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 when JaCoby Stevens’ playing time will come, whether Dennis Johnson can flip Mississippi State commit Charles Moore and all the rumblings after LSU’s junior day last Saturday.
Saw multiple crystal ball predictions regarding a flip of Charles Moore. Is it something that could be happening soon or something the coaching staff is working towards.
— Feb 26 🌟 (@YungPoseidon) March 6, 2018
First off, there is some background here. Jaren Handy, Zach Edwards and Charles Moore were three Mississippi-based prospects to visit LSU’s junior day this past weekend. Handy and Edwards went public with their commitments, while Moore — a Mississippi State verbal — has remained mum.
In talking to some LSU sources and with Handy and Edwards, there’s a thought that the unofficial visit last Saturday made a strong impression on the 4-star defensive end. Both Handy and Edwards have discussed the possibility of playing together at the next level and why Baton Rouge is a logical landing spot for that to happen.
Moore fired off a Bulldog-friendly tweet on Monday to quell some of the rumblings, but right now, the Tigers are the team with all of the momentum. Dennis Johnson is playing a critical role in this #Sip2Boot19 campaign which has already resulted in two commitments. There are even more whispers that more are in the cards.
Of course, predicting flips is as difficult as it gets. I put my Crystal Ball pick in after speaking with Handy on Monday about the situation. The newly minted LSU commit said his conversations with Moore are confidential, but that something is brewing. Based on all of the other evidence at hand, that was enough for me to go ahead and put in a Crystal Ball pick in favor of an LSU flip in the near future.
As of right now what would you consider LSU's biggest strength heading into the spring practices ? And what is one area other than QB and passing that they must improve on ?
— Corey Williams (@JuiceWilliams1) March 6, 2018
Great question, Corey.
The first position group that comes to mind is the defensive line. Juniors Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander are returning and it would be easy to argue that those two were among the top-five players on defense a season ago. Breiden Fehoko, a Texas Tech transfer, is projected as the other starting defensive end opposite Lawrence, giving the Tigers another seasoned option in the trenches. In two seasons in Lubbock, Fehoko amassed 38 tackles, including 4.5 for loss with 2 sacks.
The starting three isn’t even the best part. The Tigers are getting reinforcements back from their 2017 signing class and eight more new pieces from the most recent haul to bolster their depth up front.
Behind Lawrence and Fehoko are experienced defensive ends Neil Farrell and Glen Logan, who both saw plenty of action in the defensive line rotation in the early part of the 2017 season. Tyler Shelvin, the top-ranked prospect in Louisiana’s 2017 class, was forced to take an academic redshirt last fall. He’s set to split reps at nose with Alexander, giving LSU a 6-foot-3, 340-pound force in the middle of the line.
Sandwich a formidable two-deep up front with plenty of capable incoming freshmen. Davin Cotton and Dare Rosenthal were the top two defensive lineman in Louisiana for 2018. Dominic Livingston and Chasen Hines nearly push the scales to 700 pounds of Texas strength. In other words, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has multiple options with a diverse set of skills at his disposal heading into the spring.
Derwin James the big safety from out of FSU played some corner. Can we possibly see that this season from Jacoby Stevens?
— Harold Woods⚜️ (@Hdillydilly) March 6, 2018
That’s a great idea, Harold, but for now that isn’t the plan.
JaCoby Stevens will compete with John Battle for playing time at safety. Cornerback is not in the cards for the former 5-star prospect, but we can’t rule out snaps in the nickel just yet either. A lot of these questions will be answered very soon when spring football practice kicks off on Sunday.
I’m told that Stevens is currently about 6-foot-2 and closer to 220 pounds. He certainly fits the bill as a bigger safety and, at one point, sources in the personnel office believed he could eventually grow into an outside linebacker. Michael Divinity Jr. is currently penciled in as LSU’s starting Field-linebacker, but it would be interesting to see if the more athletic Stevens could eventually see reps at that position.
Another position change may cause some frustration, though.
