas. Bill is capable of being a coordinator. He knows Dave’s [Aranda] defense and they work well together.”
On Mannie Netherly, cornerback depth
After whiffing on 5-star corner Patrick Surtain Jr., the Tigers settled for one defensive back in their 2018 class. That, of course, was Kelvin Joseph.
Kristian Fulton’s eligibility for the season remains unclear, which led to 2017 signee Mannie Netherly transitioning from receiver to cornerback.
“He’s been doing well in drills, but we’ll see when the pads come on,” Orgeron said of Netherly. “He’s long, got good athletic ability and a great mindset to do it. That’s a position some guys have to step up in.
“Kary Vincent is going to have to step up. Jontre Kirklin is going to have to step up. Some young guys have to step up. We’re going to find a guy that can play corner. We have a good one in Greedy [Williams], but we need a couple of guys to show up at that position.”
On running back competition
LSU has waved goodbye to Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice in consecutive years. Fournette was a first-round pick and Guice could follow suit.
That leaves an inexperienced backfield for Orgeron heading into 2018, but the coach has no doubts about who’ll be the starter this spring.
“Nick Brossette is going to start off,” Orgeron said. “Then Clyde Edwards-Helaire, then Lanard Fournette, then Tae Provens is looking good in spring drills. When the pads are on, we’ll see what those guys do best. All of those guys bring a different skill set.
“None are proven like Leonard was or like Derrius was. Nick does a great job at running the zone game, which is a big part of our run game. Clyde can make you miss. He’s tough, so let’s see what happens.”
On spring recruiting
LSU picked up three commitments in the last week after hosting a junior day last Saturday, which drew a large out-of-state crowd.
The staff expects more recruits to pile in for the first spring practice Sunday, especially in-state targets and their coaches.
“We love it,” Orgeron said. “We have some unofficial visitors coming in for the weekend. They’re going to spend Friday and Saturday with us. A lot of the local players and coaches will be here Sunday. It’ll be a tremendous day for the Tigers. We invite our guys to come to practice and to come to meetings. I want them to see the great assistant coaches we have and how they’re going to get coached. We’re full-speed recruiting. It’s going well.”
On the 9 early enrollees
LSU signed 23 players in its 2018 class, including nine mid-year enrollees who have been on campus since January. That includes three offensive linemen and 5-star receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.
“I’ve been very impressed with the offensive line recruiting. I think we’ve got an outstanding O-line,” Orgeron said. “Terrace Marshall, obviously coming back [from] injury, is about 75-80 percent. He’s smooth, looks good running out there. The whole group is a tremendous group of young men.”