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 LSU’s pursuit of Florida commit Ja’Marr Chase, project a breakout second-year wide receiver and delve into what John Battle’s reclassification means for the Tigers’ safety rotation.
How does John Battle’s reclassification affect the safety rotation moving forward in 2018? (@RyanMicklin61)
Ryan, I don’t think it impacts the safety rotation.
For those who need context, John Battle was supposed to be heading into his senior season in 2017. However, last week LSU announced the safety received a medical redshirt for the 2014 season in which he played in one game as a freshman. Now, Battle will be classified as a junior.
Battle is a projected starter at safety beside senior Ed Paris, who converted from corner to safety a season ago.
True freshmen Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens are both pushing for playing time behind the upperclassmen, with Delpit having the upper hand as we brace for fall camp to get under way beginning on Monday, July 31. Redshirt freshmen Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis are also candidates for playing time and will be competing alongside Delpit and Stevens for spots on the 2-deep and playing time in the safety rotation.
It doesn’t matter that Battle is a junior or a senior; he’s the projected starter at one of the safety spots heading into the season. In fact, he’d be my pick to last the season there, barring an injury.
In my opinion, it’s Paris’ job that is up for grabs. He isn’t a natural safety, and while he’s an upperclassman there is a wealth of young talent that should push him for playing time. My pick would be Delpit, who had a tremendous spring and caught the attention of defensive backs coach Corey Raymond and the other members of the staff. It would not surprise me to see Delpit have playing time as early as the season opener against BYU and potentially take over for Paris as one of the starting safeties by the time the SEC schedule rolls around.
How do you think Coach O’s staff has done this year in recruiting? With no camps for LSU in July, is that good? (@phil5060)
Ed Orgeron and his staff have taken a different type of approach with recruiting than Les Miles and his staff did for the decade-plus before him.
There are several differences that we’ve noticed from February until now, including a number of commitments that Orgeron’s staff took so early in the recruiting cycle. This staff prefers to offer prospects much earlier on and, you might have heard, there is an emphasis on “Louisiana first.”
Those are the three biggest conclusions I can take away from what we’ve seen from Orgeron and his hand-selected staff over the six-plus months. LSU’s 2018 recruiting class was up to 22 commitments at one point this summer. He has had no qualms with taking underrated recruits and 3-stars, even package deals from high schools. As it stands today, the Tigers are up to 20 commitments and could lose one or two more ahead of the fall. The team is in strong position to close out with blue-chip talent, which usually tends to make their decisions into their senior seasons or leading up to National Signing Day.
The early offers have paid dividends, too. Recruits such as Nelson Jenkins and Jaray Jenkins yielded commitments on the spot. It’s also had an impact on higher-ranked targets such as Cameron Wire and Lawrence Keys III, who then visited Baton Rouge with an offer in hand, which altered their interaction with the coaching staff. Essentially, Orgeron’s objective to offer early allows for a majority of prospects to have a more fond view of the program than waiting until high school camps to offer. In years past, Miles had required some of the state’s top talent to camp at LSU first, then receive an offer. Often, that rubbed prospects the wrong way.
Additionally, the “Louisiana first” mantra has always been just that, but Orgeron has kept to his word. It’s impossible to expect LSU to reel in 25 prospects from only the state of Louisiana, but the majority of the Tigers’ 2018 class and priority targets in this and the next couple of cycles are from the Bayou State. If given the choice between prospects, Orgeron and his staff have leaned toward the in-state talent. That’s not a bad thing, as it’s helping LSU to successfully build this metaphorical wall around Louisiana and the 500-mile radius. Why is that so important? As the interim coach, Orgeron lost out of priority targets such as DeVonta Smith, Christopher Allen, Isaiah Buggs and Phidarian Mathis to Alabama. Now, because it’s the Tide it stung a bit more, but if it were Georgia, Ohio State or Texas, losing that much in-state talent is hard to absorb.
As for Part 2 of your question, Phil, LSU did not have any camps in July. Under Orgeron, LSU held multiple camps in the month of June, including a two-day session in the beginning of the month, which yielded a bunch of offers to young prospects in and out of the state. During the annual 7-on-7 tournament and lineman camp, the Tigers snatched a bunch of major commitments for the 2018 and 2019 classes. The month concluded with the elite high school prospect camp, which resulted in several more booms at several positions of importance.
In years past, Miles had two elite camps — one in June and a second in July. However, the summertime is difficult. With camps such as the Rivals 5-star Challenge and Nike’s The Opening, there are only so many weekends available for recruits to make visits. LSU put an emphasis on its three different recruiting functions in June and hosted one elite camp, which attracted a lot of talent that you probably wouldn’t get if it were divided into two events. It’s nothing to fret over, as Orgeron and his staff are hosting several marquee visitors throughout the month of July and August regardless.
I’m not hearing much about the sophomore wide receivers even though there’s definitely a lack of depth at those positions. What is your take on their progression and where they are heading into camp? (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I can understand your concern. Wide receiver is a position that is important in a Matt Canada-run offense, and while the talent at that spot has never been a question at LSU, depth has presented an issue heading into fall camp.
