By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Former Lafayette Christian Academy 5 star Sage Ryan is in the midst of summer preparations for his second LSU season, beginning year two at an interesting time of transition, both for his school and himself.
Not only will Sage and the rest of DBU play for their second position staff in as many seasons, they are firmly in the thick of first year Head Coach Brian Kelly's increased focus on accountability, discipline and success in all phases, paying specific attention to academic standing.
As these new standards sent a few highly rated & regarded LSU DBs packing, Sage Ryan became one of the few remaining 2021 DBs with any legitimate star power to stay on through the coaching switch.
Within a depleted secondary losing Stingley, Ricks, Flott and McGlothern, whenever LSU fans scrolled through our current roster, the sight of Sage Ryan's name stuck out like a good omen:
While Kelly, Steeples & Cooks made sure to replenish DBU with the best talents they could sign via the transfer portal, attention should now be paid to Sage Ryan's growth this fall:
LSU's Faulk-related Tiger is finding there are plenty of expectations heading into year 2; Even though he only appeared in just a pair of games as a freshman, the former 5 star stood out: here was a freshman DB in command on the field, as we highlighted in our progress profile from 2021:
In his first duo of appearances as an LSU Tiger, Ryan started against Florida & Ole Miss within a banged up LSU defense....without star corners Stingley or Ricks; Batting down his first ever career target vs the Gators & breaking up another pass vs Ole Miss, only surrendering 1 or 2 shorter catches, Ryan made a statement:
He belongs out there.
There were some mistakes, but they were controlled and rare: missing a contain assignment on a nicely designed slip screen, giving up a flag on a ticky tack holding call during an aerial joust, allowing his receiver to edge him inside for a 10 yard completion...
All are minor issues we expect to arise when a freshman is making his DBU debut starting at nickel against two high powered SEC offenses.
Sadly, the headline talk regarding Sage didn't always involve his potential or solid freshman reps...the questions surrounded his recurring hamstring injury, a nagging problem which not only sent him to the sidelines for 11 games in 2021, but also made him miss LCA's championship game victory last December, unable to participate in the final act of his senior year.
The off-season rumblings and worries centered around his durability....but after a strong spring camp, Ryan looks to be turning a page.
According to Brian Kelly, Ryan wasn't at full health for the outset of Spring practices, however he started to rise among the competition.
With LSU Odyssey in attendance for the first 5 practices, we witnessed Sage getting after it first hand, showcasing a renewed physicality & aggression when making tackles or moving well side to side.
Still, against this positive backdrop, other fears began to percolate:
Would Sage stay at nickel and receive odd rotational reps, or would he transition into a safety or outside cornerback role?
Amid the debate over Ryan's best position, Louisiana-born Arkansas transfer Greg Brooks Jr took over the nickel spot in spring, forcing 4 turnovers within LSU's first 5 practices, creating both interceptions & fumbles...
Then at corner, ULM transfer Mekhi Garner received rave reviews, with Kelly calling him "an NFL cornerback";
At free safety, returning 2019 veteran Jay Ward is a surefire starter, with Arkansas transfer veteran Joe Foucha currently in the lead for the "strong" safety gig...
This scenario places Sage in a precarious position:
Possessing abilities to play a few spots while watching dedicated position players take the lead at each position in question, Ryan is aiming to carve out his own niche within Defensive Coordinator Matt House's scheme.
Owning an NFL background coaching hybrid DBU Legend Tyrann Mathieu to a Super Bowl win & another appearance in Kansas City, perhaps Coach House can maximize Sage Ryan's multiple-skill profile in much the same way.
In the end, whether a position is "created" for #15, or he spearheads a big move for either safety, nickel or corner, Coach House, Coach Steeples and Coach Cooks must find a way to get him on the field.
When talking to Sage, he understands the adversity he's faced thus far as a Tiger, but he's not backing down:
"College has definitely been a rocky road for me. Not really going how I expected it! But I know God has a plan for me," Ryan told LSU Odyssey.
When it comes to the brilliance of Sage Ryan, his powers aren't simply limited to defensive back:
Could the 4x state champ at LCA dictate his way into becoming the Tigers' 2022 showcase returner?
An explosive, devastating return man when playing at Lafayette Christian Academy, Sage's biggest Power 5 attraction and offers arrived once coaches witnessed his unbelievable powers in the return game.
On the edge of Brian Kelly's highly anticipated debut season at the helm, LSU cannot afford to sleep on a specimen like Ryan....DBU currently lacks the depth or talent to make up for the loss of that brand of impact playmaking....a rare quality Sage can supply.
Of course LSU needed transfer additions to stay competitive this season, although DBU already had a generational player in their midst: a Louisiana high school legend with complete athletic ability & epic football IQ in two phases & four different positions....
If given enough opportunities, Ryan's LSU career could be ready to hammer down the accelerator.....with no looking back....
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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