Welcome to the Bayou Bengal Briefing, SEC Country’s daily morning column covering LSU football, with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today, we get ready for spring practice, talk more about Leonard Fournette, preview the weekend and much, much more. Enjoy!
We’re almost there!
Over the next eight days, as we in the media prepare for the advent of LSU football’s 2017 spring practice sessions, you’re going to see a lot of stuff written about the biggest storylines surrounding the team. And there are plenty.
You’ve got a new offensive coordinator installing a new system. There’s a slight uncertainty at quarterback. No one knows who’s going to start at wide receiver opposite D.J. Chark. Dave Aranda has to replace stars at defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety. And that’s not even mentioning the whole Arden Key situation.
Those storylines are going to dominate spring. And deservedly so. But there’s more to spring practice than the obvious. With that in mind, here are five under-the-radar storylines I think you should watch out for over the next month.
No. 1: Who wins the nose tackle job?
Here’s the one position battle that has nothing to do with a vacancy. Greg Gilmore returns as one of the few seniors on LSU’s defense after starting for all of last season, but rising sophomore Ed Alexander has All-American-type talent and showed it in flashes when he touched the field last season.
This battle likely won’t be resolved in the spring, but it’ll be a close one to watch, especially in watching how Aranda mixes the two of them in drills and scrimmages.
No. 2: Who backs up Derrius Guice?
Guice is the most locked-in starter on LSU’s roster. But his backup position is somewhat up in the air and extremely important given the way Matt Canada has used running backs in the past. When he was at Wisconsin, for example, Canada mixed three running backs into a regular rotation, all of whom went on to the NFL.
There’s a chance that both Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette get big-time reps this spring. And whichever one stands out might be in position to get serious playing time come fall.
No. 3: Where’s the tight end depth?
Foster Moreau caught 6 passes in 2016. That’s the full extent of LSU’s returning pass-game production from its tight ends. The battles at wide receiver will be more publicized, but maximizing talent at this position will be paramount. LSU can’t afford to be thin on the edge, especially with how it likes to run the football.
No. 4: What’s the deal at center?
It’s assumed that Will Clapp is going to slide in from left guard to center to replace Ethan Pocic. But with Andy Dodd transferring away from the program, LSU doesn’t have a backup plan at the position. Or at guard for that matter. Since three of LSU’s four freshman offensive linemen haven’t arrived yet, the Tigers are going to be thin this spring.
That’ll mean a lot of reps for guys like Clapp. But it also spells danger for depth, especially if Clapp is still rehabbing his injured shoulder.
No. 5: Does LSU have a kicker?
Colby Delahoussaye is moving on. So, who will take over the LSU football kicking duties? Connor Culp? Cameron Gamble? Jack Gonsoulin? A walk-on? Honestly, who knows? Gonsoulin made one extra point against Southern Miss last season and that’s the extent of LSU’s place-kicking experience.
This might be the most important position battle LSU has this season. Because it really is wide open. And kickers do have the ability to make or break games far more than anyone gives them credit.
It’s running backs day
All eyes will be on running backs Friday in Indianapolis at the NFL combine. And by running backs, I mean Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook.
Because the words “controversy” and “interesting discussion” have become conflated, there’s something of a controversy between Fournette and Cook as to who should be at the top of NFL teams’ draft boards.
Honestly, most NFL teams will be happy with either one. There’s no reason to build one up over the other.
But this is a sports column and you’ve come for the #takes, so here are my thoughts on the top 5 running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft class.
- Leonard Fournette, LSU
- Dalvin Cook, Florida State
- Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
- Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
- D’Onta Foreman, Texas
Part of this is probably an exposure bias. I’ve seen Fournette far more than Cook as a result of having covered him. But there’s something about Fournette’s blend of size and speed that I find more alluring than Cook’s home-run qualities. They really are a 1A and 1B in my book.
To me, the wild card is Perine. He’s not going to go as high as Fournette or Cook. Heck, he might not go in the second or third round. But by pure talent, he’s as good as anyone in this draft. And his 49 rushing touchdowns are more than Fournette, Cook or any LSU running back has ever achieved. And he did it in three seasons.
My point is, you’re not going to go wrong with Fournette or Cook. Or some of the other backs in this draft. So, don’t worry about who goes first. Just worry about how the team that picks them uses them.
Your weekly LSU non-revenue sports primer
We’ve got another busy weekend ahead of us in LSU athletics. Here’s a rundown of all the games, matches, events and meets scheduled for the next three days:
- The LSU baseball team heads to Houston this weekend for a huge showdown in Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, against top opponents. The Tigers kick off things Friday with a matchup against No. 1 TCU at 7 p.m. CT. You can find the game on Fox Sports 1. National TV. Yep. It’s a big deal. (Saturday and Sunday, LSU faces Baylor and Texas Tech.)
