What's next for LSU football? 10 questions for Brian Kelly's first offseason – The Advocate

What's next for LSU football? 10 questions for Brian Kelly's first offseason – The Advocate

What's next for LSU football? 10 questions for Brian Kelly's first offseason – The Advocate

LSU head coach Brian Kelly speaks as he is introduced during a press conference, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU head coach Brian Kelly speaks as he is introduced during a press conference, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
High above the field at NRG Stadium earlier this week, Brian Kelly watched the remnants of a team that won the national championship two years ago.
Attrition had whittled down the roster to 38 scholarship players for the Texas Bowl, leaving a wide receiver at quarterback. The game got out of hand, and LSU lost 42-20 to Kansas State, ending a disappointing stretch for the program.
Kelly understood what he inherited as the new coach before the game and what he must do now that he has control. LSU has an 11-12 record since the title. As Kelly said in an interview Tuesday night on the ESPN broadcast, it’s his job to keep the team at the top of the Southeastern Conference, not let it fall into a cycle of peaks and valleys.
“This football team won the national title in 2019, and for whatever reason, we’re going to have to get the standards back up to that level,” Kelly said. “That’s why I’m here — to get the standards back to where they were. That’s my job to go to work on that, and I’ve been working on that.”
In the month since Kelly took over, he has recruited and hired most of his staff. The last thing separating LSU from his tenure was the Texas Bowl. Now that the game has ended, the offseason has officially arrived.
So as LSU enters this transformational period, here are 10 questions Kelly and his coaching staff have to address before the 2022 season opener against Florida State.
HOUSTON — The Texas Bowl folks passed out a souped-up version of one of those little finger-flick football games to people in the press box Tu…
This is the immediate priority. With the coaching staff in major transition during the early signing period, LSU only added 13 players in December, including five-star offensive tackle Will Campbell, five-star quarterback Walker Howard and top 100 defensive lineman Quency Wiggins.
You can’t really blame anyone because of the timing, but LSU also lost four top 100 players from within the state. Three of them — wide receiver Shazz Preston, athlete Kendrick Law and wide receiver Aaron Anderson — went to Alabama, contributing to a lackluster haul.
Now LSU has to fill another 12 spots in the freshman class. It can still add five-star Ponchatoula safety Jacoby Mathews and four-star Lake Charles running back TreVonte’ Citizen. Both former LSU commits, they waited to sign until February and would bolster a class currently ranked No. 18 in the country, according to 247Sports.
We’ll see what LSU does with the rest of the spots. Other than Mathews and Citizen, most of the elite prospects across the nation have already signed. Perhaps some of the new assistants will flip other recruits. LSU could also leave space for more transfers, if it wants to go that route.
For some, it was a long time coming. For athletes like Landon Ibieta, it was a 2:45 p.m. call to the front office at Mandeville High School to…
Speaking of the transfer portal, Kelly prefers to build his teams through recruiting strong freshman classes, but he acknowledged during the interview with ESPN that he’ll use the transfer portal this offseason.
“We want to build everything from the freshman class, but we are going to have to use the transfer portal,” Kelly said. “We’ll be in a transitional build, so we’ll have to use the transfer portal.”
There are plenty of players available in the transfer portal, and LSU already added freshman All-American offensive lineman Miles Frazier from FIU and long snapper Slade Roy from East Carolina. The Tigers have another five spots for transfers that won’t count toward their recruiting class.
LSU has offered Albany defensive end Jared Verse and Hawai’i wide receiver Nick Mardner. Another player to watch may be Missouri defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo, who reportedly plans to enter the transfer portal. Wingo, a freshman All-SEC selection this season, played for new LSU defensive assistant Robert Steeples at De Smet Jesuit High School.
LSU football coach Brian Kelly addressed a wide range of topics in an interview with the ESPN crew as he watched his new program compete again…
LSU’s targets in the transfer portal and in recruiting may depend on who leaves for the NFL.
So far, junior cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., senior linebacker Damone Clark, junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price, senior left guard Ed Ingram and junior kicker Cade York have declared for the draft. Junior cornerback Cordale Flott is also expected to turn pro. They all had at least one more year of eligibility.
Senior right guard Chasen Hines and linebacker Micah Baskerville are also headed toward the NFL after accepting invitations to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Playing in the game would make them ineligible to return, but Hines and Baskerville said they haven’t made final decisions. They can still withdraw and use their last season of eligibility.
Other players have decisions to make. Senior defensive end Ali Gaye could come back. Junior safety Jay Ward and redshirt junior offensive tackle Cameron Wire are also draft eligible.
Junior kicker Cade York announced on Saturday that he will forgo his senior year to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. 
Usually quarterback would be the first position discussed, and we’ll get to that, but there may be nothing else more important than improving the offensive line. A group that won the Joe Moore Award in 2019 has been inconsistent the last five years, and now LSU will have to replace at least three starters.
In addition to Ingram, center Liam Shanahan and right tackle Austin Deculus played their last games in the Texas Bowl. LSU will try to keep Hines and Wire. Even if it does, there aren’t any proven backups, though freshman Garrett Dellinger and sophomore Marlon Martinez showed promise this fall.
LSU began to address the offensive line by signing Campbell, four-star Emery Jones and three-stars Bo Bordelon and Fitzgerald West. It also added Frazier, and the Tigers will probably sign more transfer linemen.
While transfers could provide a stop-gap, Kelly wants to develop the whole offensive line, something that has been lacking in recent seasons. Retaining offensive line coach Brad Davis, who joined the team last summer, could help. The line played better later in the year. Now the players will have a full offseason with Davis.
One of Brian Kelly’s selling points to LSU athletic director Scott Woodward was his teams’ consistency in producing NFL-caliber offensive linemen.
As unstable as the position looked with a wide receiver filling in for the Texas Bowl, quarterback appears just fine moving forward. Myles Brennan will return for a sixth year, freshman Garrett Nussmeier has another offseason to develop and Howard will enroll early. It’s a good situation.
Brennan wanted to start somewhere to prove he can play in the NFL, so his return may suggest he has an edge on the underclassmen in 2022. Kelly said he loves having the veteran on the roster, much like he did this past season with Jack Coan at Notre Dame, but they’ll all compete this spring.
“All three of them will get an opportunity,” Kelly said on the ESPN broadcast. “We’ve got Nussmeier who will have an opportunity as well. Those three guys will be our centerpiece at the quarterback position.”
Brennan threw for 1,112 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions as the starter in 2020. He hasn’t played since then because of injuries. He’ll have to remain healthy. If he does and he wins the job, Brennan can prove himself to pro teams while LSU prepares Nussmeier and Howard for a potential competition in 2023.
Though he decided to withdraw from the transfer portal, quarterback Myles Brennan won’t play in the upcoming Texas Bowl, instead returning to …
LSU, a school that takes great pride in its defensive backs, suddenly needs to strengthen the secondary after losing three starters. On top of Stingley and Flott turning pro, sophomore All-American cornerback Eli Ricks transferred to Alabama.
The safeties have potential and depth. Former five-star Sage Ryan played well between injuries this year, and he could start at nickel. Ward and sophomore Major Burns form a reliable tandem. Former top 100 recruit Derrick Davis Jr. is still on the roster. He just didn’t play much as a freshman.
The issues come at cornerback. Sophomore Dwight McGlothern should fill one spot after leading the team with five pass breakups. The other starter is anybody’s guess at this point. Former Nicholls transfer Pig Cage stepped up in the Texas Bowl. LSU also signed four-star Laterrance Welch. Will either of them — or someone else — be ready to start the season opener?
LSU cornerback Cordale Flott will forgo his senior season and enter the 2022 NFL draft, according to multiple reports.
The other position of need. Unless Baskerville returns, LSU will have to replace both starters, and it already doesn’t have much depth after Navonteque Strong entered the transfer portal during the season. LSU had two scholarship linebackers for the Texas Bowl in sophomore Mike Jones Jr. and freshman Greg Penn III.
Jones came on strong the final month of the regular season as he played a position that moved him around the field. Penn looked raw in limited playing time, but Clark raved about him as the next great LSU linebacker. LSU also has sophomore Josh White, a former four-star recruit who missed the entire season but travelled to the Texas Bowl.
Four-star prospect DeMario Tolan will provide some depth, but right now, Jones would be the most experienced linebacker on the roster. A transfer might help by giving the underclassmen more time to develop.
Senior linebacker Damone Clark was packing his bags for his training camp in California when LSU linebackers coach Blake Baker’s FaceTime call…
Kelly has almost hired his entire coaching staff, filling nine of the 10 on-field roles.
The assistants are: offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, defensive coordinator Matt House, associate head coach Frank Wilson, special teams coordinator Brian Polian, offensive line coach Brad Davis, quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan, defensive line coach and run game coordinator Jamar Cain, defensive assistant Kerry Cooks and defensive assistant Robert Steeples.
The defensive staff is finished. House will likely oversee the linebackers, the position he once played and now coaches for the Kansas City Chiefs. Cooks and Steeples, former defensive backs themselves, will likely combine to lead the secondary. Their exact titles haven’t been announced.
The offensive side needs one more assistant. Denbrock rejoined Kelly after five seasons at Cincinnati. Wilson came back to LSU from McNeese State. Davis was the only assistant retained from this year’s team. With Wilson’s experience coaching running backs, the opening will likely go to a wide receivers coach.

