Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman.
In this edition, we touch on whether LSU still has a shot with two of the top 2018 running backs, which true freshmen can have instant impacts and compare and contrast the offenses directed by Cam Cameron, Steve Ensminger and Matt Canada.
To submit a question for Spiegelman, send a message to @SamSpiegs on Twitter or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In your opinion, will Foster Moreau be a major weapon at TE this season? (@Travis_s_shaw)
For one, there are numerous roles for the tight end in Matt Canada’s multifaceted offense. There’s the “Y” and the “F” positions, in which the “Y” is a prototypical in-line blocker, whereas the “F” shifts all over the formation and could receive passes from a traditional tight end spot, as an H-back or even split out wide.
Moreau, the projected starter at the “F” spot, has been an impact player on LSU’s offense since he was a freshman. He’s a more-than-capable blocker, but his skills in the passing game have been masked by an offense that didn’t truly involve the tight end.
Canada’s offense is very different.
For instance, last season at Pitt under Canada, Scott Orndoff — who measures at 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds — hauled in 35 passes for 579 yards and 5 touchdowns. For comparison’s sake, at Alabama, recent first-round pick O.J. Howard had 45 receptions for 595 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016.
Here is how the tight end has been featured in Canada’s offense at the Power 5 level over the past five seasons.
|2013||N.C. State||David Grinnage||15||150||1|
|2014||N.C. State||David Grinnage||27||358||5|
|2015||N.C. State||David Grinnage||25||290||3|
|2015||N.C. State||Jaylen Samuels||65||597||7|
Pedersen was Wisconsin’s second-leading receiver in 2012. Grinnage’s numbers didn’t reflect much in Canada’s first season at N.C. State, but he more than doubled his yardage in Canada’s second season and scored 8 touchdowns combined over the next two years. As a freshman in 2014, Samuels accounted for 6 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. A year later, he emerged as the Wolfpack’s leading receiver. Orndoff was Pitt’s second-leading receiver last season.
As far as Moreau’s production in Canada’s offense in 2017, it’s safe to assume his floor is around 25 catches. It would not be surprising to see him amass between 400 and 500 yards and find the end zone close to five times.
Can we get back in the James Cook or Harold Joiner sweepstakes? (@tankthompson02)
With AJ Carter back entrenched in UCLA’s recruiting class, LSU must find another option at running back to round out their 2018 haul.
Tigers coaches have remained in contact with Carter, Cook and Joiner, and truth be told, they have a better chance of making up ground with Cook or Joiner than they do with Carter.
Cook recently reopened his recruitment after being committed to Florida State for 16 months. At The Opening finals, the 4-star tailback from the Miami area told SEC Country that he was down to two — Florida State and UGA — and that a decision would not come until the U.S. Army All-American Game in January. LSU was on the outside looking in, which should not be surprising at all. At the time, the Tigers held three running back commitments and Cook had never visited Baton Rouge.
Those plans remain intact. Cook is not planning to visit LSU despite indicating he would for the spring game or this summer. There are whispers that he already has silently pledged to UGA and that the Bulldogs are currently the team to beat.
There may be more wiggle room with Joiner, though a handful of red flags surfaced while talking to the 4-star running back at The Opening. For one, Joiner named Michigan State as his leading school without ever having been to East Lansing, Mich. He also made a comment that he’s unsure how he’d fare in the cold weather. Seems like an odd choice to spontaneously name the Spartans as his No. 1 team with those things in mind.
Joiner also included Alabama in his top 6 prior to The Opening finals, but added that he didn’t like the Tide’s impressive backfield depth chart. That’s the same reason why Joiner eliminated LSU from contention in late June right after the team took commitments from Carter, Chris Curry and Tae Provens. LSU aims to take three backs to replenish its running back depth, and if that’s the plan, then it’s hard to envision Joiner wanting to be the third piece.
Name 3 true freshmen who will earn playing time and avoid being redshirted in 2017? (@RyanMicklin61)
Great question, Ryan, especially as fall camp rapidly approaches.
I know a lot of readers want to see names like Myles Brennan included, but let’s be honest: This is Danny Etling’s job to lose and despite all the chatter about a quarterback competition, Brennan and fellow freshman Lowell Narcisse need time to get better adjusted to Canada’s offense.
I expect most of the freshmen that will play will be on defense. That begins with early enrollee Grant Delpit, who was easily the most impressive freshman at spring practices. The former All-American is already pushing Ed Paris for one of the starting safety spots, and if he can’t beat out the senior ahead of the BYU game, it will be only a matter of time before he does. By early October, right before the Tigers begin SEC play, I project Delpit to earn serious playing time or nab the starting gig away from Paris.
