Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting, with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss 4-star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase‘s decision to sign with LSU, what it means for the Tigers’ offense in 2018 and his impact on the passing game.
Ja’Marr Chase breaks down decision to sign with LSU
NEW ORLEANS — Ja’Marr Chase was poised to select Auburn on National Signing Eve, but when crunch time arrived, his heart forced him to pick a different set of Tigers.
Chase has undergone a rigorous recruitment. A year ago, he gave a verbal commitment to Kansas, at least for a few days. He was prepared to flash TCU gloves at his scheduled announcement on the NFL Network in June before time ran out on the segment. Upon his return home to New Orleans, he made a spontaneous visit to Florida for “Friday Night Lights” and committed on the spot.
Chase thought the process was over when he settled on the Gators. Three months later, Florida coach Jim McElwain was relieved of his duties.
Forced to press reset on his recruitment, the 4-star wide receiver made official visits to Michigan, TCU, LSU and Auburn, and went back and forth between both Tigers in the SEC West over the final month in the recruiting calendar. From the outside looking in, LSU appeared the be the clear front-runner, but a visit to the Plains right before National Signing Day had Chase leaning elsewhere on the eve of his decision.
“Last night when I went to sleep, Auburn was on my mind,” Chase told SEC Country on Signing Day. “That’s where I wanted to go, at first, but I had to follow my heart. I prayed about it and it’s been a hard few days coming back from my Auburn official [visit], so I prayed on everything.”
Chase had planned on picking Auburn, but his heart told him to stay home.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound All-American revealed how difficult a decision it was as he broke into tears when he announced “Louisiana State University” at Archbishop Rummel on Wednesday right after noon. The crowd on hand, comprised largely of his friends and members of his family, responded with a roaring “LSU” chant in support of Chase.
“I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do this morning. My head was spinning and I had a whole bunch of stuff on my mind, but it came to LSU,” Chase detailed. “The family part of it made me more emotional than anything else. They were happy and they just wanted to make sure they could make games and watch me play. They couldn’t make every game at Auburn, so I thought about that and by them coming up there for every home game would be a four-hour drive versus LSU being a one-hour drive. Them being closer will be better for them.”
Chase’s father, Jimmy Chase, has held a front-row seat throughout the process and believes his son made up his mind at some point on Tuesday night.
Once the Florida staff was shaken up, only one school remained a constant in Chase’s ears and continued to make him a priority. While the 4-star receiver was ready to announce Auburn on Wednesday, he couldn’t ignore the signs pointing to LSU.
“Auburn made a serious push at the end,” Jimmy Chase explained. “They came on strong, but you have to understand that we didn’t have enough time with Auburn to build a relationship. Every time we were scheduled to go to Auburn, something came up. It was a sign, more or less.
“It was great to see him pick the home school. To understand this was a process, he was committed to Florida, where he wanted to go. When that fell apart, LSU had been there the whole time and he couldn’t bypass that. He couldn’t underestimate the attention they were giving him; it showed he was a priority and that they wanted him.”
The secret plan on offense
For weeks, the notion of a new-look LSU passing attack has been presented to Chase.
Chase, who has always had doubts about whether the Tigers would ever open up their offense and feature his talents at wide receiver, finally began to believe in January.That’s when Steve Ensminger was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator and longtime NFL assistant Jerry Sullivan was added to the coaching staff as the passing game coordinator.
Both Ensminger and Sullivan met with Chase during his official visit on Jan. 12 weekend and laid out the blueprint for a new-look offense designed around the skill-sets of Chase and 5-star wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., who signed with LSU during the early signing period in December.
“They were real sincere with us and they told him the whole game plan of how they were going to use him, which a lot of people don’t know,” Chase’s father revealed. “They’re not just saying this and that. They have a plan. We know the plan and he’s got Jerry Sullivan. You can’t beat that. He’s never been coached up by a true receivers coach with years of experience that can show him the game. That carried a lot of weight.”
So, a secret plan for the LSU offense?
While Chase was careful not to give too many hints about what said offense will look like in 2018, he did offer one adjective for what’s in store from him and Marshall in Baton Rouge.
“Because we’re two highly recruited players, they know having two good football players on your team can make the team even better,” Chase said. “It’s a lot about playing this role on offense, and Terrace and I going to be a good combo and make some things happen. What also played a big part in this is that they don’t have a true Derrius Guice or Leonard Fournette there to me. That’s another thing that made my decision easier.”
Steve Ensminger, Ja’Marr Chase are a perfect match
As a sophomore in 2015, a then-reserve on the Rummel football rocking No. 86 recorded recorded 300 yards receiving yards in a pre-eason scrimmage. That put Chase on Jay Roth’s radar, to say the least.
Later that season, Chase emerged from Rummel’s run-first offense to make key plays in a nationally televised out-of-state tilt with New Jersey powerhouse.
“For a sophomore to step up,” Roth said, “I knew this guy was going to be special.”
Entering Chase’s senior campaign, Roth revamped his championship-winning offense around Chase’s abilities as a receiver and dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands.
In 11 games, he caught 61 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to being named the Catholic League Player of the Year and a carving out a spot on the LSWA Class 5A All-State Team. Icing on the cake: Chase holds all of the storied New Orleans program’s receiving records.
Consider this a piece of advice for Ensminger from Roth.
“He’s a strong, dominant receiver,” Rummel’s coach began. “You can have two or three guys hanging on him and I’d be saying to myself, he’s double-covered, don’t throw it at him. Heck, he was double-covered and you could throw to him and he’d find a way to get the ball. My biggest regret is not giving him the ball more. I thought other people were as good as him, but they weren’t. Hopefully, it isn’t the same way at LSU.”
If what Roth and the Chase family understand is on the way, it shouldn’t be.
The new, secret offensive game plan should cater to what the blue-chip receiver does best. Also of note, with Ensminger calling the shots, it seems inevitable that the Tigers’ passing game should take a giant leap forward. Chase will be a crucial part of facilitating the change.
“I’m a Steve Ensminger fan, going back to his days as Georgia’s offensive coordinator and his time at Louisiana Tech,” Roth said. “I thought what he did [at LSU] on an interim basis was great. He’ll do a great job of opening that offense up at LSU. … They have always had receivers, but now they have an offense to match those receivers and a guy that’ll realize that.
“It’s a great match between the young quarterbacks, the receivers they signed this year and Coach Ensminger. That’s a great match.”
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