D.J. Chark is closest to a sure thing. Russell Gage seems primed for a breakout season in the slot in this offense. The question is which one of the sophomore wide receivers will emerge as a threat opposite those two?
The name I continue to hear positive things about is Drake Davis. The Baton Rouge native might be the most athletic player on the LSU football roster. Of course, those talents were easily masked in the previous offenses, but he should have an opportunity to be put on display under Canada.
There have been less encouraging whispers about other second-year wide receivers. Of course, those are merely rumblings and we’ll have a better picture of where they stand when the team kicks off fall camp. Wide receiver will be one of the most interesting positions to keep an eye on so that we can get a more accurate gauge of who will start, who will be in store for playing time and how the rotation will shape out.
From a recruiting standpoint, wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph and Canada have made it clear to the 2018 class there is a chance for immediate playing time to the wide receiver commits and targets. It’s LSU’s biggest selling point at this time. If that’s the case, then there is doubt about current receivers on the roster. That could open the door for true freshmen Mannie Netherly and Racey McMath to play key roles as early as this fall.
Netherly is transitioning from being a high school quarterback to a wide receiver, likely fitting into the slot with the ability to take the top off defenses. At 6-foot-3 and 215-plus pounds, McMath has an SEC-ready frame and an elite set of skills. It would not surprise me to see McMath emerge as a contributor on offense.
Do you think we have a chance at Ja’Marr Chase or has that ship sailed? (@Leonardforlif)
That ship has not sailed.
Let’s look at Chase’s recruitment over the past month. The 4-star wide receiver named LSU, TCU and Tennessee as his three finalists. He eliminated the Vols soon after and was ready to commit to TCU on July 3 on the final day of Nike’s The Opening Finals.
An NFL Network misstep prevented Chase from committing, but there is certainty that it would have been the Horned Frogs.
Upon returning home to Louisiana, Chase and his family decided there was no rush to make a decision. Instead, he planned on making a few more visits and when he was ready, make the call.
One of those visits included a trip to Florida for the first time in a year. Chase visited Gainesville for “Friday Night Lights” and popped to the Gators when he returned to New Orleans. While the top-110 prospect could stick with the Gators through National Signing Day, there is a lot of time between then and now and the LSU coaching staff has no intention of standing by and letting one of the state’s premier prospects head elsewhere in the SEC.
In fact, Chase is scheduled to make a return visit to LSU later in the week. Originally, Chase and his entire family were supposed to be in Baton Rouge for a Wednesday visit. Some scheduling conflicts emerged so the visit date is now set for Friday.
Chase is a priority target at a position of need for the Tigers. LSU has been facing an uphill climb since Miles was the head coach and asked Chase to work out as a defensive back during the elite camp last summer. No offer came — until Orgeron and Joseph were in place in February. LSU has been working furiously and has made progress — enough to be among his top teams over the past few months.
The red flag here is in the past month, Chase has been on the verge of committing to TCU and then Florida out of the blue. Perhaps he’s destined to head out-of-state. Maybe he’s sending a message to the LSU staff that there’s more work to be done in his recruitment. Nonetheless, LSU has not thrown in the towel, and based on the upcoming visit, the elite wide receiver is not completely shutting out the Tigers’ recruiting pitch.
How many Ole Miss recruits are LSU targeting in the wake of Hugh Freeze stepping down? (@ChuckNelson44)
To be honest, not much.
LSU and Ole Miss do not typically battle for the same recruits. There is overlap, at times. Case and point: Last year, 5-star running back Cam Akers had both LSU and the Rebels as his finalists, though he wound up at Florida State.
In the 2018 recruiting cycle, there are a handful of prospects that are considering both LSU, Ole Miss and a handful of other schools. Here’s who:
- Miles Battle, 4-star WR
- Jalen Preston, 4-star WR
- Glenn Beal, 3-star TE
- James Williams, 3-star DE
Of that quartet, Battle and Williams seemed like candidates to wind up in Oxford, Miss. However, in the aftermath of Freeze’s resignation, many Crystal Ball picks have fluttered in connecting Williams to Mississippi State, though he named LSU, Alabama and Louisville as the trio of schools he’s considering more.
Battle seemed likely to wind up as a Rebel. He’s on LSU’s wide receiver board, and should Chase stick with Florida and if a handful of the Tigers’ other in-state targets wind up elsewhere, I could see LSU dialing up the pressure with the Houston product.
As far as Preston and Beal go: LSU is a finalist for both. Preston is connected with Texas A&M, though LSU is a bit of a sleeper for the elite wide receiver. Beal had made a visit to Oxford in the spring, but he’s a priority tight end target for the Tigers and it’s difficult to imagine the 3-star prospect from New Orleans heading elsewhere but LSU.
Lastly, 3-star 2019 cornerback Bobby Wolfe de-committed from Ole Miss in the minutes after Freeze’s resignation. LSU offered the defensive back 72 hours prior after Wolfe had an impressive camp in Baton Rouge the month prior. While Wolfe’s decision to reopen his recruitment stemmed from the departure of Freeze, it’s likely he was bound to flip or eventually de-commit with LSU pulling the trigger on an offer and schools such as Texas showing increased interest in doing the same.
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