Kelly standing behind decision to keep Malik Nabers at punt returner

Sophomore Malik Nabers, who caught five passes for 34 yards, will continue to be the team's punt returner when the Tigers host Southern at 6:30 Saturday in Tiger Stadium. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

LSU football coach Brian Kelly didn’t commit to any specific changes in his football team in the wake of Sunday’s season-opening 24-23 loss against Florida State.

In fact, Kelly is firmly standing by punt returner Malik Nabers after the sophomore twice muffed punts during his team’s one-point loss.

“Malik is going to stay back there and work, so we’re not going to fire him from his duties,” Kelly said during Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference Coaches’ Teleconference. “He’s got to continue to work there. And we’ve added Sage Ryan. He’ll continue to work back there. And we’ve got a couple of young players that are going to get some work as well and see where that takes us through the week.”

LSU (0-1) opens its home schedule Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with an historic visit from Historic Black College University school Southern University (1-0). The SEC Network will televise the game.

Nabers was part of a logjam of wide receivers who tied for team-high honors with five catches for 34 yards against Florida State.

Special teams proved to be a challenge, though, when Nabers attempted to fair catch punts in the Superdome. He fumbled punts at his own 16 and 8-yard lines at the 3:15 mark of the second quarter and again with 2:15 remaining in the game, respectively, but neither turnover resulted in any points.

“I just I think we all know what we want to see and that’s obviously fielding the ball cleanly,” Kelly said. “We thought we saw that, but we’ve added some additional drills where we have some distractions in front of the punter. Obviously, forcing him to get his eyes trained properly.

Here’s what else Kelly had to say:

Opening statement

“We’re excited about playing a cross-town institution, an HBCU school in Southern. I think it’s great for the city, it brings the community together. Obviously, a lot of history and tradition here goes into playing this game. It’s the first time for us playing an HBCU school, so we’re excited about LSU and Southern playing at Tiger Stadium. It’s our first home game. Certainly, we want to be able to bounce back from a very disappointing loss. And obviously to get on the right track, so we’re excited about the opportunity this Saturday.”

Did you anticipate making any changes on the offensive line? Any other significant injuries aside from Maason Smith?
“I think everything is up for evaluation. It’s certainly early in the season and we’re still trying to put what we consider is the best combinations out there. I wouldn’t say that we’re at a point where we feel like all 22 positions are etched in stone.

We’ve got some injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Certainly, with Maason Smith out, there’s going to be some movement there as well. So, I guess the easiest way to answer the question is we’re still evaluating. There are still competitive battles for positions and in particular, I think the offensive line is one where we’re going to continue to evaluate from week to week.

We’ve got the difficult bumps and bruises from a physical game on Sunday. Some guys are limited during the week, but obviously we feel like we can get these guys back for Saturday.”

What can you say about Joe Foucha’s situation?

“It really has to do with some technical issues relative to credit hours and transfer credit hours. It’s really difficult for me to get into the specifics of it, but it’s really unfortunate. Joe’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. But sometimes in the transfer process, credit hours are earned and lost. He was put into a very difficult situation relative to gaining hours. We’re in that (appeal) process. Joe has been great in everything that we’ve asked him to do and we’re hoping to get him back as soon as we can.”
What about the play of wide receiver Jaray Jenkins?
“I would say the one word that stands out is consistency. He’s been consistent each and every day. Practice is preparation. He’s bigger, he’s stronger. We made him a game a captain for us on offense. Because of that, obviously it showed in the game as well. So, he’s been really good. I would say that there’s a lot of depth. And there’s a lot of really good wide receivers, but he has really done a great job of singling himself out with his consistent play.”

Can the offense’s up-tempo production translate to the rest of season?

“The game is one where there’s ebbs and flows in it. We had two really good drives early on. We were ready to go into score and we have an execution error that causes us to settle for a field goal. Then we missed one. So early on, we had a couple of really good drives. We just have to finish those off early in the game. But there’s no doubt tempo helped us. I think that we began to kind of exert ourselves a little bit and wore down Florida State late. I just think we have to start faster. It’s a combination of finishing off drives, playing with tempo and just executing at a higher level. I think if we do that we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Do you prefer playing in-state FCS opponents?

“If you’re going to go that route, I would like to be able to help out the in-state institutions. We are the flagship university and I just think that’s a good partnership for state recognition for schools that have done it the right way and continue to educate in the manner that we see as part of our mission as well. All of that kind of aligns with what (LSU) President (William) Tate and (LSU athletic director) Scott (Woodward) wants to do. And I feel like you know, that’s the right course that we want to continue to take.”

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