BATON ROUGE – Eventually, the euphoria surrounding new LSU football coach Ed Orgeron that has come about largely because, No. 1, he is not Les Miles, and, No. 2, because he is one of us – not only from Louisiana, but from Classic Louisiana on the bayou of the Bayou State – will settle down. And he and the LSU football program will be left with the same deficiency it has realized after the last two of the six straight losses to Alabama.
That is, the Tigers need a better offensive line to compete for a national championship again – something it has not been close to doing since 2012. Here is a look at five topics to tackle as the Tigers enter the first spring of Coach O on Saturday:
1.OFFENSIVE LINE - “We need to get better. We need to get bigger. We need to get stronger,” Orgeron said after the 10-0 loss to Alabama last November when his offense seemed very much like that of Miles – only worse - as it was held to 33 yards rushing on 27 attempts with that line allowing five sacks of quarterback Danny Etling.
“And we need to have guys drafted in the first round to be able to block the first rounders on the other side,” Orgeron said.
Truer words may not have been spoken by an LSU football coach since Nick Saban said the Tigers were largely undersized shortly after taking over in December of 1999.
But then, Orgeron retained offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who came to LSU with the reputation as a recruiter. He is entering his fourth year and at the moment and has signed perhaps one potential early rounder in guard/tackle Maea Teuhema, who will be a junior in 2017. Of the four linemen in the 2017 signing class, only tackle Austin Deculus of Cypress, Texas, is ranked nationally.
Former center Ethan Pocic is at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, this weekend and could go as high as the second round, but he was signed by then offensive line coach Greg Studrawa in 2013. The only LSU offensive lineman to go as high as the second round in the last 11 NFL drafts was tackle Andrew Whitworth in 2006. The last LSU offensive lineman to go in the first round was guard Alan Faneca in 1998.
Current Dallas Cowboy offensive guard La’el Collins would have gone in the first round out of LSU in 2015, but when his agent and lawyer stupidly decided not to let him meet with Baton Rouge Police to clear his name from a murder investigation - he knew the victim - before the draft, he was not picked. Former assistant coach Frank Wilson signed Collins.
LSU returns three regular starting offensive linemen in Teuhema, guard William Clapp, who will be a junior, and left tackle K.J. Malone, who will be a senior. Toby Weathersby, who will be a junior, started three games last season at right tackle. Deculus could start and needs to start at one of the tackles as he is a January enrollee and will go through spring. There are no stars here unless Teuhema develops. A couple starters will likely only be serviceable. There is no Cameron Robinson, who will be a first rounder in the 2017 draft out of Alabama via West Monroe.
“He should be here,” Orgeron said of Robinson after the loss to Alabama.
No matter how well Grimes coaches the offensive line this spring and next fall, it will likely not be of the ilk that can play with an Alabama without a much improved passing game. Grimes and Orgeron need to start signing highly ranked offensive linemen for 2018.
2.NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT CANADA – The offensive line will be suspect, but after that, Canada has a solid quarterback in Danny Etling, who will be a senior, and one of the better tailbacks in the nation in Derrius Guice, who will be a junior. The only returning receiver with significant experience is D.J. Chark, who will be a senior. Those tall, much ballyhooed wide receiver signees from 2016 - 6-foot-6 Stephen Sullivan, 6-5 Dee Anderson and 6-4 Drake Davis who totaled exactly five catches among them last season - need to make their presence known and fast. Canada needs to identify those this spring along with a No. 2 tailback. Canada was a great hire by Orgeron. He is experienced at putting together good offenses with a variety of quarterbacks. He has the makings of a very good offense with Etling, Guice and Chark. But if LSU is to win big in 2017, it will not be through a power running game and passing here and there. The offensive line is just not good enough to dominate a lot of opponents with a run-heavy attack. Canada will need a very balanced attack that can finesse and fool opponents.
3. BACKUP QUARTERBACK: Etling will be and should be the starter. There will be no real competition for his spot. But with quarterback signee Lowell Narcisse participating in spring as an early enrollee, it will be fun to watch the competition between Narcisse and 2016 signee Lindsey Scott Jr. of Zachary. Narcisse has not played a full season since he was a sophomore at St. James in 2014 because of two knee surgeries. So the edge goes to Scott. The spring could be meaningless here, though, as 2017 signee Myles Brennan of St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, could move into the No. 2 spot when he begins practicing in August.
4. A NEW DEFENSE: Eight starters are gone from one of the best units in the SEC in 2016, including six who are at the NFL Scouting Combine this weekend. Defensive end Davon Godchaux, middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, inside linebacker Duke Riley and outside linebacker Tashawn Bower will perform Sunday in Indianapolis. High first round pick projection Jamal Adams at safety and low first round projection Tre’Davious White at cornerback go on Monday. Also gone are defensive end Lewis Neal and safety Rickey Jefferson. Second-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has a difficult assignment to replace all that and stay as good or be better in 2017.
Jacoby Stevens, the No. 1 safety in the country Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is another early enrollee who could likely win Adams’ job this spring as a true freshman. Fellow early enrollee Justin Thomas, the No. 18 strong side defensive end in the nation out of Spanish Fort, Alabama, will get a head start at the No. 1 job as well.
Major signees from 2016 - Michael Divinity at outside linebacker, Devin White at inside linebacker and Saivion Smith at cornerback - need to start playing like starters and performing commensurate to their recruitment.
5. ED ORGERON: The difference between what Orgeron inherits from Miles and what Miles inherited from Saban in 2005 is much wider than a bayou. Miles went 11-2 with 13-0 talent in 2005. If Orgeron goes 11-2 in 2017 and somehow gets close to or reaches the final four playoffs, he will be up for national coach of the year honors.
In reality, considering the impact LSU will have on the next NFL Draft, 2017 should be billed as somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Tigers. So Orgeron deserves some slack for now.
“You know, this is a new team,” Orgeron said recently. “We lost some leaders on our football team along with some changes being made. We have Matt Canada coming in. We’re putting in a new offense. Change is good. Along with change, comes opportunity. We want to be more explosive on offense. One team, one heartbeat, playing together, playing fast, playing physical, playing great defense.”
And better recruiting of offensive linemen and quarterbacks will have all those hearts pumping out more wins.
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet.