Updated: Jul 26
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
LSU's Fall Camp begins on the first week of August, with practices set to start under Ray Baker's grueling late summer heat, sweltering humidity and soaring temperatures.....the ideal time to find out which Tigers will play the biggest roles this season:
Ahead of Fall Camp, Kelly & his staff will see who gained the most from Jake Flint's summer conditioning program & who needs help getting up to speed, with some expected light drills to ease the squad into football shape.
At this time, the staff will also take a deep look at how certain Tigers react to football after returning from injury (banged-up squad-men such as Marlon Martinez, Anthony Bradford, John Emery Jr, Garrett Dellinger, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Sevyn Banks and of course Kayshon Boutte).
But once August arrives and the live reps start flying, we'll all find out the makeup of Head Coach Brian Kelly's first LSU squad....and there will be nowhere to hide from either the tackles or the truth:
"IT'S ABOUT THE QB, DUH..."
Who will grab LSU's starting quarterback job?
The eternal purple & gold question for 2022 will be answered over the next month & a half in what should be one of the tightest QB races around college football.
Still locked in a three/four-way race between Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier, Jayden Daniels and true freshman Walker Howard, the stakes will be at their highest for the first three primary competitors, while the extremely promising Howard seems slated for a red shirt year:
2022 is Brennan's last shot at becoming the LSU starter we always expected him to be....conversely, this fall will also be his last serious opportunity to command significant attention from NFL GMs or scouts.
Will he cash in on an unbelievable second chance?
It's hard not to root for Myles Brennan's success; displaying class, leadership and more patience than Job throughout his 6 years at LSU....but now is the time for results.
Myles grasps that fact better than anyone.....after watching Danny Etling run the team, witnessing Joe Burrow win a National Championship, experiencing his starting job slip away due to a horrific abdominal injury, looking on as Max Johnson took over at QB last year (while he stood on the sidelines due to another injury).....now has to be the time for Brennan to be the one all eyes are fixated upon.
Jayden Daniels just transferred to Baton Rouge, a new town, culture and conference....all to stand on the sidelines holding a clipboard and wearing a headset?
Hard to imagine...
Carrying 2 years of eligibility, perhaps a season behind Brennan wouldn't send him back into the portal, but it's a gamble Kelly might not want to risk.
Or.....is Jayden Daniels actually the Tigers' most dangerous quarterback, capable of running defenses off the field & taking over games, thanks to his dual threat capabilities?
Daniels also remains (by far and away) LSU's most productive & experienced collegiate starter, appearing in 25 additional games than Nussmeier & 11 more than Myles.....will experience become a point of reference for Kelly's 2022 debut season?
Garrett Nussmeier slapped away any rumor about his expected transfer from LSU, refused to be distracted by the talk around the fanbase or media, and established a strong locker room presence throughout the first months of 2022, delivering the most intriguing, promising and exciting quarterback performances of the Spring Game.
After one red shirt year at LSU, how long would Nussmeier wait for the starting job?
2023? Where he would battle it out vs Jayden Daniels, Walker Howard and potentially another quarterback?
That scenario looks uneasy for #13.
Nussmeier needs to start in 2022...and just like the other QBs, his lack of game time might have consequences on the future of LSU's QB room.
Howard will no doubt have to settle for competitive reps and likely a red shirt season, considering three QBs with collegiate starting experience lie ahead of him on the depth chart. At least from every indication we've been given by Kelly, Sloan, Denbrock, Walker's dad Jamie and others surrounding the team, Lafayette's freshman prodigy won't be LSU's QB in 2022.
Who will win out???
Pay attention to every rep you can get a hold of between these four....
HOW THE OL SHAKES OUT.....
I've been forecasting some out of the box decisions when it comes to the Tigers' 2022 offensive line, beliefs backed up by current LSU offensive linemen:
To keep some of his best OL on the field, Coach Brad Davis will definitely rely on the underrated versatility of his young unit, possibly moving swing men like Garrett Dellinger, Anthony Bradford, Xavier Hill or Emery Jones around the offensive line.
What are the biggest factors that will impact how Coach Davis selects his starting five?
What is he looking for most?
Dominance in height or lower to the ground & pacy enough for pulling action?
Might we witness Will Campbell hold on to the #1 left tackle gig over Dellinger, Cam Wire or Bradford?
