Sure, LSU’s last game was back in early December, but now that the Tigers have finally taken the field again, there’s a renewed sense of excitement and anticipation building around the team. A lot of it stems from the plethora of new coaching hires Ed Orgeron made on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, LSU replaced the more seasoned duo of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan with a pair of young, bright minds in Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas. The early verdict from players and head coach alike has been a positive one, namely because of the smooth transition they’ve made between playbooks.
The offense overall hasn’t changed a ton, it’s just gotten a bit of a spark. Peetz most recently worked under former passing game coordinator Joe Brady—who is now the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers—and players have given the sense that the “new” offense will resemble a lot of what we saw from the title-winning 2019 team.
“It’s really been fluid,” says quarterback Max Johnson, who has been taking the first-team snaps under center throughout the early part of spring. “I’d say it’s decently similar. I think we’re going to air it out a lot more with some deeper throws. [There’s] a lot of motions, a lot of shifts, a lot of empty packages. We’re all working really well together.”
It’s come as a bit of a surprise to some that the sophomore signal caller has been taking the first-team reps out the gate ahead of senior Myles Brennan, but it speaks to the amount of talent LSU has compiled in the quarterback room.
Behind Johnson and Brennan, who started a combined five games for the Tigers last season, sits fellow sophomore TJ Finley, who started five games himself, and incoming four-star recruit Garrett Nussmeier.
Orgeron has spoken highly of all four guys, and Johnson says the tight competition has actually brought the group closer together.
“The quarterbacks, we’re a unit,” Johnson said in Thursday’s press conference. “We’re coming together, and we’re practicing really well. Coach Peetz has done a great job of coaching all of us on protections, knowing when to get the ball out, where to get it out, and how the defense is playing. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun this year. I think we’re going to score a lot of points, and I think our defense is going to play really well too. We’ve got a great D-coordinator that came in and a lot of players on that side of the ball. I’m looking forward to competing with them.”
That new defensive coordinator is 42-year-old Daronte Jones, who Orgeron tabbed to lead the LSU defense this year.
Jones comes to the Tigers via the Minnesota Vikings, where he was the defensive backs coach, and is another piece to the youth revolution taking place in Baton Rouge.
He wasn’t a highly sought-after name in the coaching carousel this past offseason—but in a way, that’s been one of the things that seems to have drawn Orgeron to Jones so far.
“Daronte was like the fourth or fifth choice, but so was I. Who cares?” Orgeron said in a news conference this week. “He’s here. And he’s doing a tremendous job.”
Jones’ plan is to take it slow. He wants to overhaul the defense and make it his own, but he wants to do it at a manageable speed.
Just like the offense has made its transition a smooth one, Jones wants to ease his players in to the new playbook.
It’ll be several months before we see a real vision of what this defense might look like, but the players have made it abundantly clear what the new mentality is on that side of the ball.
“This is a bully defense,” said linebacker Damone Clark, repeating a phrase multiple players said during the press conference. “There are tendencies with everything that you do, so you’ve just got to know your tendencies. We’ve got plays that are similar to each other, just in different packages. That makes my confidence grow even more, as well as those on the defense with me.”
The Tigers practice again on Saturday to round out its second week of spring training. See the full schedule of practices below: