by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Although LSU just rebuilt multiple key positions via the mythological plane of existence known as the transfer portal, Head Coach Brian Kelly told Sirius XM / ESPN / Former Tiger Legend Jacob Hester he won't be building future rosters purely around portal talents.
This may sound pretty obvious to you, the informed LSU Tiger fan, but for many around the national college football front, Kelly's reputation as a "transfer portal wiz" became a lazy label after his current haul of around 20 players.
For those who don't follow LSU Football constantly, Brian Kelly's January-February assault on the transfer portal appeared as if Kelly loaded up on portal talent by choice, when in reality....these transfers were a necessity.
That December, LSU's roster became a mound of charred remains when the NFL Draft came calling or one transfer after another departed, an exodus which included 4 receivers, 2 starting quarterbacks and 2 starting cornerbacks, simultaneously affecting various spots. When Kelly took over, under 40 scholarship players were all that was left in the tumultuous wake of Ed Orgeron's 3 year reign.
Defensive back, quarterback, O-Line, DT, linebacker, special teams....all were spots decimated by the NFL Draft and transfers leaving the team.
Specifically at defensive back, there was no way Kelly would build a competitive roster via 2022 freshmen alone:
All at once in the wake of Orgeron & Corey Raymond's dismissal, Derek Stingley Jr & Cordale Flott were selected in the NFL Draft's first 3 rounds while former 5 star talents Eli Ricks & Dwight McGlothern Jr both left for SEC West rivals....how could LSU recover that kind of seismic loss in one off-season?
Kelly knew Robert Steeples and Kerry Cooks had to recruit the portal even harder than the 2022 class itself:
DBU didn't just require talent....Brian Kelly wanted Louisiana guys.
The problem was so severe, the Tigers still kept stacking talent even after amassing highly lauded CBs Jarrick Bernard-Converse (All-Big 12 last season), Mekhi Garner (who Kelly called "an NFL cornerback"), former Arkansas nickel Greg Brooks Jr and former Buckeye Sevyn Banks.
They didn't stop there, adding walk on transfers such as New Orleans-native Colby Richardson & UGA National Champion / Amite-native Daran Branch to the mix, creating tiers of competition within DBU's room.
Smartly, Kerry Cooks also boosted our safety options: locking down Arkansas' 4 year contributor Joe Foucha, a merciless side to side talent with top potential & over 60 tackles across his past 3 seasons within the SEC);
This collection of DBs weren't merely a grab bag of transfer portal players either.....Kelly, Steeples and Cooks followed their design when reformulating DBU: recreating their own recruiting class within Louisiana, LSU's coaches rolled back the calendar and asked these Boys from the Boot if they wanted a second chance at being a Tiger.....
Of LSU's 7 DB transfers, 6 were born in the state of Louisiana.....meaning 2022 has become known as the off-season transfer cycle providing both Louisiana student-athletes and their dream homestate school "do-over" opportunities.
Alongside defensive back, I'll argue offensive line was the next major area of concern:
Despite a few big fish that got away, Kelly & Brad Davis' work reshaping their 2022 OL with a proper balance will turn out to pay dividends this fall & beyond.
Brad Davis understood exactly who LSU needed to bring in: The Tigers already possessed plenty of youth, even some specifically solid first or second year guys. What they needed was experience, and grabbing Miles Frazier, the #1 OL transfer target in America (Ohio State were media favorites) stood as the first overall domino to fall, unleashing Kelly's portal bloodbath.
Help on the interior arrived via East Tennesseee State's versatile guard Tre'mond Shorts, an in-demand transfer which only boosted competition at a key area.
Although Kelly & Davis would miss out on other veteran targets such as Tyler Steen or failed to add another center, our new staff did as well as humanly possible given the short span of time in which to work.
Linebacker was a huge area on the field in need of a facelift, with some of the roster heavy lifting being done before Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers Coach Matt House even joined the staff.
First convincing 2021's 2nd leading tackler Micah Baskerville to stay for a final 6th season at LSU (utilizing his extra Covid season), Kelly and Co added yet another Louisiana native from an SEC school, former South Carolina LB Kolbe Fields, alongside West Weeks, a possible thoroughbred who enjoyed a strong freshman year at Virginia under Bronco Mendenhall, totaling more broken up passes than almost all of LSU's 2021 secondary. Weeks was also Max & Jake Johnson's former high school teammate at Oconee High in Georgia.
At the skill positions, LSU only felt the need to pull in another pair of dynamic Louisiana-born playmakers at receiver & running back:
These two weren't selected to make up squad numbers or curry fan favor on some shitty forum....these two are playmakers in their own right. Outside of Kayshon Boutte, both Lacy & Cain actually hold more career touchdowns themselves than any other Tiger in their position, while Cain also leads Frank Wilson's RBs room in career rushing yards and carries.
Of course, proud LSU people will gloss over special teams, but that is only due to the fact we've been spoiled by the unbelievable consistency of Cade York & Avery Atkins these past 3 seasons.
Losing both York & Atkins to the NFL, LSU were decimated overnight, with more worries abounding due to 2021 freshman punter Peyton Todd's bizarre lack of reps at any point last season.
Fearless Athletic Director Scott Woodward hired the right men to handle that job, bringing in Brian Kelly, a coach who's mostly overseen fundamentally sound special teams units throughout his career and Brian Polian, the ringleader kingmaker with that shiny, certified NFL last name who makes it all happen.
Polian understood the portal would be his only way to really gain any depth or proven players, so in they went for long snapper Slade Roy and poached their former Notre Dame punter Jay Bramblett (a former #1 overall punter in his high school class), adding to a group which includes two #1 overall ranked bootsmen, freshman kicker Nathan Dibert & red shirt freshman punter Peyton Todd, as well as plenty of mystery when I wonder who will kick for LSU in 2022 (Ezekiel Mata deserves a mention among special teams contributors).
Then at defensive tackle, a position which lost 4 players during the off-season, Robert Steeples earned the signing of Missouri DL Mekhi Wingo, an All-SEC Freshman in 2021 & the 16th overall ranked transfer in the portal.
But the biggest splashes arrived at quarterback, a precarious spot after the departures of both Max Johnson and Myles Brennan.
While red shirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier & true freshman Walker Howard are remarkable young talents, Kelly's LSU required depth, experience and endless possibility at the King position.
Once Kelly convinced Myles to rejoin LSU, before dipping into the portal to sign Arizona State's dual threat showman Jayden Daniels, everyone in college football finally understood the score, here: Kelly wasn't playing around....
In conclusion, when you really go through every last bit of LSU transfer business since January, I see moves which completed some spots, transformed others, or at least left the Tigers with stronger options at positions of dire need.
We also must highlight their effect away from the field:
Brian Kelly didn't just want pure talent through the portal.....he went after high character players to revitalize LSU's eroding culture under Orgeron.
We cannot minimize their off-field effect on increased discipline, especially when 8 of LSU's 13 current S.W.A.T Team leaders are transfers....a fact which speaks volumes about their important locker room impact (which can perhaps be even more beneficial for this squad still littered with pre-existing SEC-level talent).
I'm not saying every last 2022 transfer will be a superstar for LSU, but their presence and arrival was & is beyond inherent for 2022's success:
Competition breeds Greatness.....
Louisiana breeds both.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
All Photos by Gus Stark & Luke Dubee of LSU (except where noted)