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LSU FALL CAMP SURPRISES: THE KNOWN & UNKNOWN / POSITIVES & CONCERNS

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

FOLLOW US ON X/TWITTER @LonnPhillips

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Right now, after 8 practices of Fall Camp for the 2023 LSU Tigers, a number of things stand out, impress us, make us wonder, or leave us a bit concerned about Head Coach Brian Kelly's second year squad.

Every phase of the team is littered with superstars, versatility, toughness, experience at key areas to help the youthful majority along, and all coached by a staff our players have become familiar with over the past year and a half.

We've only seen a few significant injuries, with CB JK Johnson going down due to a leg fracture, while a few other Tigers suffered typical fall camp bruises and ailments (Maason Smith the most worrisome).

In fact, we're seeing a team that's getting healthy at the right time, just ahead of the campaign.

It is abundantly clear 2023 LSU are fielding their most talented and loaded offensive unit we've seen since 2019; Denbrock's offense are so deep and now boast such considerable athleticism & dynamism, I feel Jayden Daniels and co should have no excuses if they fail to average somewhere around 42 points per game (last year, we averaged 34.5 with a handcuffed, neutered offensive set up).

2023 LSU should drop 40 points during at least 7 of their 12 scheduled contests.

Mike Denbrock's offense, run by QB Jayden Daniels, is showcasing real potency & staggering depth at every position throughout fall camp, including its young but unbelievably talented offensive line, deep reservoir of next level receivers, or Frank Wilson's endless buffet of differing, yet satisfying running back profiles, there's hardly an area of deficiency.

Tight end and quarterback are even loaded, with sophomore starter Mason Taylor now pushed by freshmen Mac Markway and Ka'morreun Pimpton, while Garrett Nussmeier adds reliable, trusted depth at quarterback....akin to a second starting quarterback on roster.

Denbrock's offense flexed its muscles for 4 straight practices, bullying the defense as they imprinted their vulgar display of power and endless weapons on to the minds of every LSU defender.

Then, during practices 5 and 6, Matt House's unit responded in a big way, batting passes (Duce Chestnutt) and intercepting Jayden Daniels (Sage Ryan and West Weeks), before John Jancek's defensive line got after it and rammed the O-line into submission at times, winning more 1 v 1's.

This is the LSU way: iron sharpening iron....starters and ballers starting to rise above...with only over two weeks left before kickoff in Orlando.

However, this isn't a team full of players who need multiple games to adapt, such as last fall; this is a selfless squad full of guys who've been on the biggest of stages, played a lot of snaps in 2022, have no problem sharing the spotlight, and remain fully committed to what our coaching staff are preaching.....now a year older and capable of maximizing their younger teammates.


POSITIVES


AARON ANDERSON IS A SUPERSTAR IN THE MAKING


As LSUOdyssey.com readers know, I've been a considerable fan of the former 2022 class 5 star WR for a long time.

It was tough to reconcile his Alabama flip in late 2021, de-committing from LSU following Coach Orgeron's firing; Then, following an injury-halted year where he hardly appeared and never received a single target his way, Aaron Anderson felt something was off in Tuscaloosa (what wouldn't be???) and grew desperate to come back home.

His arrival was precisely what LSU's then-picked apart receiving corps needed, a serial weapon possessing boundless pace, deceptive route-running, molten abilities after the catch, and a searing release off the ball that leaves DBs in search of their lungs....unable to catch air as they chase Anderson.....constantly leaving defenders 3 or 4 yards in the distance.

We've seen offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock deploying Anderson mostly as a slot WR, a perfect role for the former Edna Karr 5 star prospect: Utilizing his speed to take constant advantage of mismatches against nickels, traveling corners following him in motion from out wide, or safeties & linebackers....it really doesn't matter who's covering Aaron.

Throughout fall camp, we've only seen Anderson guarded well by a couple guys, and those occasions came on rare snaps or poorly thrown / uncatchable balls. Simply put, at the slot position, Anderson is damn near impossible to stop.....and while many are talking about Brian Thomas Jr or Kyren Lacy as the big #2 standouts for the season ahead, Anderson is absolutely becoming the perfect foil for Malik Nabers' Biletnikoff-chasing Year III.