Where will third year OL Marcus Dumervil & 2021 breakout Marlon Martinez fit in?
Is Charles Turner ready to become LSU's first string center this fall?
The battle at the guard spots remains a point of emphasis for me, with Anthony Bradford, Kardell Thomas, Xavier Hill, Marlon Martinez and transfer Tre'Mond Shorts all poised to compete at each spot.
What kind of impact will we see from 2022's talented Louisiana freshmen, Will Campbell, Emery Jones or Bo Bordelon?
Could walk-ons Lanson Smith or Joshua Billideaux receive playing time at some point this season, after both enjoyed solid Spring sessions?
THE RB BATTLE
John Emery Jr, Noah Cain, Armoni Goodwin, Tre Bradford and Josh Williams are all headed for a collision course in August.....each rep will accumulate, in the end deciding which running back climbs and who will fall in Frank Wilson's pecking order.
Despite arguments that LSU will utilize a rotation at running back, the Tigers still need a #1 guy, someone who can make defenses pay on every down, someone who can contribute as much as possible from a variety of functions....
Only a sophomore with time on his side, Goodwin must find some rhythm this season, while Noah Cain is looking to bounce back after an injury-hampered last 2 seasons at Penn State......but if you're a betting man or woman, Emery Jr will need 2022 most, up against a "last shot" campaign in his 4th year academically (3rd year on the field); plus, Emery Jr made sure to hammer home his candidacy as LSU's starting running back during Spring ball.
Still, watch out for the super-talented home run-hitting ability of Tre Bradford as a "dark horse" pick for a lead role in the rotation.
Former walk-on Josh Williams always runs the ball with tenacity, violence and positivity; In addition, he also scored 2 TDs and nearly caught a third during April's Spring Game event.
THE WR BATTLE
Kayshon Boutte is no doubt the team's most prolific, experienced and established player, thought of alongside or ahead of 2021 Biletnikoff-winner Jordan Addison and widely viewed as a top 10 pick in 2023's NFL Draft.
Boutte is also in line to wear LSU's iconic #7 jersey, if Coach Kelly continues the longtime tradition.
But who surrounds & compliments Boutte's all-world skillset?
Perfectly set to contrast Boutte's slender, effortless pace, Jack Bech's rugged, beastly brilliance in the air or after the catch lines him up as LSU's #2 target.
Though he will definitely receive plenty of competition from best friend Malik Nabers, named among 2021's All-SEC Freshman team.
Much like Kayshon or Jack, Malik is devastating after the catch, coupled with untapped potential as a 50/50 target downfield or inside the red zone (as we witnessed vs Ole Miss or K-State).
Don't sleep on veteran Jaray Jenkins, a player who i feel is poised to either really bust out or elevate as an invaluable team leader.
Finishing 2021's regular season on a tear, catching 6 touchdowns (3 in his final 2 appearances), Jenkins actually had a mixed results campaign overall...replete with dropped passes, missed opportunities and a lack of production at times, the Jena, Louisiana native still hauled in an impressive 6 touchdowns and eclipsed 500 yards.
Who will forget his walk-off touchdown to take down Texas A&M?
But many don't realize Jenkins also has 4 TDs in his last 2 appearances vs Florida.
Though he suffered a shoulder injury knocking him out of LSU's Spring Game, Jenkins looks to be fully healthy now and ready for one last bite at the NFLSU apple....a year which could see him transform into one of the SEC's biggest surprises.
Transfer Kyren Lacy could turn out to be a steal for Brian Kelly, arriving as LSU's second most productive wide out. He made some acrobatic grabs and a few deep ball catches this Spring over tough coverage.
Lacy has swagger, confidence and potential spark, though this will be his first season at the SEC level. Will he bypass LSU's more settled receivers for a starring role or will he continue as a supporting cast sidekick?
Then, there is the case of sophomores Brian Thomas Jr and Chris Hilton Jr, both highly talented wideouts capable of breaking out this fall, yet I have a feeling, as it stands now, only one of the Jr's will edge ahead within LSU's rotation.
Hilton Jr could also supply brilliance on special teams, born owning boundless pace; On the other hand, Brian is an aerial threat, owning fantastic hands & empirical height mixed with hops.
WHICH TRANSFER DBs RISE?