Another defensive back I expect to see play rather early is Kary Vincent Jr. Another former All-American, Vincent possesses the ideal speed and coverage skills that Corey Raymond clamors for in the slot. With Tre’Davious White and Dwayne Thomas off to the NFL, Vincent will find his way onto the field in certain sub-packages. Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver are the Nos. 1 and 2 corners, and I anticipate Andraez Williams to be the next man up on the outside. However, Vincent should emerge as the No. 4 option here and the No. 2 nickel behind Jackson. Last year, the rotation was determined by quarter, so Vincent very easily could take Thomas’ role and switch off with Jackson in the slot.
The last prediction is a toss-up between offensive lineman Austin Deculus and wide receiver Racey McMath. Deculus is a true mauler that can play either left tackle or left guard, and if there is an injury to K.J. Malone or Garrett Brumfield, I have no doubt that Deculus would be the next man up. McMath was SEC-ready when he arrived on campus last month. At 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, he is a workout warrior and someone Ed Orgeron mentioned earlier this week at SEC Media Days. Besides D.J. Chark, LSU’s wide receiving corps is still in flux. With a strong showing in fall camp, expect McMath to make his push and at least procure reps in the rotation.
What do you see as being the main differences with the offense this year as opposed to last year? (@GeauxTigerTO)
For one, Cam Cameron’s version of the LSU offense left plenty to be desired. When Steve Ensminger took over play-calling duties in October, there was production, but it was inconsistent. We have yet to see Canada’s full attack, though we have seen glimpses during spring practices and scrimmages and have the tape of what he accomplished at Pitt last season to help us understand.
The game I tend to rewatch from the 2016 season was Pitt’s victory over eventual national champion Clemson. That was the highest point total allowed by Clemson all season. The 43 points posted by Pitt were the fourth-most of the season in Canada’s one season there.
Here were some random takeaways from Pitt’s win over Clemson:
- There’s a lot of motion. A lot of it. That includes running backs, receivers and even offensive linemen shifting to different sides of the formation. The movement is supposed to deceive the defense, but Canada wants to get the ball to any player in motion or get that man free on a short route.
- The running game is a constant theme. The bulk of the carries are between the tackles, hence the emphasis on the downhill running game.
- The quarterback is not the most important factor. Canada’s quarterback last season, Nathan Peterman, is not Deshaun Watson or a 5-star passer. Peterman is capable but lacks a great arm, good accuracy or above-average athleticism. Nonetheless, Pitt’s offense was effective under his direction.
- The offense will be fluid. It’s hard to draw an apples-to-apples comparison of Canada’s scheme at Wisconsin, at N.C. State, at Pitt and now at LSU. However, he takes advantage of his personnel — all of his personnel.
Sticking with that last point, the personnel dictates what the offense will look like. Etling is not Peterman. Derrius Guice is not James Conner. There was no Chark on Pitt’s roster last year.
Somehow, Canada must concoct a scheme taking advantage of a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield, a bevy of talented wide receivers and tight ends and a game manager under center. We’ll finally see what happens on Sept. 2 in Houston when LSU faces BYU, but here are some of the principles of Canada’s system from his previous stop:
- The short routes. As I mentioned earlier, the quarterback in a Canada offense doesn’t have to be a No. 1 overall pick. A lot of Pitt’s most effective plays were short — flips, shovel passes, short rollouts with the fullback or halfback being the primary receiver. Additionally, Canada calls a lot of quick screens — to receivers, backs and the tight end, a lot. The tight end will have a larger role in LSU’s offense. But for the most part, this bodes well for the featured back like Guice, LSU’s most electric playmaker. Guice will be the centerpiece of both the running game and with short passes.
- Anyone can get the ball. Canada does not shy away from spreading out touches even when his team is down. He’ll get the ball to the tailback, to the motion man or even the tight end if he stands beside the quarterback.
- Shotgun. The quarterback lines up in the shotgun on most snaps. This sets up the short passes and doesn’t allow the defense to key in on the traditional tailback as the primary ball carrier.
- The passing game. It features mostly long and intermediate routes. There are not a lot of short slants; short-passing plays were the shovel passes and screens. Most of the drop-back plays involved the receivers running 15-20 yards downfield. Tight ends were often involved, too. Quarterbacks must read defenses and buy time in the pocket as plays develop.
- Goal-line trickery: One observation when Pitt approached the goal line was the use of the option. Any of LSU’s quarterbacks will be capable of scrambling around the edge and either deciding to hold onto the ball or dish it to the tailback. Canada saved option looks for red-zone plays to keep defenses on their toes, but it was ultra effective.
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