How ready is LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron for start of the 2020 season?
“If they move it back, or if they change it, who cares? It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You call us at midnight and we’ll go play in a pasture.”
Orgeron was at his energetic best Wednesday, stepping to the microphone at LSU’s Football Operations building to address the Baton Rouge Rotary Club in what’s evolved into the unofficial start of a new season.
The only difference was that Orgeron’ s appearance before the Baton Rouge civic organization was conducted virtually because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re excited about this season,” he said. “I think we have a great team coming back. I have a great coaching staff.”
He’s just uncertain when that season will kick off.
LSU’s scheduled to being its preseason camp Aug. 7 with the intention of preparing to open the season at home Sept. 5 against Texas-San Antonio although a report surface Wednesday the Southeastern Conference would play a 10-game, conference-only schedule contingent upon approval of the university’s presidents.
Until he’s told differently, Orgeron’s pressing forward with the challenge of his getting his reigning national champions prepared for competition.
“We get asked all about the time, “What about the season?” Well here’s our mindset: Obviously that’s out of my control,” Orgeron said. “I know what’s in our control is we’re going to prepare. We’re preparing that we’re going to kick off Sept. 5.”
LSU went through a six week stretch of voluntary workouts of weightlifting and conditioning. The Tigers started their “Football School” on July 24 that’s consisted of walk-through sessions that have included the use of a football.
Orgeron commended LSU’s team doctors and training staff for the safety measures they’ve taken and protocols that have been put in place.
Outside of an off-campus occurrence in mid-June that resulted in several players (Orgeron said it was much lower than the 30 reported by Sports Illustrated) being quarantined, LSU has managed to conduct voluntary workouts and the initial stages of walkthroughs without major incident.
He confirmed that two players currently have the virus, but doesn’t expect anyone to elect not to play this season.
“None of our players have talked about that,” Orgeron said of opting out. “I know they have the option. Our players are eager to play. These guys are elite. These guys want to win championships. They believe in each other. I don’t expect much of that (opting out) to happen.”
Orgeron covered his team’s overall depth chart beginning with his endorsement of junior Myles Brennan of becoming LSU’s starting quarterback with incoming freshmen Max Johnson and T.J. Finley on his heels.
“I believe in Myles Brennan,” he said. “I believe he has tremendous talent and I believe he’s going to have a great year. This is an open competition. Myles is going to have to earn winning the job, but I think he’s going to do it. That doesn’t mean the other guys can’t beat him out.
“I want Myles to be the best Myles. That’s all,” he said. “It would be unfair to compare him to (LSU’s 2019 Heisman Trophy winning QB) Joe (Burrow) every time he takes a snap. I told him if you’re like Joe, I won’t be disappointed.”
Senior Austin Deculus is the expected leader of an offensive line which is minus four starters from last year’s Joe Moore Award winning group.
Junior guard Ed Ingram gained some valuable experience in his return after missing the 2018 season and left tackle Dare Rosenthal also has some playing experience.
Orgeron said Harvard graduate transfer Lian Shanahan could get the nod at center over Chase Hines, who would then start at right guard.
“We have to go to camp,” he said. “Maybe Chasen’s the starting center, Liam’s a guard. We’re going to see what happens. I think those other guys are pretty set.”
The return of junior Ja’Marr Chase – the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner – and junior Terrace Marshall give LSU one of the nation’s top wide receiving corps that will include freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, the national Gatorade Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.
Senior wide receiver Racey McMath provides another experienced target, but after that the position has a decidedly youthful look with sophomore Trey Palmer and freshmen Kayshon Boutte, Alex Adams and Koy Moore all expected to contribute.
“We’ll be better at tight end than we have in a long time,” Orgeron said, noting the return of senior Jamal Pettigrew and sophomore Nick Storz, who will be a walk-on after two years of pitching for LSU’s baseball team.
A year after a record-setting season from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 1,414 yards and had a program-record 55 receptions, LSU’s running back position will take on more of a “by committee” approach.
The Tigers return sophomores in Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. and Orgeron said to keep an eye on freshmen Tre Bradford of Lancaster, Texas.
Orgeron said that there was one area of the team that drew his scrutiny in the afterglow of the national championship was the overall play of the defense.
He touted the return of former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini after head coaching stints at Nebraska and Youngstown State and the impact he expects with a change from the 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive scheme.
“I think one of the things we need to get better at from last year is defense,” he said. “We didn’t play good defense. That’s why Bo is here. I do believe we’re able to use our athletes more to play better defense. There were too many points scored on us last year. I think you’re going to see a big improvement. “
Pelini’s attack-style approach plays right into the hands of returning interior defensive linemen such as junior Tyler Shelvin, senior Glen Logan and sophomore Siaki “Apu” Ika.
Orgeron continued to tout the potential impact of freshmen tackles Jaquelin Roy, Jacobian Guillory and Eric Taylor.
“We’re very athletic up front,” Orgeron said.
The Tigers will have experience back in junior defensive ends Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas, while senior Andre Anthony transitions to defensive end and will provide depth along with senior Travez Moore, junior Soni Fonua sophomore Jerrell Cherry, junior Ali Gaye and freshmen B.J. Ojulari and Phillip Webb.
LSU’s linebacker corps was hit hard with the loss of three starters, presenting junior Damone Clark with an opportunity of leading the team’s defense.
After two years in a limited role junior Micah Baskerville is a projected starter while senior graduate transfer Jabril Cox of North Dakota State is a two-time FCS All-American that’s expected to step into a primary playing role with senior Ray Thornton and a pair of standout freshmen in Josh White and Antoine Sampah contending for playing time.
“We lost a lot of linebackers,” Orgeron said, “but I believe we’re just as talented. (Cox) Has already shown that he can run. He’s a smart player who’s learned the defense.”
Consensus first team All-American cornerback Derek Stingley, a sophomore, headlines what has the makings of another standout secondary.
Senior JaCoby Stevens is another key cog that’s back at safety and with the return of junior Todd Harris Jr., the safety position will be one of considerable strength for LSU which also has Kary Vincent Jr. back for his final season along with sophomore Maurice Hampton Jr. and incoming freshman Jordan Toles.
Orgeron also said his team’s picture at cornerback opposite of Stingley is a bright one with the return of sophomores Jay Ward and Cordale Flott, coupled with freshmen Raydarious Jones and Dwight McGlothern.
“We have tremendous leadership,” said Orgeron, who praised his kicking specialists is senior punter Zach Von Rosenberg and sophomore place-kicker Cade York. “Obviously, we’ve been through some things here. We win the national championship, then COVID hits and several outside factors came into play. We had to have team meetings. It brought us closer. Our guys have not blinked. They’ve worked very hard. They’re prepared and we’re ready to go.”