LSU post-spring report card: What the Tigers do well, need to do better
LSU provided a glimpse of its revamped offense during the spring game.
The entire spring provided expanded opportunities for a few defenders in the absence of some recuperating leaders.
Several key recruits will join the mix during the summer.
So in the break between the end of spring practice and the beginning of preseason camp, we have an opportunity to reflect on where the Tigers are and where they might be headed.
QB situation: B
Joe Burrow was solid in his LSU debut last season and he played his best at the end.
Now he’s operating a more creative offense, though new passing game coordinator Joe Brady kept a lot under wraps in the spring game.
With more RPOs in the scheme and a more aggressive approach to the passing game, Burrow has an opportunity to be a more productive playmaker in his final season. Much of the evaluation of the offense is speculative, but Brady’s background at Penn State and with the New Orleans Saints has created a a high level of anticipation for the fall.
The spring did shed some light on the progress on redshirt sophomore Myles Brennan, who’s not likely to supplant Burrow but seems well prepared to fill in ably if called upon.
Running game: B
Clyde Edwards-Helaire built on the momentum of a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl with another impressive outing in the spring game. Chris Curry, after being a non-factor as a freshman last season, looked much improved in the spring and Lanard Fournette could be a factor as a third-down back.
So the running backs had a good spring, which should make preseason camp even more interesting when John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price, two highly touted incoming freshmen, arrive.
The new approach to the passing game will garner the most attention, but the performance of the running game with its new-found depth will again be a major part of LSU’s success next season.
Passing game (including WRs and TEs): C-
Baker, Burrow and the passing game need improvement from the wide receivers and the tight ends if the offense is going to meet expectations.
Justin Jefferson is unquestionably the leader of a wide receiving group that was inconsistent last season. Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall have shown signs that the growing pains that plagued them as freshmen last season might be behind them.
Trey Palmer and Devonta Lee are promising freshmen, but the expectations for them will be tempered after the disappointment of the first-year receivers last season.
The graduation of Foster Moreau leaves large shoes to fill at tight end. Stephen Sullivan and freshman T.K. McClendon are the better receivers and Jamal Pettigrew is the top blocker.
Offensive line: C
This unit remains a work in progress, though it has the potential to be a team strength.
Left tackle Saahdiq Charles, center Lloyd Cushenberry and right guard Damien Lewis lead the way. Chasen Hines is the top candidate at left guard and right tackle features a lot of competition. Austin Deculus will enter preseason camp as the starter, but Badara Traore, Adrian Magee and freshman Anthony Bardford are in the mix and the Tigers do have enough versatility to rearrange things if someone breaks through.
One of the most important projects for LSU in preseason camp will be to significantly upgrade the shaky pass protection from last season.
Run defense: B+
LSU has to replace one of the most productive tacklers in school history after the early departure of linebacker Devin White to the NFL.
It likely will take a group effort to effectively replace White’s production, but the Tigers have enough talent throughout the defense to be able to do it.
The linebacking unit, led by Michael Divinity Jr., Jacob Phillips and K’Lavon Chaisson could be outstanding.
Passing defense: A-
The defensive line was beat up last season and in the spring, but a healthy unit could be a dominant one.
Adding highly-touted freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. to a talented secondary that already features proven corners in Kristian Fulton and Kary Vincent as well as a star in safety Grand Delpit creates the possibility for a superb pass defense on the front and back ends.
Special teams: C
Stingley is being counted on to breathe life into a stagnant punt return game, while Edwards-Helaire resumes his kickoff return duties after an adequate season last year.
The Tigers have plenty of experience at punter with Zach Von Rosenberg and Josh Growden both returning, but place-kicking will again be an area of significant scrutiny.
The place-kicking was nearly disastrous two years ago before Cole Tracy came in as a graduate transfer last year and was outstanding in his one season.
Now LSU eagerly awaits the summer arrival of Cade York, who is being counted on to continue the high standard set by Tracy and avoid a step back to the 2017 level.
The wide receivers have to be better than they were last year. With so much attention being paid to Brady and the new passing scheme, it’s easy to overlook the fact that he’s also taking over as wide receivers coach and placing greater demands for precise technique on a group that underachieved last season.