by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
After the Tigers' Spring Game, there was a big buzz around Baton Rouge concerning our 2021 squad....what would remain following a championship team's season through hell last year?
Dollar-groping analysts could see our array of returning title-winning veterans mixed with an abundant, confident youth movement, backed by our deep reservoir of high ranking talent clashing with "fringe player grind", sons of NFL players next to the sons of former Tiger heroes...all coached by some new NFL careerists aiming to dominate the collegiate game (Jones, Peetz, Mangas and Carter).
This team's potent brand of unknown factors became exciting revelations...and those revelations brought about their own rabbit hole questions....but more than anything, a palpable excitement began to grow:
LSU didn't just have 1 starting quarterback, we had 3 until May...with a 4th QB being NFL-schooled wunderkind Garrett Nussmeier...
Kayshon Boutte ruthlessly lit up Ole Miss for 308 last time out, then here came 4th or 5th string WR Jontre Kirklin racking up over 200 yards, 2 TDs and 16 catches vs a stout DBU secondary during the Spring Game...
Needing to address a hole at safety, Daronte Jones moved cornerback Jay Ward to the free safety role and ever since he made the switch, the 2020 showstopper continues to produce stunning playmaking at his new spot....
The LB room was in tatters after 2020's season, but by the Spring game, second or third stringers Antoine Sampah, Josh White & Jared Small (players who barely received snaps in 2020) all showcased strong coverage abilities on the ground or in the air, picking off passes and finishing off a combined 24 tackles, proving how deep & secure Blake Baker has made the room....
Even more positives come to mind, flowing from the tongue:
Coach O's renegade staff of buccaneering young assistants......our improved defensive violence........Andre Carter's nationally definitive defensive line.....DBU's resurgence under Stingley, Ricks, McGlothern and Ward......the talk of former fringe players such as linebacker Jared Small or wide receiver Jontre Kirklin both producing stunning displays......all apart of LSU's bountiful depth on all sides of the ball (especially at the quarterback & wide receiver positions).....
Not much has changed since the end of Spring football...and yet at the same time, plenty is different for LSU as they go through 7 on 7 workouts to begin their Summer preparations.
LSU's recent news cycle has accelerated back to another apex of intensity, the drama refusing to let up in the past week and a half...though there have been great developments for the Tigers, too:
We've seen a few huge transfers go out and some big ones coming in, title-winning OL boss James Cregg's firing & less than 24 hours later, the hiring of a better option in former Arkansas OL Coach Brad Davis, preceded by Arik Gilbert's long protracted saga reaching its unsavory climax, all while more than 20 freshmen and a dozen or more walk-on debutant Tigers report on campus....simultaneously arriving right as just under 1,000 highly sought after 2022 / 2023 recruits visit campus for the first time in a year and a half....
To say there's a lot going on at LSU is an understatement, however, unlike last year's torrential debacle, Coach Orgeron and Athletic Director Scott Woodward have insulated the program with enough firepower to pull off such a multifaceted, 24/7 operation:
General Manager Austin Thomas will prove invaluable during this period, already instilling his steady, politically savvy influence upon Orgeron's transfer grabs of Clemson's National Championship-winner Mike Jones Jr or former UGA Safety Major Burns.
Elsewhere, Special Teams Coach Greg McMahon watches over the Tigers promising group of walk-ons, led by next big thing nickel DB Pig Cage, a strong character / huge personality at WR by the name of Beastkilla, and Bech / Walker Howard teammate WR Carter Arceneaux;
Beastkilla called McMahon "a father figure" when complimenting the underrated special teams coach during a conversation with LSU Odyssey. The former Saints' Super Bowl Champion is much more than a special teams guy, I can tell you that...Greg McMahon could be a head coach at a variety of schools right now, such is the strength of his coaching abilities.
Thanks to the help of trusty Special Assistant Derek Ponamsky, Director of Football Operations Ya'el Lofton and her assistant Jeffrey Grigus, with of course the eternal Assistant AD Sam Nader on board, somehow the operation has remained on course....in fact, the Tigers are looking bolder, feistier and more locked in for the first time since January 2020.
Going through the LSU roster, no fan should be feeling cynical about our squad's high octane talent on command, led by what appears to be the right staff.
Now the Tigers are looking for every advantage heading into 2021's grueling campaign...wanting to match or take 2019's maverick brilliance to the next level of aggression.
Due to that theme, Coach O has put an emphasis on conditioning: LSU becoming the #1 physically fit squad in college football remains one of Orgeron's primary off-season goals.
And his players are not far off the mark:
According to 247's Sonny Shipp, Offensive Tackle Dare Rosenthal dropped 30 pounds, going from 330 to an even 300 currently...truly astounding weight loss which will help Dare even more. He looked very solid during spring scrimmages, however his weight drop pushes the pedal down on his NFL prospects.
Center Liam Shanahan and Right Tackle Austin Deculus each are tighter in the upper body & robust around the legs too, a fantastic sign; Maason Smith is at a chiseled 289, pushing for 295; Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr are well below the 315 lb mark, and Ali Gaye looks a beast at 260. Elsewhere, freshman defensive end Saivion Jones entered the program at 240-242 and ever since Moffitt told him to bulk up, Jones gained 7 pounds after his first week!
Will conditioning bolster the unknown quantities on our roster?
Will a physically dominant LSU reveal an even deeper Tigers team?
Most of these big names on our squad are either National Championship-winning veterans from 2019, a freshman All-American in Eli Ricks, or a massive chunk of unproven guys......creating a perfect avenue for doubters, LSU haters, and of course Orgeron skeptics.
Predictions for LSU's upcoming season will vary wildly:
Those familiar with Orgeron's program seem to place them at 10-2 or higher, while more conservative betters have the Tigers at 9-3 or 8-4; Regardless of LSU's stacked talent, championship experience, returning starters, All-American specimen, stunning freshmen, or reinvigorated coaching staff, there are scores of anti-Orgeron / anti-Louisiana extremists condemning us to a sub 7 win season....some of their crowd even wondering why LSU aren't banned from playing football altogether.
The lingering questions revolving around LSU's unproven players or coaches have caused the purple and gold to be cast as underdogs to begin 2021 yet again.....and I wouldn't want it any other way.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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