A look at the upcoming Tiger football season
If preseason predictions are to be believed, LSU’s 2018 season won’t be one for the record books. Fortunately for the Tigers, games are played on the field and not in the minds of pessimistic observers. Picked to finish fifth in the SEC West and just coming into the nation’s top 25 teams in the polls, LSU faces lower expectations than it has in any recent season. But a loaded defense, a talented receiver room, and hope at quarterback gives Ed Orgeron plenty of room for optimism in his second full season on the job. Here’s our breakdown of LSU’s 2018 squad, position by position.
All eyes are under center, as always, as the Tigers feature a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job this fall.
The odds-on favorite entering camp was Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior with a quick release, a high football IQ, and pinpoint accuracy. He made his way to Baton Rouge after Danny Etling’s graduation left a void at quarterback that none of Myles Brennan, Justin McMillan, or Lowell Narcisse could definitively fill this spring.
McMillan, in particular, however, has no interest in conceding the job to Burrow this fall, based on his performances early in camp. The junior had the best spring game of any quarterback and took most of the first team reps in the opening weeks of practice. He’s the best blend of talents in the room, a shifty runner with a veteran’s presence and a big left arm.
Brennan, the favorite to win the job during the spring, is the best thrower of the candidates. He’s got a cannon of a right arm, but his 6-foot-4 frame holds less than 200 pounds, and he’d be helped by a year or two to develop physically before being thrown into the teeth of SEC defenses.
Narcisse is the best runner of the group, a bulldozer whom Orgeron accidentally called a linebacker during one fall media session. The redshirt freshman is rusty from three seasons without football – he spent his last two years of high school battling knee injuries – but he’ll likely feature in special running packages regardless of who wins the starting job.
For the first time since 1974, LSU is without a returning running back with a rushing touchdown to his name. The long legacy of talented tailbacks is begging for star power this season, but there is talent in running backs coach Tommie Robinson’s room.
Nick Brossette has battled injuries throughout his Tiger career but was a verified blue-chipper out of University High School in Baton Rouge and could be set for a solid senior campaign as the top ball carrier. Another Baton Rouge native, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, has the shiftiness and versatility to be the successor to his Catholic High predecessor at LSU, Derrius Guice. Freshman Chris Curry has impressed early in his time in Baton Rouge and is a tough, physical runner who will get looks.
The fullback looks to be less featured than in years past, but Tory Carter is a wild man in the backfield, an angry runner and a punishing blocker who will get snaps, perhaps as an H-back.
Perhaps upgraded from last year’s unit, the offensive line nevertheless has some hurdles to overcome early in the year. Presumed starting right guard, Ed Ingram was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules at the outset of fall practice, forcing the line into shuffle mode. Damien Lewis, the strongest player up front, moved from the bench to right guard. Lloyd Cushenberry began camp as the starter at center, but it was widely thought he would make way for left guard Garrett Brumfield to fit Lewis in at left guard. Instead, the only true battle of camp went to right tackle, where Adrian Magee and Austin Deculus battled for starters’ rights opposite left tackle mainstay Saahdiq Charles.
Orgeron has called this position group his most talented, and it starts with a freshman class named the best in the country by recruiting website 247Sports.
Ja’Marr Chase has emerged as the best of that bunch early in his freshman campaign. The Rummell graduate has all the physical tools to be an impact player in year one. The most proven receiver is Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, who went for more than 1,000 yards in 2016 before transferring to LSU and sitting out the 2017 season. Sophomore Justin Jefferson has plenty of polish to his game, and another freshman, Terrace Marshall, could be a homerun threat for the passing game.
Foster Moreau earned the coveted No. 18 shirt and is LSU’s returning leading receiver. Under Steve Ensminger’s offense, he and fellow starter Thaddeus Moss look to be prominently featured. Depth is a concern with Jamal Pettigrew out for the year with a knee injury and Jacory Washington banged up during the fall.
Another spot of shuffling early in the fall, Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko slid over from end to nose guard. The end spots will be manned by Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan. Lawrence battled injury all last season, but the junior is healthy and could be a star up front for the Tigers. Keep an eye out for LSU’s group of big nose guards. If one of Ed Alexander, Dominic Livingston, or Tyler Shelvin can emerge, it will give Dave Aranda’s defense the necessary fulcrum to build the rest of the unit around.
The strength of LSU’s defense is at linebacker, and his name is Devin White. The All-American is back for his junior year after leading the SEC in tackles. A dynamic sideline-to-sideline tackler, White has improved his play in between the tackles and should dominate in 2018. His partner, Jacob Phillips, is a former five-star ready to shine as a sophomore. Depth in the middle might be an issue after the suspension of Tyler Taylor for his alleged involvement in an offseason burglary. On the edge, K’Lavon Chaisson should rack up sacks at outside linebacker, where there is real depth in the form of Michael Divinity, Ray Thornton, Andre Anthony, and a number of athletic pass rushers and edge setters.
Greedy Williams was the breakout All-American in 2017. He’s back, and he could use a breakout from another corner. Kristian Fulton, a former five-star signee, looks like he’ll miss a second straight year due to NCAA suspension from an attempted falsified drug test, so that leaves the door open for grad transfer Terrence Alexander, freshman safety convert Kelvin Joseph, or sophomore Kary Vincent to take the gig. Safety is possibly LSU’s deepest position. Grant Delpit and John Battle are assumed starters, but sophomores Eric Monroe, JaCoby Stevens, and Todd Harris are all elite talents, and Ed Paris brings experience at the spot.
LSU hopes its kicking problems will be solved with the addition of grad transfer Cole Tracy, who was the D2 kicker of the year a season ago. Both punters return, and Giles, Alexander, and receiver Derrick Dillon could all factor in the return game.
The Tigers boast a loaded defense and a new-look offense, but the schedule – deemed the toughest in the nation by ESPN – is brutal, with games against Auburn, Miami, Florida, and Texas A&M away from home and home dates with Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers could easily go 7-5 and be a top 20 team in the nation, but if things develop on offense, eight or nine wins would mark a very good foundation for what could be a title-contending 2019 campaign.
Photos courtesy Chris Parent/LSU Athletics