The 2017 season was full of highlights for the LSU Tigers, sprinkled in with some uncharacteristic lows. The Tigers fought through a barrage of injuries to finish 9-4 overall (6-2 in the SEC) under first-year head coach Ed Orgeron. The highs included wins over ranked Florida and Auburn squads, but an unfathomable home loss to Troy still stings in March. The goal in Baton Rouge every year is a run to the SEC Championship Game, but if that is to happen in 2018, current talent on the roster will have to rise to another level starting in spring practices.
LSU starts spring ball on March 11, with 15 of the NCAA-allowed practices already scheduled. As the team molds into form culminating on April 21 with the spring game, the loss of 12 key seniors and six early NFL draft entrees will have to be overcome. In the process, the Tigers are changing offensive schemes again for the second time in as many years with Steve Ensminger taking over for Matt Canada.
The success of the Tigers’ football program in 2018 could rely on these five players so what better time than spring practice to get a glimpse of what the future may hold?
Myles Brennan, QB
Now that Danny Etling has exhausted his eligibility, a new quarterback must be found. The heir apparent appears to be Brennan, but his status as the front-runner for the No. 1 spot will be challenged. Brennan played in six games as a true freshman, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown, but he also threw two picks. Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse appears to be Brennan’s main competition. Narcisse is a raw talent, but his combination of size (6-2, 231) and skills give the coaching staff a different option at the quarterback position.
One thing appears fairly apparent. Whoever wins the starting job is already on the roster. Unless LSU brings in a graduate transfer, there is no quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class. Everyone in the quarterback room knows the score.
Terrace Marshall, WR
The loss of All-SEC receiver/return specialist DJ Chark has left a gaping hole for a much-needed playmaker on the outside. LSU has talented receiver Derrick Dillon on the roster, but Dillon is not a big target. Unproven talents that could rise to the top this spring include Stephen Sullivan, Mannie Nethery and/or Drake Davis, but all eyes will be on Marshall. The only five-star prospect in the Tigers' 2018 recruiting class, Marshall enrolled early and is looking to come back from an ankle dislocation and fractured fibula that forced him to miss all but two games of his senior year in high school. If he can bounce back to expected form, he provides new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger with a deep ball threat that also possesses size.
Lloyd Cushenberry, OC
When fans rave about recruiting stars, Cushenberry is the kind of guy that puts the rankings to shame. Cushenberry was a three-star recruit out of the 2016 class but worked his way into second string during his redshirt freshman year. Cushenberry was the first-team center while Will Clapp was out due to injury in fall camp earning valuable practice snaps along the way. Now, Cushenberry must again replace Clapp, but this time for an entire season.
Clapp leaves big shoes to fill after earning All-SEC honors in 2017. If Cushenberry is up to the task, a depleted offensive line should be back to old form this season. The only true challenger for Cushenberry is Cole Smith. Smith, an early enrollee out of Pontotoc, Mississippi, enters spring practices as the No. 8-ranked center in the 2018 class (per 247Sports), but at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds needs to add some weight to his frame to better prepare him to go up against SEC-sized linemen.
Travez Moore, OLB
LSU’s defense was nasty yet again in 2017, but could have been even better if outside linebacker Arden Key had been healthy for the entire season. Key started and played in eight games coming up with 5.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. His presence off the edge on passing downs will be missed. The question is, can Moore be the difference-maker needed? Moore (6-6, 250) was rated as the No. 1 overall weak-side defensive end in the junior college ranks by 247Sports. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda needs that high praise to translate onto the field this spring.
Badara Traore, OT
In addition to replacing Will Clapp, LSU also must find starters along the offensive line to step in with the loss of Toby Weathersby and K.J. Malone. Traore, a junior college transfer from ASA (New York) College was a must-get for the Tigers in their 2018 class. Saahdiq Charles is expected to man the right tackle spot going forward, putting a heavy emphasis on Traore being ready to hold off SEC pass rushers. Austin Deculus should push Traore for the spot on the quarterback’s blindside.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.