LSU has more skill at quarterback, apparently more playmakers at wide receiver and an offensive coordinator who’s on the same page as head coach Ed Orgeron.
As a result there’s increased excitement about the offense as they go through spring drills, but there are question marks as well.
In recent years it seems LSU followers have felt the Tigers have been just an improved passing game from being a national contender. Generally they have fallen short.
This year the potential for that improvement is perhaps the greatest it has been, but at the same time there is less certainty about other areas of the team.
If the Tigers can blend a much improved passing game with a run game and defense up to their recent standards, they might have something.
Yes, the quarterback position will be in more skilled hands as Myles Brennan competes with Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan to be the successor to Danny Etling. The wide receivers are not only highly touted but also deep, providing the new starter with a dynamic supporting cast in the passing game.
And with Steve Ensminger replacing Matt Canada as offensive coordinator, the realistic expectation is that LSU will pass for more yards and touchdowns and with greater efficiency in 2018. LSU threw just 17 TD passes last season; only three SEC teams threw fewer.
Orgeron said he plans to have more wide receivers on the field in the new West Coast offense, and Ensminger and new passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan have been charged with improving the SEC’s worst red-zone offense.
But much of the expectations for the wide receivers is based on potential because there hasn’t been much productivity from a group that features several key newcomers.
In fact the returning pass catcher who had the biggest impact last season is tight end Foster Moreau (24 catches, 278 yards). The returning wide receivers who were the most productive last season are Derrick Dillon (14 receptions, 125 yards) and Stephen Sullivan (11 catches, 219 yards). Other returnees expected to assume bigger roles are Drake Davis, Dee Anderson, Justin Jefferson and Racey McMath.
However, transfer Jonathan Giles had 69 catches for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns while playing at Texas Tech two years ago.
The newcomers include 5-star recruit Terrace Marshall (Bossier City, La.), 4-star recruits Ja’Marr Chase (Metairie, La.) and Kenan Jones (Berwick, La.) and 3-star recruit Jaray Jenkins (Jena, La). Chase isn’t enrolled yet and Marshall is recovering from a broken ankle suffered last September.
The elements for a much-improved passing game are there, but it’s questionable whether that would be enough to help the Tigers evolve into more serious contenders in the SEC West where Alabama will again be the team to beat, Auburn figures to be a title contender and Texas A&M will begin the Jimbo Fisher era.
What about the other units?
The potentially more explosive passing game is accompanied by a run game that doesn’t feature a clear-cut feature back for the first time in recent memory.
The starting tailback could be one of the backups to Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams — Nick Brossette or Clyde Edwards-Helaire — or one of the true freshman — Tae Provens or Chris Curry.
The offensive line features highly touted recruits, but also significant turnover and a new position coach.
Orgeron praised the improvement of the offensive line from the first scrimmage of spring practice to the second.
Junior college transfers Damien Lewis and Badara Traore as well as true freshman Cole Smith figure to have an impact on the line.
The defense features more returning starters on than the offense and therefore has fewer questions to answer, but whether it will be an elite unit is to be determined.
So the potential of the passing game is generating a spring buzz that figures to carry over into preseason camp. It might even make for a more interesting fall.
But along the way, LSU also must prove that the other areas that have been waiting for the emergence of the passing game will be up their recent standards.