New LSU defensive coordinator Matt House, defensive line coach and run game coordinator Jamar Cain and defensive assistant Robert Steeples signed three-year deals with the school.
LSU finally modernized its offense in recent seasons after years of fans clamoring for innovation. Though Kelly and his coordinators will bring different schemes, don’t expect them to pull anything back into a bygone era.
Denbrock’s offense morphed over his five years at Cincinnati. After the Bearcats finished 60th nationally in scoring with a run-heavy, ball-control approach in 2019, he made a significant change early the next season.
The offense became more balanced, and Cincinnati jumped to 17th in scoring in 2020. It finished 11th this season. Despite the improvement, Denbrock’s play calling still drew criticism at times, particularly in a 27-6 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
Kelly, who has an offensive background, will also add his input to the scheme like he did at Notre Dame and other previous stops. His offenses typically mix pro concepts with spread looks. The offensive lines remain the backbone of the team, and he uses running backs and tight ends. But Notre Dame also deployed five-wide receiver sets. He wants the scheme tailored to the players.
The defense will fall entirely on House. House hasn’t called plays since he left Kentucky in 2018, but that season, the Wildcats held opponents to 16.8 points per game, which ranked sixth in the country.
After one season back at LSU, general manager Austin Thomas announced Wednesday he won’t be kept on staff as substantial changes continue to b…
With a 10-year contract, Kelly will be given time to overhaul LSU’s program. He’ll probably need more than one offseason. He has to rebuild the culture, which deteriorated since the national championship, and reconstruct the roster.
The team still has pockets of talent, particularly at wide receiver and defensive line, but the depth from top to bottom has disappeared. Kelly has to stack recruiting classes on top of one another and then keep the players on campus to prevent another Texas Bowl scenario. Properly managing the roster will be essential.
Kelly has proven he can sustain a major program. He wants to raise the standards again at LSU and do something he never could at Notre Dame — win a championship. The school and its fan base expect as much. So does Kelly.
Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com
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