Regardless of where he lines up, I expect Stevens to see more playing time on defense this year. LSU doesn’t have much depth in the secondary, which means there are great opportunities for Stevens to see action at safety or in the nickel. With new safeties coach Bill Busch, there has been some mention of the STAR position, which is somewhat similar to what you mentioned about Derwin James. James, who measures up to 6-foot-3 and about 215 pounds, is in a similar mold as Stevens. The STAR is a hybrid safety/linebacker position that Aranda could create a sub-package for.
I asked previously about LSU changing their strategy regarding the Dec NSD. I've heard reports since that they plan to be more selective. How will they manage such a delicate issue? Will they cap the number they accept in Dec?
— Michael Williams (@Williamsm1980) March 6, 2018
Michael, certainly your point about being more selective is a theme in the 2019 recruiting class. The way the 2018 class played out drew plenty of criticism — and rightfully so.
Nonetheless, with 27 spots to fill in 2019 and eight early commits on board, coach Ed Orgeron can be somewhat flexible in taking more early commitments — at least to a certain extent. Elite targets such as Ishmael Sopsher, Derek Stingley Jr. and Noah Cain, among others, will always have spots reserved in the class. That list is about 13 or 14 spots deep, which gives this staff some wiggle room to accept commitments between now and prospect camps in June.
Elite prospects tend to want to wait until right before their senior seasons or at one of the signing periods to make their decisions known. I’d expect Stingley or Grant Gunnell to commit in July or August, then a mid-year enrollee like Cain and Donte’ Starks will wait until late December. Others such as Sopsher, Devonta Lee, Trey Palmer and John Emery Jr. are more inclined to play this out until National Signing Day in February.
In other words, LSU needs to be careful about leaving spots open for those priority targets, which largely depends on when they plan on making their decisions.
Given the wide range of elite targets in Louisiana, I do not expect that LSU will again sign 20 prospects in December. It’s more likely we see Orgeron accept somewhere between 14-18 signatures during the early signing period, leaving plenty of wiggle room for the commitments coming that February. That, of course, is always contingent on when the elite guys on the board want in or inform the staff they are heading elsewhere.
Hey Sam, your overall impression of junior day at Lsu this weekend? Did all the recruits come away impressed with the coaches and the facilities?
— philip rose (@phil5060) March 6, 2018
Phil, welcome back to the LSU mailbag.
It’s pretty customary that most of the recruits in attendance are impressed by their face time with the coaches, the tours through campus, their first taste of the academic side of things and, of course, taking photos in the LSU uniforms. That includes prospects who have been recruited by this staff for months as well as those that came and left without an offer on the table, as they were informed of what the process of landing an offer will be like.
As evident by a few of our stories from early this week, 4-star cornerback Marcus Banks has named LSU as his top school in the aftermath of his junior day visit. That’s another elite out-of-state cornerback leaning toward the Tigers, joining Dallas 4-star athlete Marquez Beason. Sandwich that with Derek Stingley Jr., who has LSU out in front, and Devin Bush, the New Orleans corner that the Tigers’ staff is really high on. LSU remains in a strong position for a very talented four-man haul at cornerback in 2019.
Handy and Edwards became the biggest story of the weekend after deciding to give verbal commitments to LSU coach Ed Orgeron. They spoke highly of the campus, facilities and the coaching staff’s push, and also hinted that another boom may take place in the Magnolia State down the road. All of a sudden, the Tigers are up to eight verbals in the 2019 group with a top-100 defensive end in Handy in line to join the team if Lawrence and Fehoko head to the NFL after the 2018 season, not to mention another underrated inside linebacker in Edwards.
Which recruits didn’t make it to junior day and why??
— Peggy (@Pegredd) March 6, 2018
Here was our original list of visiting prospects, but as you alluded, not everybody who was expected to attend actually made it there.