- At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, the LSU gymnastics team hosts arguably the biggest home meet in school history. No. 2 LSU matches up against No. 3 Florida with sole possession of the inaugural SEC regular-season championship on the line. Not to mention major national championship implications.
- LSU’s men’s basketball team ends its regular season Saturday versus Mississippi State. Coming off their first win in eight weeks, the Tigers look as good as they have all season. And a win against the Bulldogs guarantees that LSU will avoid being the bottom seed in the SEC Tournament and virtually ensures a rematch against Mississippi State in the first round.
- Softball hosts Florida Atlantic, Illinois, Minnesota and Troy in the LSU Invitational. Games stretch from Friday through Sunday.
- Travel rundown: The women’s golf team will be in Hilton Head, S.C., for the Darius Rucker Invitational. Men’s tennis will be in Columbia, S.C., facing off against the Gamecocks and then in Gainesville, Fla., to match up with the Gators. And the beach volleyball team heads to DeLand, Fla., for the Stetson Invitational.
Not to mention women’s basketball …
The LSU women’s basketball team took down Ole Miss on Thursday night in the second round of the SEC women’s basketball tournament to advance to the quarterfinals. With the 65-49 victory, the Tigers earn the right to play Mississippi State, the AP No. 6 team in the country.
LSU and Mississippi State played once this season, with the Bulldogs thrashing LSU, 74-48, in Starkville.
But regardless of the outcome of this contest (at 5 p.m. CT on the SEC Network), this season should be seen as a massive step forward for the program. Or a return to normalcy if you prefer to look at it that way.
LSU’s win against Ole Miss was the Tigers’ 20th of the season, twice as many as the Tigers posted in an injury-riddled 2015-16 campaign where they only mustered three SEC wins.
For the team’s efforts, ESPN’s bracketology has Fargas’ squad in as an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, where a win would match up the Tigers against No. 1-seeded Baylor.
That has to be seen as a victory for the team. One year away from irrelevancy and less than a few months away from getting some major shade from UConn’s Geno Auriemma, this team is on the precipice of contending for a championship. That’s some impressive work right there.
What should I do this weekend?
If the long list of LSU athletics-related events I just gave you doesn’t sate your hunger for being occupied, there’s plenty of other things worth doing in Baton Rouge this weekend. I won’t be able to join you — I’ll be in Houston — but here are some things I’m disappointed I’ll be missing:
- Piano rock god Ben Folds is playing the L’Auberge Casino on Friday. Whether you know him from his 1997 hit “Brick” or his bizarrely touching cameo last year on FXX’s “You’re the Worst,” Folds is usually entertaining. If you’re into that sort of music/humor.
- In the exact opposite of Folds, Lava Cantina will be blasting 1980s and ’90s hip hop music with its “Hip Hop Hooray” on Saturday.
- Sunday, the Harlem Globetrotters will be in town. This doesn’t need much of an explanation. If you’ve never seen the Globetrotters live, you should. It’s awesome.
- For a full listing of weekend events, including farmers’ markets, gun shows and educational lectures about constitutional politics, check out The Advocate’s comprehensive calendar.
LSU in the NBA
With the trade deadline behind us, we’re reaching the final stretch of the NBA season. With that in mind, here’s how some of LSU’s alums in the NBA have fared this season:
LSU football workout warriors
For the last time in this abbreviated week, let’s check in with LSU football strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt and his weight-lifting leaderboard:
Great C&J’s today! Finish strong! pic.twitter.com/PukOcF2xJT
— Tommy Moffitt (@TommyMoffitt) March 3, 2017
You can’t help but wonder if Nick Brossette got special treatment for his birthday or if he worked harder because it was his birthday. Either way, the Bayou Bengal Briefing wishes you a happy belated birthday.
Beyond that, this is a fairly boilerplate update. Danny Etling is still leading the quarterback room. J.D. Moore still has a monopoly on the rehab section. The defensive line group has another outlandish nickname. All we’re missing is a motivational hashtag. You’re letting it slip, Tommy. You could’ve hashtagged “Finish Strong!” and everything would’ve been even more inspirational.
If my memory serves me correct, next week will be max out week in the LSU weight room. So, hopefully, on top of these board tweets we’ll get videos of players moving absurd amounts of weight. I for one look forward to it. Gotta love the gym rats.
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