After notching their first 10-win season since 2013, the LSU Tigers head into 2019 with plenty of optimism. Ed Orgeron just signed a top-10 recruiting class, starting quarterback Joe Burrow is back and things are generally looking up in Death Valley.
The Tigers start spring practice on March 7, but it's never too early to look at what's to come.
2018 record: 10-3
Strength heading into spring: Dare we say it's the continuity on offense? The Tigers bring back four starting offensive linemen, all their top receivers, their quarterback and their offensive coordinator (Steve Ensminger). That should bode well for a unit that has seen regular turnover in the past decade (rare has been the year that LSU brought back both the starting quarterback and the offensive coordinator from the same season). And after seeing the way Burrow threw it around in the Fiesta Bowl, with Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson being the main beneficiaries, it looks like this offense, particularly the passing game, could take another step forward in 2019.
Biggest offseason position battle: Replacing Devin White at the "rover" linebacker position is no small task, but LSU has several intriguing options. Patrick Queen filled in for White in the first half of the Tigers' loss to Alabama -- when White was suspended for the infamous targeting call against Mississippi State -- and was the primary backup at the position. Jacob Phillips, who started at middle linebacker and was second on the team in tackles, could move over to the position. Micah Baskerville, who backed up at both inside linebacker positions and started a game, also is a potential option. There are also a couple of incoming recruits at the position: ESPN 300 prospect Donte Starks and four-star prospect Kendall McCallum.
Question mark heading into spring: The Tigers need all the depth they can get at cornerback. This is "DBU" and rightfully so, but having such talent at the position is both a blessing and a curse, because defensive backs coach Corey Raymond turns corners over to the NFL draft in short order. Orgeron went as far in his signing day news conference to say that two incoming recruits, Derek Stingley Jr. and Jay Ward, would've started for LSU in its bowl game. (The Tigers were down several players for a variety of circumstances.) LSU can never have too many corners, which is why they signed five (safety prospect Maurice Hampton will start his LSU career at corner). Starting corner Kristian Fulton is back so he'll man the left side; the competition for the right side (formerly manned by Greedy Williams) is there for the taking. Don't be shocked if Stingley, whom Orgeron raved about recently, finds himself there.
Instant impact addition: Stingley, the No. 18 player in the 2019 ESPN 300, could push for a starting spot quickly, Orgeron said. The Baton Rouge product was the nation's No. 1 cornerback recruit and also could be a factor as a punt returner. Orgeron said that not only would Stingley have started LSU's Fiesta Bowl win over UCF, he would've been one of the best players on the field.
2019 game to get excited about now: Texas. The Week 2 clash pairs teams in neighboring states that haven't played each other on the gridiron in more than 60 years. Both teams have high expectations this fall, they do regular battle on the recruiting trail and there's a tiny bit of history involving LSU and Tom Herman, as the two were in negotiations for the job Orgeron ultimately got.
Spring storyline to watch: The Tigers' offense took some steps forward in 2018 behind grad transfer quarterback Burrow and offensive coordinator Ensminger and now LSU adds a new face to the mix: passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who came to the team from the New Orleans Saints. Orgeron said he was impressed by Brady's knowledge and mastery of the run-pass option game, which is something Orgeron said he wants to increase the presence of in LSU's offense. How Brady's addition and more run-pass option concepts find their way into the Tigers' offense this spring will be interesting. "We are retooling the offense," Orgeron said. "It's exactly what I wanted from the get-go. I think Joe and Steve Ensminger will work well together."