The majority did, but here were the confirmed visitors from Saturday’s junior day:
- Kardell Thomas, 5-star OL, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU commit)
- Jaren Handy, 4-star DE, New Augusta, Miss. (LSU commit)
- Joseph Evans, 3-star DL, Haynesville, La. (LSU commit)
- Zach Edwards, 3-star LB, Starkville, Ala. (LSU commit)
- Marcus Banks, 4-star CB, Houston
- Charles Moore, 4-star DE, Louisville, Miss. (Mississippi State commit)
- D.J. James, 3-star DB, Spanish Fort, Ala. (Mississippi State commit)
- Paul Tyson, 4-star QB, Trussville, Ala.
- EJ Ndoma-Ogar, 4-star OL, Allen, Texas
- Byron Young, 4-star DE, Laurel, Miss.
- Christian Williams, 4-star CB, Daphne, Ala.
- Desmond Little, 3-star DE, Mobile, Ala.
- Kendall McCallum, 3-star LB, Oxford, Ala.
- Riley Simonds, 3-star OL, Buford, Ga.
- Jarrian Jones, 3-star DB, Flowood, Miss.
- Mike Hollins, 3-star RB, Baton Rouge, La.
- Charvis Thornton, 3-star ATH, Baton Rouge, La.
- Nelson Ceaser, 4-star DE/OLB, Missouri City Texas
- Terrell Brown, 3-star RB, Harvey, La.
- Anthony Shaffer, 3-star DB, Baton Rouge, La.
- Brandon Mack, 3-star DE, Montgomery, Ala.
- Dalvin Hutchinson, 3-star DT, Monroe, La.
- Jha’Quan Jackson, ATH, Boutte, La.
- Deshon Hall, 3-star DL, Gonzales, La.
- Tyler Guidry, 3-star ATH, Baton Rouge, La.
- Tyshawn Howard, 3-star ATH, Baton Rouge, La.
- Jacques Wallace, OL, Baton Rouge, La.
- Christian Archangel, DB, Lafayette, La.
- Kamrin Sartin, DB, Baton Rouge, La.
- Brevyn Jones, OT, Birmingham, Ala.
- Jon Micah Coleman, DL, Laurel, Miss.
- Jayland Whitsett, RB, Prichard, Ala.
- McKinnley Jackson, 4-star DT, George County, Miss.
- Chris Morris, 3-star OT, Memphis, Tenn.
- Jacobian Guillory, DT, Alexandria, La.
- Kris Abrams-Draine, WR, Spanish Fort, Ala.
- Philip Short, QB, Brandon, Miss.
- Kelin Burle, OLB, Harvey, La.
- Dustin Tyson, TE/DE, Hammond, La.
- Kayshon Boutte, WR, New Iberia, La.
- TJ Finley, QB, Ponchatoula, La.
- Kenean Caldwell, DT, Oak Grove, La.
- Rae’Kwon Starks, DB, Harvey, La.
- Trenton Grow, ATH, Edgard, La.
- Jonathan Porter, DE/OLB, Edgard, La.
- Jaquelin Roy, DT, Baton Rouge, La.
Among the notable prospects who did not attend include 4-star safety Jamal Morris, 4-star cornerback Erick Young, 4-star outside linebacker Marcel Brooks, 4-star pass rusher NaNa Osafa-Mensah, 4-star wide receiver Dylan Wright and 3-star defensive tackle Lloyd Murray Jr.
Morris, Young, Brooks, Osafa-Mensah and Wright were all in Atlanta for the Pylon 7-on-7 tournament, but are expected back in town at some point in the next few weeks as LSU spring practice begins. The same goes for in-state prospects, who were also in Atlanta.
Of course, the name catching the most buzz is John Emery Jr., the top running back in Louisiana’s 2019 class. Emery, who went to Michigan when LSU hosted its elite junior day in January, made his way to Auburn last weekend instead of visiting for this junior day function. In between, he made his way to Oklahoma for an unofficial visit.
This is not a situation worth hitting the panic button over. The 4-star back from Destrehan has been to LSU a handful of times dating back to this time last year and in the summer and fall. These are all his first experiences making visits to out-of-state schools. And sources on the LSU side said that they expect Emery back on campus again when spring football gets going.