If Anderson was one of the SEC's best offensive producers by season's end, I wouldn't be shocked at all.


TREY HOLLY COULD BE A BRILLIANT SURPRISE WITHIN THE RB ROOM


Holly possesses a vibe to him that magnetized LSU's coaching staff to his plight ever since Brian Kelly, Frank Wilson and co. pursued him on the recruiting trail.

Now that he's been at LSU since January, #25 Trey Holly is a mainstay ball carrier within a vast running back room of 9 scholarship Tigers.

Holding the all time LHSAA yards and touchdowns marks, an incredible feat, Holly already had mystique about him. His personality, defined by the fixed smile attached to his face, is the visage of someone ready to excel. The young back's athletic profile reminded me of Clyde Edwards-Helaire throughout both Spring and Fall camps (scoring during the Spring game) as he added a reliable receiving game to his utility belt.

There's something about him that tells me he can't be stopped....an iron will buried deep within his ribs....there is a palpable feeling that he's ready to do anything to get the football over the line....he scored a record-breaking 160 total touchdowns over his high school career...even a small portion of that ridiculous amount will do just fine at this level.

There's a profound reason for that chip on his shoulder, even after all he's accomplished over his young career:

Trey is a young man who's family lost plenty during the recent hurricanes in Louisiana, devastating his community and forcing Holly's family from their badly damaged home. He understands what it's like to face true hardship.....

.....beating out 8 other backs to take the top spot as a freshman???

That's a cakewalk in comparison to losing your home.

But is it possible???

With a fully healthy room, it may be too much for Holly to become a starter, due to his raw physical size, let alone the massive rotational snaps that'll be given anyway, the title of starter may not even matter.

Although they're fighting a variety of issues inside the running back room, featuring a banged up Josh Williams, a recovering but available Armoni Goodwin & Logan Diggs, while fellow freshman Kaleb Jackson and recently activated John Emery Jr get into the swing of things, Holly is seizing an opportunity to make a major impact right out of the gates, moving up the depth chart by the day, impressing Coach Kelly as a person and a player from day 1.


OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH


After just 8 practices watching freshmen trio Lance Heard, DJ Chester, Tyree Adams and transfer arrival veteran Mason Lunsford, I'm loving the renewed, nasty depth to back up a highly experienced, returning group of starters and rotational Tigers.

Chester has invaluably tested his limits as a backup center, Heard is handling big time talents off the edge with the nastiness of a seasoned sophomore (mostly at right tackle), Tyree Adams is deputizing at left tackle, looking consistent in his 1 v 1's.

Yes, most of the group won't play much in 2022 unless injuries occur, but it's becoming abundantly clear each season: Brad Davis is starting to pile up one recruiting class after another of vicious talent....most ready to play heavy snaps immediately upon arrival....and that train doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Don't forget about junior Marlon Martinez, a big time piece for this offensive line, capable of standing in at all three interior spots along the front, specifically backing up Charles Turner at center.

MASON TAYLOR HAS SOME MAJOR COMPETITION NOW AT TIGHT END....


Throughout Spring, the discussions about LSU's tight ends room wasn't one of enthusiasm, but pure worry:

Mason Taylor was out hurt, only just back after a near 1,000 snaps during his freshman year that took its toll; Freshmen Mac Markway and Jackson McGohan showed very little dynamism in the passing game or aggressive intensity as blockers. To add to LSU's spring injury pile, Markway departed camp due to an injury, as well.

Now, after some much-needed June arrivals, including one from the portal, plus the renewed health of #1 Mason Taylor, the tight ends room now has two standout hybrids with bright futures among their ranks.

Taylor may have caught a touchdown in the prior practice, yet he's also facing intensive competition from Ka'morreun Pimpton and Mac Markway, also making his return from spring's injury layoff. Markway made some explosive plays on the practice field, announcing himself in the passing game & even showcasing the best blocking of any freshman tight end.

Pimpton pulled off a filthy one handed catch in just his first ever LSU practice, then continued making play after through the air, proving to be a sinister weapon for Mike Denbrock's mismatch creation.

"Pimpton is an unbelievable physical talent and a raw piece of clay that any coach would love to have on their team," Denbrock said about Pimpton.
Markway was said to be having "the best camp so far, as far as moving himself in position to contribute to the team," the offensive coordinator added.
Commenting on Jackson McGohan, Denbrock said, "(he) is an unbelievable route runner, understanding of the passing game, how to create space for himself, how to break down people in man coverage, and can definitely help us in the passing game."

We've seen these young tight ends fail to fully grasp their blocking assignments or their positioning on every play, yet we've seen packages where Pimpton or Markway motioned out wide to add matchup versatility in our passing game setup.

Much like this past fall, Taylor will likely remain on the field for 90% of the season, however LSU often deploy two tight ends, affording one of these freshmen with a major opportunity, as well as transfer arrival Connor Gilbreath, a solid blocking (or "in line") tight end.

UNKNOWNS / CONCERNS


THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF BRIAN KELLY'S COACHING SWAP WITH

JOHN JANCEK & BOB DIACO


Following DL Coach Jimmy Lindsey's health emergency, staying in the hospital under 24/7 care for over a week now, Head Coach Brian Kelly made some moves to fix the gaping hole on his sideline staff....and the answer, like many for BK, resides in the people he's known and trusted for his entire, or almost his entire coaching career:

Coach Kelly switched jack LBs Coach / Special Teams Coordinator John Jancek to DL Coach / Special Teams Coordinator, while analyst Bob Diaco will now move to jack LBs Coach, also assisting Jancek on special teams.....the role where Diaco may truly shine most.

The last second nature of such a hurried switch, right on the eve of fall camp, is never something that fills anyone with much confidence or outright dismissal of concern.

Regardless, here we have two coaches that BK knows well and has trusted for decades, often on his own regimes at a variety of different stops.

Although plenty of fans backed Brian Polian before last season, there were still plenty of whispers of "he's a terrible special teams coach" flooding our consciousness; yet those premonitions of Polian's destitute special teams coaching always seemed to be filled with "Notre Dame fan animosity"....aimed at BK and those who followed him to Baton Rouge.

Sure, we don't know what the outcome will be from this scenario, nor was Coach Lindsey able to install his vision prior to his hospitalization, however LSU Tigers fans shouldn't be too worried here....each coach is more than qualified to succeed at their adapted roles:

National Championship-winning assistant John Jancek could coach any of the front seven positions and be among the top assistants in the SEC; his pedigree, resume, and respected personality lend us to believe he can adapt and make it happen at a variety of areas.

Coach Diaco is an intense customer, someone who will demand full accountability and should get the alignment / formations correct. We've been hearing his tough voice booming around the practice field, reverberating off the wooden fence panels on all four corners.

He should be able to hammer home the fundamentals, and maximize the third phase of the team, especially when the Tigers still have consistent kicking / punting from Jay Bramblett (punts), Nathan Dibert (kickoffs), plus field goal kicker Damian Ramos.

Both Jancek & Diaco are former coordinators, both won or coached in a National Championship Game (Diaco as part of Kelly's Notre Dame staff in 2012/13, Jancek on Kirby Smart's Georgia staff recently in 2021/22)....and most impressively, each have been active coaches since the 90s (Jancek began in 1992 at Wayne State & Diaco in 1996 at Iowa).

Diaco was a special teams coordinator for 8 seasons of his career, however he has not called that side of the ball since his 2008 stint on staff at Virginia.

While there may be some rough moments, a few situations where discipline may be lacking or mistakes occur, I have faith in both coaches to generate & maximize the best out of LSU's players....and, as we've seen throughout spring & fall camp, if Jancek & Diaco are forced to deploy starters on special teams, they'll do just that.

Special teams directly cost LSU 3 games in 2022......that side of the ball should've cost Kelly's Tigers at least 5 maybe even 6 different defeats, handing opponents early double digit leads or gifting key opposition players big time highlight reel plays to get the juices going.

Since LSU lost 4 games in total last fall, if Brian Polian's special teams only made half of their mistakes, the Tigers may have found themselves as one of four College Football Playoff teams.....

THE EVER SHIFTING VERSATILITY & UNCERTAINTY OF 2023 DBU'S ROSTER....CAN STEEPLES & COOKS PULL OFF THE UNTHINKABLE IN YEAR 2?


Once again, for the second straight offseason, DBU's Kerry Cooks & Robert Steeples signed a wild amount of assorted defensive back transfers via the portal, aiming to boost competition and plug holes on their 2023 roster.

After the departure of some big time 2022 contributors / starters to the NFL Draft (Ward, Garner, JBC), DBU needed to replenish their talent coffers.

In came Duce Chestnutt, JK Johnson, Andre Sam, Zy Alexander, Ryan Robinson Jr and former 5 star Denver Harris (who's now suspended). Plus, Steeples & Cooks welcomed new blood from their 2023 freshman class, backed by a variety of sophomores or red shirt freshmen....most, if not all uncertain or unproven talents.

What's different from last season?

The transfers Cooks & Steeples signed out of the portal are not only younger, they may actually be more talented on paper....plus, most of these 2023 DBU Tigers are blessed with the capability of playing multiple positions.

The difficulty will be finding the right mixture at the back:

At first, it was a set-up of elder statesman safeties Burns & Brooks, third year potential great Sage Ryan at nickel, flanked by Spring game standout LT Welch and transfer vet Zy Alexander at each cornerback spot.

As Fall Camp continues, we're now witnessing the rise of portal signee Andre Sam, as migraine-plagued Greg Brooks Jr is held out of the last few practices, with Ryan taking over Brooks' role at nickel (2 INTs, including 1 pick six in the last practices); elsewhere, LT Welch has been usurped by another transfer portal arrival, Duce Chestnutt (5 PBUs, including one that directly created an INT) and Zy Alexander continues to hold down the opposite corner spot.

Though 2023 DBU is beginning to take shape, with studs starting to shine outside of the main four or five starters:

Freshman supersonic speedster Ashton Stamps (breaking up a few passes and showcasing consistently solid coverage against the best WRs on the team); LT Welch may be licking his wounds after relegated from 1st to 2nd team, but he has the minerals to rebound and take back his spot; Ryan Yaites (even if he doesn't start or play much on defense, the Denton Guyer High safety is poised for an impactful season on special teams, as we've seen through camp thus far); former high school corner Javien Toviano is in the midst of a transition into a role at safety, looking like a powerhouse who could start for this team, but he's still capable of pitching in at nickel and even corner;

Although. a few sections are coming together now, the next few weeks are all about Steeples & Cooks working in concert to put the puzzle together in time before week 1, where DBU face FSU's Jordan Travis, a quarterback who cooked 2022 DBU alive on 3rd down last time these two teams met.

Keep an eye on how these two coaches always elevate the talent around them, as they did last season, and as they've done throughout fall camp, pushing their guys to dig deep and fight for everything against what is (at the least) a top 5 WR room.

Will it be enough for DBU 2023 to shut down or at least hold opposition passing attacks at bay? Until we find out, regardless of the greatness within both safeties & corners coaches Cooks & Steeples, the younger, less experienced DBs they'll be working with in 2023 will provide a litany of challenges, as well as some unexpected benefits.


LACK OF DEPTH AT LB


I love the linebacker room, especially the starters, Harold Perkins, Omar Speights, Greg Penn III, then the Weeks brothers are both capable of making unbelievable plays thanks to their incredible athletic range. But after those five Tigers, LSU are completely barren at linebacker, in a scary way.

LSU walk-on Seth Scott is due to arrive in the coming days for the start of school semester, though he told LSUOdyssey he "doesn't know if he has a spot on the team right now".

Outside of those first three maybe four Tigers, linebacker is a very, very slim position, so if even just a few injuries occur to one or two of those main men, Matt House is going to have a hell of a time replacing Speights or Penn or god forbid Perkins.


by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

FOLLOW US ON X/TWITTER @LonnPhillips

FOLLOW US ON IG @lsuodyssey

Copyright 2023 Uninterrupted Writings Inc, a subsidiary of Uninterrupted Media LLC

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I have some concerns with the rumblings of Harris failing to integrate himself into the Brian Jelly way of doing things. He must get his head right and quickly.

いいね!
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