LSU takes the field for the start of spring practice Saturday, 54 days after that magical January Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when the Tigers dismantled Clemson to win their fourth national championship and complete a 15-0 dream season.
Since then, nine Tigers’ underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft and there’s three new coaches to replace three departures, not to mention a boatload of fresh offensive and defensive analysts.
But the one constant is the hunger of LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who obviously is drawing on his experience as an assistant on four national title winning teams at Miami (1989, 1991) and USC (2003, 2004).
At his Wednesday press conference previewing spring practice, Orgeron said the best way for the Tigers to avoid complacency coming off a perfect year starts with him.
“I’m made a vow to myself I’m going to work harder this year, more attention to detail,” Orgeron said. “People need to see that from the leader. Everybody is watching the leader. We had so much success here last year you have a tendency to slow down a bit.
“We’ve got to speed up. There’s a new team, new leadership, we’ve got a lot of (new) coaches. We’ve got to set the standard of performance here. I’m the energy guy, I set the standard and I can’t let it slip.”
There’s much work to be done before LSU plays its spring game April 18 at noon at Southern University’s A.W. Mumford Stadium (because Tiger Stadium is being re-sodded).
LSU has to replace 15 starters (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams), including its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, its first-team All-SEC running back, its Jim Thorpe Award winning safety, almost its entire offensive line and all of its linebackers.
And the Tigers lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda who became Baylor’s head coach, passing game coordinator Joe Brady who became offensive coordinator of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and running backs coach Tommie Robinson to Texas A&M after his LSU contract was not renewed.
That cleared the way for former Tigers’ defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to return in his old job, NFL veteran Scott Linehan to fill Brady’s slot, all-time LSU leading rusher Kevin Faulk being promoted to running backs coach from director of player development and former LSU All-SEC linebacker Kelvin Sheppard moving into Faulk’s vacancy.
“With the hiring of Kevin Faulk, that makes three full-time assistants (Steve Ensminger and Corey Raymond are the others) that played football and graduated from LSU,” Orgeron said. “We’re very proud of that.”
Also on Wednesday, Oregron said wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph has been named assistant head coach, while cornerbacks coach Raymond has been tabbed as the Tigers’ recruiting coordinator.
Joseph enters his fourth season on the LSU staff and Raymond is now in his ninth year with the program. Both Joseph and Raymond will continue to coach their respective position groups.
Orgeron also announced players who are sitting out the spring recovering from injuries and surgeries. They are tight end Tory Carter, linebacker Soni Fonua, freshman tight end signee Erik Gilbert and safety Todd Harris, who Orgeron said may practice late in spring camp.
Also, seeing limited action because of injuries are freshman cornerback signee Elias Ricks and defensive end Neil Farrell, who should be available after the first two weeks.
Orgeron also confirmed rising sophomore redshirt offensive tackle Dare Rosenthal, who made three starts last season, has left school for personal reasons. But Orgeron also expects Rosenthal to re-enroll in the summer and rejoin the team.
Here’s what Orgeron said on various subjects:
On Myles Brennan being elevated from backup QB to starter
When you’re backing up the Heisman (winner Joe Burrow), you’ve got to keep your mouth shut. That’s what you do. He’s (Brennan) led this team in the Fourth Quarter (winter conditioning) program. He’s competed at every rep, just like Joe did. I’m not going to say he won every rep, but he competed. I’ve seen him been more vocal. I’ve heard him talk to guys, `Come on guys, get this done.’ I’ve seen him in the office watching more film than he ever has.
I know this. I know the Brennan family very well. They have been very patient. They have been waiting for this time. I expect Myles to explode. I expect him to do all the things he needs to do to be a great quarterback. Whatever deficiencies he has or will have, I know that he and his family are going to work on them. What I mean by that is (getting) more experience, working on his throwing motion, going to quarterbacks’ guru camps. Whatever that may be, I know this guy is going to do that. This guy is dedicated to do that.
I think we’re going to have one heckuva player. I’ve always believed in Myles. I believe he’s a championship quarterback. I believe he’s going to be great for us.
