LSU closer to having enough warm bodies to play Arkansas

LSU freshman quarterback TJ Finley will likely start Saturday at Arkansas.

LSU sounds like a team closer to playing a game instead of idling on the sideline for a third consecutive week.

Tigers head football coach Ed Orgeron said during his weekly news conference Monday he expected most of his quarantined players to return to practice either Monday or Tuesday, a development that would solidify his team’s Southeastern Conference 11 a.m. game Saturday at Arkansas.

“We feel like the room’s going to be full today for the first time,” Orgeron said. “We’re actually going to have two quarterbacks (at) practice.”

LSU, which had an open week going into a scheduled home game Nov. 14 against Alabama, had that game postponed. An unidentified numbers of players either tested positive for the coronavirus or were subject to contact tracing, leaving the Tigers’ roster depleted and unable to play as scheduled.

Reportedly, no more than four players tested positive for COVID-19. But Orgeron acknowledged his team’s depth was stretched thin because of contact tracing ,which results in a 14-day quarantine. It left LSU below the SEC below the requisite 53 scholarship players to conduct a game.

“As of now, we plan on getting most of our guys back by tomorrow (Tuesday),” Orgeron said. “And I’ll have the report later on during the week obviously this thing is very fluid and can change every day. But I think by tomorrow we should have most of our guys back.”

LSU (2-3) tied to conduct practice last week before taking off Thursday through Sunday. Freshman TJ Finley was the team’s lone scholarship quarterback available last week and Orgeron said that he was reliant on walk-ons more than usual to fill out certain position groups to conduct practice sessions.

Here’s what else Orgeron said:

Opening Remarks

“Excited to play Arkansas this week. Excited to see the players. They’ve been off Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a lot of them have been around today. Had a great morning in the weight room. Everybody ready to go to work.

“Obviously, I think that (Arkansas) Coach Sam Pittman has done a tremendous job with this football team. His coaching staff ought to be commended. They’re completely different football team. They’re a darned good football team. They play with great fundamentals. They play with energy and this is going to be a big challenge for us to go on the road and beat Arkansas at home.”

On your plan for handling the quarterbacks this week

“TJ has taken the first team reps. Max (Johnson) hasn’t practiced for a week now. We’re going to let him get back. We’ll see who is the best guy available. Right now, it’s probably going to be TJ unless Max can have a great week. We’ll probably play both of them in the game.”

On where’s your team conditioning wise after two weeks ago

“We’ll have to ease them back in. First of all, they’ve been working out on their own. They were in good shape when they stopped, so they haven’t been out that long. Hopefully the workouts kept up to pace, they can come and practice. I think it will be fine. But we’re going to have to limit their reps in the game. We’ll see if some guys need extra conditioning, give them extra conditioning, whatever it might be.”

On what do you want to see out of TJ Finley this week in practice

“We have to take care of the football. Take care of the football. Make smart decisions which he did the first game. The second game he didn’t. And we had three turnovers. You can’t go on the road and turn over the football. It’s not all on him. It’s on the play-calling, keep it simple for him. It’s on the other players surrounding playing better. It’s about the offensive line protection. It’s about everybody.”

On whether you relaxed after saying a lot of your players had COVID in June and thought the worst was over

“No, not at all. No. And I’ll say last week most of our guys that weren’t able to play was because of quarantine. It wasn’t because the number of guys who had COVID.”

On the balancing act between playing your regular starters with wanting to give a young player at shot

“It’s all about winning the games. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing. It works out both, but I’m not going to take out an older guy just to play a younger guy to give him reps. This is about winning the game, giving our guys the best chance to win.”

Are you upset at the suggestion that you don’t want to play Alabama or reschedule the game

“We look forward to rescheduling Alabama. Whenever they tell us to play, we want to play. We wanted to play last week. We weren’t able to play because of the safety of our players. We have to put the safety of our players first. People will say things here and there that’s not true. We look forward to playing Alabama. I love the rivalry. I grew up watching that rivalry. They’re a great football team, great challenge. Whenever they tell us to play, we’ll be ready to go.”

On your confidence level that’s going to happen

“I don’t know that. I’m hoping it does. I’m hearing rescheduling may be made. But nobody’s told us for sure. This is very fluid. But I do believe that Alabama and LSU ought to play this year, and I do believe we’re going to play somehow, some way.”

On the difference you’ve noticed in quarterback Feleipe Franks from the player he was at Florida

“Feleipe Franks is doing a little more RPOs than he did at Florida. His leadership skills are showing on the field. He loves to run the offense. It looks like the guys are playing. He’s using his skill. Treylon Burks, a guy from Warren, Arkansas, who I tried to recruit very hard, we were right in the thick of it, outstanding player. They’ve got a great running back, another great receiver. The offensive line is playing well because the head coach is an offensive line coach. So, I think they’ve done a tremendous job. Barry Odom does a good job with their defense. Did a great job of game planning Ole Miss. I think Ole Miss had six picks, they dropped eight on them. So, the guy knows what he’s doing.”

On the success of a Arkansas coach Sam Pittman who followed a familiar path to becoming a head coach

“I think a lot of Coach Pittman. Obviously has done a great job. I don’t know if it helped or not, but I was never a coordinator. He was never a coordinator; he became a head coach, and he’s doing a good job. We’ve had success here. I think that guys don’t need to be judged as if they’re a coordinator or not. It’s the leadership skills they have and their background. And I think all those great coaches I’ve been with that’s helped me and I think it’s going to help Coach Pittman. And the key is surround yourself with great players and great coaches. And for the most part we’ve done that here. So, I think that’s key.”

On the biggest difference in Arkansas over the last couple of seasons

“They’ve got players better. Feleipe has made a difference, but they’ve got better players. Kendall Brown has done an outstanding job. They go hurry up. They’re one of the fastest teams we’ve seen on offense. Look at the first drive against Florida. I just watched it on TV. Tremendous job. Tremendous job of calling plays. Tremendous job of throwing the deep ball. They’re putting their athletes in space, let them make plays. I think Barry Odom, for the most part, has done a tremendous job on defense. You can see his schemes. You can see the fundamentals. I talked to Coach Pittman this morning. You know what? They have faith in their coaching staff. They’re getting love and they feel like they could be a good team. Give them credit.”

On whether you joke with punter Zach Von Rosenberg for being team’s oldest player

“When is your Social Security check coming in, stuff like that. (Laughter). I love him. I love Zach. Zach is a team leader. Like I said, he played second team quarterback – last week. Did a tremendous job. Beat our defense a little bit which worries me. But he’s done a tremendous job for us.”

On trying to plan things out when there’s so many rumblings on game changes

“For the most part we’re prepared for it. And so, whenever they tell us to play, I think if we have a week to prepare, it’s going to be an extra week, we spend a lot of time on Alabama this summer. We spent a lot of time on Alabama, I guess, it was two weeks ago, I can’t remember. And so, we were prepared to play them. Obviously. We had a game plan in place. Once they tell us to play, I think we’ll be fine. But you have to remain fluid. Hope the remaining schedule we play all five games. I want to play Alabama. I want to play Florida. I want to play Ole Miss and Texas A&M and Arkansas. We have a team that needs to get better and everyone is going to present us a challenge, but we’re ready for it.”

On addressing some of the older players to try and turn the season around and impact those NFL Draft hopefuls

“They want to win. They want to go out and win, and they represent the purple and gold. And they don’t like the results on the field, either. But you know what? A lot of them got a lot of things to prove on the field to go into the NFL and put it on tape. And let’s use Terrace Marshall as an example. The guy’s having a tremendous season. He wants to talk to the team today. I know what he wants to talk to the team about, playing one team, one heartbeat, let’s go beat Arkansas, one game at a time, a lot of good football left.”

Any particular freshmen playing a part in what you hope is the building of a championship team in the future

“You’ve got to look at TJ and Max. Those guys work every day. You come here and go in during the summer, they’re working all the time. They’re leaders, they lead by example. They’re great character young men. Arik Gilbert, look at him at tight end, the things he can do. Kayshon Boutte, the things that he can do. We haven’t seen Tre Bradford play yet. He’s going to be an excellent football player. We have three good, young offensive linemen, I think, that will be excellent football players. On defense, look at Elias Ricks, I don’t know where he’s at, but at one time he was leading the country (in interceptions). And we have Jacquelin Roy, Jacobian Guillory, BJ Ojulari, and Phillip Webb – those guys have not even played yet or panned out – Josh White. Those guys have a lot of football in front of them.”

Are any of those freshmen considered vocal leaders

“The guys who’ve stood up so far, TJ and Max. Those guys stand up. TJ got the team fired up and Max was fired up to go. Our players believe in both of those young men.”

On whether there are similarities between this season and 2017 when you lost to Troy

“No question. I know we’re going to build a championship team. I know it’s coming. But you have to go through some adversity, man. Iron sharpens iron. You have to develop some grit and toughness. You just can’t go roll your helmet out there. We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to pay attention to details. It all starts with me, I gotta get this program better. But I do know this we’re building character. We’re building something special and those guys who stay and those guys who will come with us, we’ll have a great recruiting class come and fixing to get better. We’ll put some great athletes on the field. And I know that we can put them in the best position to make plays and be a great team.”

On the strides you hope the offensive line has made

“We’re looking at maybe Dare Rosenthal being reinstated. I don’t know yet. That’s not a definite yet. I think that would help us. I should know something more today or tomorrow if he can be reinstated to the team, I think that would help us.”

On the similarities between Alabama and Arkansas

“They run the stretch; run the counter. The RPOs. Play-action pass. Go deep. There’s some things that are similar. Arkansas does play a 4-3 defense. Alabama plays some 4-3, some nickel, some 3-4. Very similar.”

On your concerns for an Arkansas defense that forces a lot of turnovers

“The first thing I told the staff today: We’re going on the road; we have to win the turnover battle. Let’s do a great job this week of making sure we’re taking care of the ball. We went to Auburn; we didn’t win the turnover battle. We’ve got to win the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to be physical. Arkansas is a physical football team starts with the turnover battle. This week it will be big emphasis on securing the ball and taking it away. They’re a plus-8. We’re a plus-4.”

On how anxious you are to play a game after two weeks off and how sharp will the team’s tackling be

“It’s always a concern, but we practice tackling every day. We didn’t scrimmage our guys at all because frankly we didn’t have enough to scrimmage last week. We didn’t have two units. I wasn’t going go out there and tackle and scrimmage and get anybody else hurt. That’s the reason. Maybe if we had a full squad, if we had a full squad we’d be playing. I think we’ll have to practice tackling this week, do a good job, not going to take them to the ground but do a good job teaching it and get in the position to make some plays.”

On what you saw in the first games for TJ Finley

“I think the first game was perfect. The guy was on fire. Steve was calling a great game. We were protecting him. The second game, all sorts of stuff; we were playing away, didn’t start off well. I think we dropped the first pass. The second one was low, behind him or something like that. And I think we kind of got behind the 8-ball. Too much pressure on him. Obviously on the rush. We didn’t block very well in that game. In games before we had. I think it’s a combination of both.”

On the competition at starting linebacker between Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark

“I think that’s ongoing. Micah did a good job. He’s starting right now, but that doesn’t mean Damone couldn’t. I think those guys rotate in, but right now Micah’s the starter.”

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