LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said it took a period of adjustment to the new normal around LSU’s Football Operations building and practice facility brought on by COVID-19.
Coaches and players sat properly distanced by six feet in meetings, cloaked in masks for their protection.
When LSU returned in June for work in the weight room and moved outside for conditioning, they were outfitted in masks brought on by a coronavirus pandemic that’s threatened to derail the 2020 college football season.
“We’ve gotten used to it,” Orgeron said Tuesday during a Zoom news conference with local media. “When you focus on football you kind of forget about it. We’ve been doing this for so long now. If you want to do something bad enough, you’re going to do it. We want to play football so we’re following the rules. It doesn’t seem to bother us.”
Orgeron said “two or three” players tested positive for the virus upon their return to campus for the start of fall camp Monday. They’ve since been quarantined for 10 days and must be symptom free for 24 hours before returning to practice according to the protocols set forth by the Southeastern Conference.
It’s part of the world involving the battle against coronavirus LSU’s players must deal with in order to return to the playing field.
The SEC, one of three Power 5 Conferences still with intentions to play the ’20 season, released an amended schedule Monday in which LSU – the reigning national champions – opens at home against Mississippi State on Sept. 26.
“We’ve already game-planned for him and his coordinators,” Orgeron said of State’s first-year head coach Mike Leach. “We don’t know exactly the personnel and how it fits the offensive and defensive schemes. It will be new for them, too. They don’t know what (LSU defensive coordinator) Bo’s (Pelini) going to do, (LSU passing game coordinator) Scott Linehan’s going to do. I’m glad we’ve got them at home.”
LSU’s new schedule evenly divides the Tigers first seven games – home and away – before having to make consecutive road trips Nov. 21-28 to Arkansas and Texas A&M.
The Tigers, who also host Missouri (Oct. 10), South Carolina (Oct. 24) and Alabama (Nov. 14), close the regular season in Tiger Stadium against Ole Miss (Dec. 5).
“It’s a good schedule,” Orgeron said. “Any schedule would have been a good schedule for us. I’m just happy that we’re playing.”
Orgeron acknowledged that he’s wary of a potential increase in COVID-19 cases with the recent return of LSU’s students in preparation for the start of next week’s fall semester.
“We don’t need a spike,” he said. “I see the cars around campus and it’s good to see the electricity around campus. We expect there will be probably be a spike. We have to overcome it. We have to flatten it (curve) out so on Sept. 26 we can play football.”
In addition to the recent players that tested positive, LSU has lost a couple of potential starters on this year’s defense for coronavirus-related reasons.
Senior defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. and senior safety/nickelback Kary Vincent Jr. have both announced their intentions to opt out this season with Farrell expected to return for the 2021 season, while Vincent intends to begin preparing for next year’s NFL Draft and has finished his college career.
“We don’t blink, it’s next man up,” Orgeron said. “It’s why we have depth. We get guys ready. It’s going to happen. It’s the lay of the land. There’s going to be guys opting out for medical reasons and I understand that. That’s their choice and we support them. We’re not going to blink. … Next man up.”
That goes for an LSU defensive line that not only will be without Farrell this season, but also senior defensive end Justin Thomas who has left the team, Orgeron said.
Thomas, a three-year letterman, had eight tackles in five games during the 2019 season before leaving the team in late October. He returned to the Tigers in February before the start of spring training which was halted because of the coronavirus after three practices.
“We wish him the best,” Orgeron said. “It’s unfortunate, but he will not be with us.”
LSU conducted the first of its allotted 25-practice sessions Monday and plans to practice again Tuesday and Wednesday, have a team meeting on Thursday, practice Friday morning and give the team off until the start of classes Monday.
Orgeron said that the anchor of LSU’s offensive line – senior right tackle Austin Deculus – missed Monday’s practice and would be out “a bit” and was being backed up by sophomore Cam Wire along with freshmen Marcus Dumervil and Charles Turner.
Senior graduate transfer Liam Shanahan of Harvard continues to show signs of being the team’s starting center with sophomore Dare Rosenthal settling in at left tackle and Chasen Hines moving to right guard, Oregon said.
The return of three sophomore running backs led by Chris Curry, John Emery and Tyrion David Price, coupled with the arrival of freshman Tre Bradford, has given Orgeron every indication of having a team that will be able to run the ball better this season after Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow set the pace in 2019.
“Obviously, the guys we had last year were very good throwing the ball and I think we’re going to be very good throwing the ball again, but our running game’s going to be better,” Orgeron said. “I think you’re going to see a different team this year.”
Orgeron continued to sing the praises of Pelini and the direction of a defense that’s moved to a 4-3 alignment that plans to take advantage of a talented interior led by junior Tyler Shelvin, promising linebacker corps topped by junior Damone Clark and deep secondary directed by sophomore Derek Stingley Jr.
Freshmen Jaquelyn Roy and Jacobian Guillory have shown Orgeron they can step into LSU’s defensive line rotation and contribute immediately along with junior college signee Ali Gaye.
Senior starting right end Andre Anthony is part of a position group that will also count on senior starter Travez Moore at left end and freshman Phillip Webb and B.J. Ojulari.
Orgeron pointed toward Clark and graduate transfer Jabril Cox of North Dakota State as standouts in the linebacker group with junior Micah Baskerville’s “having his best camp so far.”
Sophomore cornerback Cordale Flott drew praise for his work from Orgeron, who also credited sophomore cornerback Jay Ward and freshman cornerback Elias Ricks along with safeties JaCoby Stevens, Maurice Hampton Jr. and Todd Harris Jr.
“The attitude around here is that we want to play,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, that’s going to be the doctor’s decision. That’s not our decision. If they tell us we can play, we want to play.”