LSU brought in 7 defensive backs via the portal, Mekhi Garner, Joe Foucha, Greg Brooks Jr, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Sevyn Banks, Daran Branch and Colby Richardson all joining over a two and a half month period.
So, now I wonder: Which transfers will solidify starting jobs at corner, nickel or safety?
Greg Brooks Jr appears to be the favorite at nickel, Joe Foucha solidified a safety spot throughout spring, Mekhi Garner impressed enough to be considered a top tier candidate at CB, meanwhile Bernard-Converse's injury, Sevyn Banks' late arrival and Colby Richardson's last second move from McNeese all point to concerns about depth.
Despite some outside questions about their ability to replace Ricks, McGlothern or Flott, Brooks Jr forced 4 turnovers in his first 5 LSU practices, Garner appeared to lock down his side of the field vs top competition at WR, while both Banks or Bernard-Converse have enough ability & experience to make a barnstorming push for a starting job.
An equally important question would concern where LSU's pre-existing secondary members fit in:
Led by Thorpe Award contender Jay Ward (5 INTs over the last 2 seasons), Major Burns, Sage Ryan, Jordan Toles, Damarius McGhee, freshman LT Welch and Todd Harris, a group returning 9 career interceptions & a few forced fumbles between them...despite a lack of overall experience concerning Ryan, McGhee and Welch; Ward and Burns we've seen start & thrive recently, while Harris is the most experienced, yet has suffered the longest injury history.
How Robert Steeples & Kerry Cooks set up their secondary will dictate the performance of LSU's defense; an immaculate front seven is nothing without security at the back.
Steeples & Cooks will need to choose wisely.
Watching on as a handful of Orgeron-era D-Linemen entered the portal (talented freshman Landon Jackson, Orgeron favorite Joseph Evans, and most recently losing veteran Soni Fonua), their teammates must've been licking their chops.
Unlike Spring's more congested snap allotment, now there are extended reps for a slew of LSU talents relegated to bit parts over the past year or two (Phillip Webb, Saivion Jones, Zavier Carter, Jacobian Gullory, Desmond Little); The additional roster room also hands true freshman Quency Wiggins, LCA star Prince Malbrue and 2021 All-SEC freshman Mekhi Wingo a big chance to breakout as either supporting warriors or star men themselves.
Phillip Webb, Saivion Jones and Mekhi Wingo remain to me the three most promising behind experienced starters Ali Gaye and B.J Ojulari (on the edge) or Maason Smith & Jaquelin Roy at DT (honorable mentions to Quency Wiggins & Jacobian Guillory);
When you scan your eyes across one name after another on Jamar Cain's ultimately talented D-Line, this August each and every rep will be paramount in stamping one's on field ambitions.
Truth be told, we're looking at the SEC's most talented defensive line, who can put it all together as America's #1 unit if edge men like Ali Gaye can improve against the run.
Alongside our entire defense in 2020 through the first half of 2021, Gaye was often exposed by hard-nosed / old school rushing offenses, with a damning statistic setting a pattern: LSU allowed 169.1 yards on the ground & 4.5 per carry as Ali started all 10 games for the Tigers' W.O.A.T defense.
Then, in just 4 appearances last year, Gaye was exposed even worse:
3 of his 4 opponents (UCLA, Auburn & Kentucky) eclipsed 4.5 yards per touch and racked up 813 combined rushing yards. In contrast, LSU surrendered 721 vs their tougher final 6 opponents (Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, ULM & A&M).
Compared to LSU's performance against the run without Gaye, holding Alabama to a historic 6 total yards, cutting the production of Florida's #1 rated attack by more than half, holding A&M's Isaiah Spiller to just 27 yards.....whether LSU can cover the run with Gaye on the field will continue to be a question mark until he proves us wrong....and I bet on him to do that.
With his undisputed majesty in passing situations, proven as an elite edge rusher & passing game disruptor (only behind Jay Ward for total pass breakups since 2020, placing ahead of Stingley, Flott and Ricks), if Ali can improve against the run like Ojulari did throughout 2021, he would be virtually impossible to stop.
But if we need to find solutions against outside rushing, there are solutions on LSU's sidelines, rangy and quick / side-to-side / hybrid machines like Zavier Carter (impressive to no end during Spring), sophomore Saivion Jones, freshman Prince Malbrue, even moving Maason Smith outside to defensive end, there are numerous edge options for the Tigers.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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