BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron opens his first spring as LSU’s head coach Saturday, bringing with him a restructured coaching staff and a roster with plenty of holes to fill.
There will be dozens of LSU storylines worth mentioning this spring, but here are three of the biggest:
1. Matt Canada’s introduction
Of the 10 on-field coaches on LSU's staff, only four still occupy the positions they held this time a year ago. Aside from the switch from Les Miles to Orgeron at head coach, no change was bigger than when Orgeron hired Broyles Award finalist Matt Canada away from Pittsburgh. Canada is the Tigers’ third offensive coordinator in the past seven months, following Cam Cameron and then tight-ends coach Steve Ensminger, who held the job in an interim capacity for eight games last season after the dismissals of Miles and Cameron. Orgeron has entrusted Canada with modernizing LSU’s offensive approach, adding some of the unpredictability that made Pitt’s offense productive and fun to watch. That process begins this spring, with Canada laying the groundwork for what could become a dynamic offense. He has a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield with Derrius Guice, a fifth-year senior at quarterback in Danny Etling, a host a veteran offensive linemen and a senior receiver, D.J. Chark, who is capable of building significantly upon his numbers from a breakout 2016. If Canada is as successful implementing his scheme as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was in 2016 in his first season at LSU, the Tigers will be awfully dangerous.
2. Year 2 under Aranda begins
Speaking of Aranda, his job will not be so easy this time around. He inherited a 2016 roster loaded with future NFL players such as Kendell Beckwith, Jamal Adams, Tre'Davious White, Arden Key and Duke Riley, among others. The only player on that list who is still on the roster is Key, and he will miss this spring while tending to what LSU will only call a “personal matter.” LSU expects Key to rejoin the the team this summer, but in the meantime, Aranda and the defensive coaches will have to break in a number of players expected to play bigger roles in 2017. On one hand, Aranda’s returning players have a much better idea of how his scheme works than they did this time a year ago. On the other, only a handful have done much in actual game situations. This group should be fine, especially once Key returns, but Aranda has a lot to accomplish from a quality-control perspective. As Orgeron mentioned earlier this week, if Aranda does not believe he can generate enough pressure with the defensive front four, he’ll have to blitz more often than he might like, adding pressure on a secondary that must replace four key veterans. Aranda will form early opinions on such matters over the next month.
3. The key position battles
We’ll offer an expanded look on this subject later Friday, but since we just mentioned the pass rush, let’s start there. With Key out of the picture, who will make life rough on opposing quarterbacks, particularly off the edge? LSU’s star junior is not the only edge rusher who is not around this spring. The Tigers will also be without 2016 seniors Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower and junior Davon Godchaux, who declared for the NFL draft. Granted, they do return ends Frank Herron and Rashard Lawrence, plus Christian LaCouture is back for another season after missing 2016 with a torn ACL. Those guys should be solid, but the outside linebackers aside from Key are unproven. Keep an eye on the development of 2016 signees Andre Anthony, Ray Thornton and Sci Martin this spring. In addition, several other positions are worth watching as we approach the April 22 spring game, including inside linebacker, safety, center, and especially wide receiver. With Travin Dural graduating and Malachi Dupre entering the draft, Chark is the Tigers’ only established wideout. LSU signed a collection of big ESPN 300 receivers last year -- Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan and Drake Davis -- but nobody has accomplished much yet. The next few weeks will provide an early indication as to who might complement Chark on the outside come fall.