Turnover has been the theme of the past several months at LSU: a new head coach in Ed Orgeron a few new assistant coaches, a ton of departed seniors, plus early NFL entries by several star juniors.
The 2017 team figures to look different than the one that most recently thumped Louisville in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. How different? Let’s take a look at some of the key questions facing the Tigers this offseason:
How will the offense change under Matt Canada?
This will be an interesting development to watch. With Derrius Guice returning in the backfield, LSU figures to remain a run-first team. That has generally been Canada’s M.O. He also has frequently allowed his quarterbacks to run, although Canada vows to always mold his approach to the talent on hand. Does Canada’s hiring give Brandon Harris a better chance to challenge Danny Etling at quarterback because of Harris’ superior running ability? Who fills the vacancies along the interior line? Will the Tigers throw the ball more than in the previous three seasons, and if so, who catches the passes? And how different will the scheme look from what LSU did under Cam Cameron and Steve Ensminger? Those questions will all linger until the Tigers take the field against BYU on Sept. 2.
How will things shake out at linebacker?
Two of the most exciting young linebackers in the NFL – Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander and Atlanta’s Deion Jones – came from LSU and two more are on the way in Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley. So why, then, have the Tigers had so much difficulty signing blue-chippers at the position lately? The Tigers will be fine at outside linebacker next season with junior Arden Key leading a host of impressive hybrid players – keep an eye on redshirt freshman Ray Thornton, too – but inside linebacker features limited depth and experience. Devin White and Donnie Alexander will probably be fine, but that’s no guarantee. And who are Dave Aranda’s best options behind them? Orgeron’s staff is currently chasing multiple prospects who could provide instant answers.
Who catches the passes?
As of this writing, junior Malachi Dupre has not announced whether he plans to enter the NFL draft. If he returns, LSU keeps its top two receivers from 2016 -- junior D.J. Chark already announced he will return -- and maintains a measure of confidence that everything will be fine in the passing game. If Dupre (41 catches, 593 yards) leaves, there will be some reason for concern. Chark (26-466) should develop into a legitimate No. 1 target, but the Tigers have already lost their other top four pass catchers: wideout Travin Dural (28-280), running back Leonard Fournette (15-146) and tight ends Colin Jeter (11-157) and DeSean Smith (10-184). The Tigers' other top returning wide receivers are Russell Gage (5-62) and Dee Anderson (4-73). They have some promising talent in Derrick Dillon, Stephen Sullivan, Drake Davis and Anderson -- all former ESPN 300 prospects -- but virtually nothing in terms of on-field production.