On dividing the quarterback snaps in the spring between Brennan, true freshmen Max Johnson and TJ Finley and freshman redshirt Peter Parrish
Myles will be the first team quarterback, the two young quarterbacks are going to get snaps on the second team. Myles will take all the first-team reps unless somebody else beats him out.
On how Orgeron sees the running back position transpiring to fill the loss of Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Chris Curry really showed what he could do last year (rushing for 89 yards on 16 carries starting for the injured Edwards-Helaire in the CFP semifinal win over Oklahoma). He’s a bull, he runs like Marshawn Lynch. I don’t know if he’s as fast as Marshawn Lynch, but he’s a bull. So is Tyrion Davis-Price. And John Emery (Jr.) is electric out of the backfield. The thing we need to improve on with those guys is catching the ball out of the backfield. We’ll never have one like Clyde that good. You saw him at the (NFL) combine. He was phenomenal.
On Devonta Lee being moved from receiver to linebacker
When we watched the state championship (film), Devonta Lee was the best player on defense. He had been a good receiver here, but we felt he’d be more of a linebacker like a JaCoby Stevens type of guy, big, strong and fast. And he wanted to move to defense. He talked to me about it.
On moving Marcel Brooks to inside linebacker
He was playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 (alignment), a little undersized. He’s about 205 pounds, we want him to get to 215. We didn’t have any (inside) linebackers, so we had no choice to put him there. He’s done phenomenal. He’s very fast. Once he catches on to the scheme, he’s going to be an excellent linebacker.
On hiring Bo Pelini
I thought Dave (Aranda) was going to get a head (coaching) job and there was only one person I wanted. I thought he (Pelini) was the best choice for us, the best fit. I knew the defense we had and what he can do with our talent. I thought it was a no-brainer. Bo has been a force, our players and coaches have gravitated to him already.
On hiring Scott Linehan
I really liked his approach in the interview, I really liked his demeanor. I really liked when he got up on the board, I could see him coaching our receivers. You can tell what type of coach he is when he gets up on the board and you ask him questions and it’s not a planned deal. He’s very detailed, brought a lot of knowledge. I felt comfortable with him. There are some guys on our staff who have worked with him before, and said he was excellent team guy. I think those qualities were very, very important to work with (offensive coordinator) Steve (Ensminger) and to keep the cohesiveness in the office.
There’s also the knowledge he has in the passing game in the red zone, how he related to the empty package and the things he did especially when he was the head coach (with the St. Louis Rams). It’s something he also ran in Detroit (as offensive coordinator). There’s not an offense he doesn’t know.
On hiring all-time LSU rushing leader and former New England Patriots star Kevin Faulk as running backs coach
I feel like we made a home run hire with Kevin. I’ve always wanted him on my staff. He has been great for the state of Louisiana and great for LSU. Our players love him. I love him. I think this is just the first step in his career. I think eventually Kevin is going to be a head coach and he’s going to be a phenomenal coach.
Kevin has a presence about himself but backs it up with work ethic. He doesn’t have to say `Look at me, I’m Kevin Faulk.’ That’s not him. He’s Louisiana true and true. He’s very humble. He speaks the truth. The players gravitate to him because they know what he has done and what he has been through. He was just like them when he was young.
He’s become a fine man with great character. (New England Patriots coach Bill) Belichick wanted him on the staff up there. I think he didn’t want to go back because it was too cold.
On the desire to continue to improve through staff changes
New ideas are good. Dave Aranda was fantastic, I loved him. But Bo has brought some fresh ideas and a new pair of eyes. It’s a defense I’m familiar with. Scott brought some new things in from the NFL. I think it’s a plus to keep on changing and continue to do that.
On if it was a conscious decision to pursue hiring veteran coaches instead of someone young like Joe Brady
The Joe Brady model was fantastic, how can you go wrong? I don’t know how many Joe Bradys are out there. I went after some and I didn’t see a fit for us. I made a good decision hiring Scott Linehan. I loved his experience. If there was another Joe Brady out there, I may have missed him. But I looked for him.
On using remaining scholarships for this year’s recruiting class
We’re still looking at players who are available. We still have three scholarships left for graduate transfers. We’re talking to guys. We’ve identified some guys. We haven’t made a decision on some. But I can expect those guys to be on official visits soon.