LSU mailbag: Spring takeaways, next to commit and flipping James Cook
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 the likelihood of LSU flipping 5-star Florida State running back commit James Cook, whether the Tigers can land a commitment during their annual spring game this weekend and the impact of new assistant coaches on Ed Orgeron’s staff.
To submit a question for Spiegelman, send a message to @SamSpiegs on Twitter or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are your 3 biggest takeaways from spring practice? (@RyanMicklin61)
With the spring winding down, there’s no better time than now to take this question, Ryan.
The LSU football team conducted 13 practices thus far, with Thursday being the final session and Saturday the spring game. Will Clapp and Donte Jackson have been in and out of the lineup because of injury and track responsibilities, respectively. Derrius Guice, D.J. Chark, Christian LaCouture and Sci Martin each missed a short time with minor injuries, while Donavaughn Campbell has been in an injured player (gold jersey) throughout. Toby Weathersby has not practiced this spring as he recovers from right knee surgery in January. Neither has Arden Key, though his return is imminent. Isaiah Washington was ruled ineligible for spring practice in March, but he’ll likely be able to rejoin the team by fall camp.
With that out of the way, here are my takeaways.
Unexpected standout in the QB room
We know who LSU will count on this fall. Chark, Guice and Danny Etling will lead on offense, and LaCouture, Devin White and Jackson will do the same on defense. However, this spring we’ve seen longtime backups and newcomers make strong impressions.
At quarterback, sources suggest that while Etling has all but locked up the starting job, Justin McMillan has been the most impressive player. McMillan has been a backup to Etling and Brandon Harris during his LSU career, but apparently he has taken to Matt Canada‘s offense. McMillan is the favorite to back up Etling in 2017 and seemingly would be in line to take over if Etling gets injured or doesn’t play as expected.
Perhaps we should consider McMillan a favorite in the quarterback competition next spring against Lindsey Scott, Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan.
Bigger role in store for senior RB
Guice will be LSU’s workhorse, but the depth behind him is questionable. Darrel Williams was a backup to Leonard Fournette and now Guice during the last 3 years, but the slimmed-down senior generated all the buzz during the spring. Williams is a downhill runner, but his biggest contributions during scrimmages have been in the passing game.
The addition of Canada and Tommie Robinson to LSU’s staff benefited Williams, who should be in for a much bigger role as the clear-cut No. 2 option behind Guice.
Young defenders enjoying big springs
Heading into his sophomore season, White created quite the stir and could be among the best linebackers to don an LSU jersey. This spring, a more mature White caught the coaching staff’s attention for his leadership. White has the arduous task of replacing longtime stalwart Kendell Beckwith as the defense’s quarterback. He lived up to the hype — and more — during spring practice and could be LSU’s most athletic player at that position in some time.
White will be a part of a young Tigers defense. In addition to stalwarts LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, White and Jackson, coordinator Dave Aranda will count on young players and newcomers this fall. Cornerback Kevin Toliver earned rave reviews through the offseason and spring practice. He’s in peak shape, but more important, Toliver is playing with more energy. Toliver overcame personal struggles and is now in line for a junior year more comparable to his freshman season in 2015.
Saivion Smith has been the talk of the spring. He’s been a workout warrior and saw snaps in place of Jackson on multiple occasions. He’ll be secondary coach Corey Raymond‘s first cornerback off the bench to spell Jackson and Toliver. Smith attended IMG Academy (Fla.), the same school from which Grant Delpit graduated last winter. Delpit, an early enrollee in the 2017 recruiting class, is Raymond’s top freshman defensive back, even taking snaps when John Battle missed practice earlier in April. Delpit is securing a spot on the 2-deep and could be in line for reps this fall or eventually take over as a starter at safety.
Any spring game commits? (@mryfos)
This is always difficult to gauge.
Last year, LSU secured a surprise commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Edward Ingram on the eve of the spring game, right before the DeSoto (Texas) High School All-American was about to hit the road and drive to Alabama for A-Day.
Instead, Ingram and his family decided to extend their stay in Baton Rouge, give a verbal pledge to then-coach Les Miles and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, and cement the future of the Tigers offensive line.
Ingram’s commitment to LSU was unexpected. Unlike Boys From The Boot and National Junior Day, the spring game allows less 1-on-1 time with the coaching staff to try to push for a pledge.
First off, if any offers are dished out Friday or Saturday, they will be done in order to squeeze out a commitment on the spot. LSU will host a handful of uncommitted recruits this weekend. These are candidates for offers down the stretch when LSU recruiters miss on priority targets. I’m thinking it’s unlikely they will get offers during the spring game, which is still early in the cycle.
Then, there are recruits who want to commit before their senior seasons who have been close to doing so for some time. Two attendees fit that category: 3-star John Ehret (La.) wide receiver Jammal Houston and 3-star John Curtis (La.) tight end Glenn Beal. Houston has been plotting an April or May commitment and narrowing the field to LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State. He could pop for LSU in due time and possibly this weekend. Beal nearly committed to LSU on National Signing Day 2017, but he opted to hold off as he continued to pull in offers. At Curtis, a commitment is final, and Beal — the state’s No. 1 tight end — wants to make sure he’s 100 percent before giving his pledge. Another visit could lead him to doing so.
Equally as important, the spring game represents a major opportunity for LSU to inch closer to securing a commitment from blue-chip prospects including Justin Rogers and Terrace Marshall Jr. Rogers named TCU his leader, but a strong offensive showing from the Tigers on Saturday night could be a deciding factor for LSU. The same goes for prep teammate and 5-star wideout Marshall, who named LSU a top school but needs to see firepower on offense in order for the Tigers to stay in front.
Chances of James Cook to LSU? (@LSUallday1986)
Another really difficult question, but I’m sure many fans curious about LSU’s running back board want it answered.
Earlier this week, SEC Country sat down with Cook, the 5-star running back and top-25 overall recruit who is a longtime Florida State verbal. Among the biggest takeaways from that conversation was that although he is committed, Cook released a top 8 comprised of schools he could envision playing for. LSU made the cut, and Cook referred to it as “RBU” because of its notable running backs and perennial high-octane rushing attack.
What’s also important to note is that Cook is going through the recruiting process and taking all of his unofficial and official visits. He plans to make a final decision in January at the U.S. Army All-American Game. In other words, there are 8-plus months to figure out which school fits him best.
Here are other important tidbits from the conversation.
- Cook would not put a number on the level of commitment to Florida State. He referred to being “committed but open.”
- Cook has not visited LSU but plans on making the trek from Miami later this spring or summer, or possibly in the fall.
- Before SEC Country spoke with Cook, Orgeron did. Orgeron and Cook speak frequently. Cook is also in contact with Robinson, the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
- Other schools to make Cook’s top 8 are Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Oregon, Florida and Southern Cal. The reason USC made the cut is because of Cook’s relationship with Robinson, who spent 2016 on the Trojans staff. That bond continued in Robinson’s new role at LSU.
The verdict: Cook is high on LSU despite being committed to Florida State. Take that verbal with a grain of salt, though. Sure, Cook’s brother, Dalvin Cook, was a star for the Seminoles, but that does not ensure that he’ll follow in Dalvin’s footsteps. Because Cook referred to his recruitment as “open,” that doesn’t mean it will be easy for LSU or Alabama or Florida to flip the 5-star running back. It does mean the door remains open if a program pushes hard enough.
The Tigers also are pushing hard for Alabama 4-star back Harold Joiner and Florida 3-star back Chris Curry, and they could make a move for Mississippi 4-star Fabian Franklin or an in-state tailback. Expect that during the evaluation period later this month or during the elite prospect camp in June. The biggest obstacle for LSU’s staff is luring Cook to campus for a visit. If and when it takes place, I’d give the Tigers an even higher chance. For now, it’s just interest. As far as a percentage goes: 12.5 percent.
What are some of the biggest adjustments that LSU players had to make with the new WR and RB coach? What kind of impact have they had with the players? (@phil5060)
Phil, I can’t help but harken back to the first Saturday of spring practice in March and seeing Mickey Joseph put his thumb on the volume button and crank it all the way. LSU’s new wide receivers coach is taking a different approach than his predecessor in instilling discipline to his pupils.
The strategy makes sense, too, considering that all of the receivers on LSU’s 2017 roster not named Chark had a combined 10 receptions last season. Behind Chark, the most experienced wideouts are Russell Gage and Dee Anderson, who each appeared in 11 games in 2016. Drake Davis is third, appearing in half of the games (6) and finishing with 1 catch.
Joseph’s biggest adjustment comes from his new approach with the young receiving group. LSU’s receivers ran poor routes a year ago and struggled at times with blocking downfield. If Joseph intends on creating change and making a splash in his first season in Baton Rouge, he has taken on a new demeanor. It’ll be easy to gauge his success by the development of Davis, Anderson and Stephen Sullivan as they enter their second seasons.
Robinson is taking on a similar strategy with the running backs. Like the receivers, LSU returns a high-profile tailback in Guice. But that has not deterred Robinson — more affectionately known as T-Rob — from being strict with his backs and pushing them to their max and, at times, a little above.
Guice had a team-high 183 carries in 2016. Williams got 52 carries. Nick Brossette got 15 and Lanard Fournette got 5. So, yes, Robinson is working with a green backfield. There’s that, plus the fact that he is trying to find ways to use multiple backs during games and mold a starter for the 2018 season. You would expect that to be Brossette, whom Robinson recruited a few years back while an assistant at Texas, but that has yet to transpire.
Both of LSU’s new assistants are taking a hard-nosed approach as they try to develop talent. That’s the biggest adjustment compared to the previous regime. Thus far, young players and even veterans have responded. Williams and Davis are enjoying big-time springs and are seemingly in line for career years.
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