The LSU Tigers did the seemingly impossible during the 2019 college football season. They had a clean run through the regular season, notching a SEC West title which included ending an eight-game losing streak to Alabama, claimed an SEC championship with a win over Georgia, and then dismantled Oklahoma and Clemson in the College Football Playoff to claim their first national championship since 2007. The ease as to which the Tigers took to the field a year ago producing the nation's top offense (568.5 ypg) will be tough to replicate in 2020 with an entirely new roster needing to be shaped during spring practices.
As long as the LSU faithful had waited for the difficult task of seeing their beloved team hoisting a national championship trophy, the process of repeating will seemingly be 100-times harder. The Tigers' coaching staff is no stranger to seeing their talented players leave early for the NFL, but this year's crop that was ready to test the professional ranks was bigger than usual with nine declaring for the draft.
In addition to the nine junior starters who have departed, LSU must find replacements for senior guards Adrian Magee and Damien Lewis, defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence, and corner Kristian Fulton. One other key person LSU must replace, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
The task at hand for head coach Ed Orgeron is daunting, but the Tigers have recruited well in recent years leading many to hope that the 2020 season is more of a reload than a rebuild. The foundation for a successful 2020 season has begun with a series of 15 scheduled spring practices starting this past Saturday and culminating with the Spring Game on April 18.
5 Storylines to Watch During LSU's Spring Practices
1. Replacing Joe Burrow
Trying to tie in all that Burrow meant for the LSU offense and the elite level at which he played into a short summation is impossible. And expecting anyone to perform at the same rate is impractical. The starter heading into spring with the big shoes to fill is Myles Brennan. The junior quarterback appeared in 10 games last season connecting on 24 of 40 passes for 353 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Beyond Burrow's arm talent and understanding of picking apart defenses, he also was a capable runner adding an extra dimension to the offense with 368 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
The Tigers averaged 402 passing yards per game last season. If Brennan can somehow turn into a 300 yards per game passer, the task at hand becomes much easier. Listed at a generous 207 pounds, Brennan has to avoid taking shots for this offense to be successful for 12 games.
2. New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini
LSU fans may be a little tripped up come September if they skip the spring sessions when the Tigers take the field for defense. For a decade-plus, LSU has made their living as a 3-4 defense but will get a new look under Pelini.
With former DC Dave Aranda taking the head coaching position at Baylor, Pelini returns to a role he previously held in Baton Rouge (2005-07) bringing a 4-3 look with him. The new formation is being billed as an "attack defense" with Ed Orgeron already calling this unit one of the fastest defenses they've had at LSU. Fans can expect more blitzing in hopes of covering up some of the greener areas on the roster.
3. New passing game coordinator Scott Linehan
One of the inescapable differences seen in LSU's offense from the 2018 to '19 season was the passing game. Steve Ensminger was the offensive coordinator overseeing everything, but Joe Brady was brought on as passing game coordinator and he added his magical touch to the Tigers' offense. Brady is now the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers with Orgeron hiring Linehan as his replacement.
If the proverbial lightening in a bottle can be captured again by a veteran NFL coach, Linehan has the credentials to make it happen. Since the 2002 season with the Minnesota Vikings, Linehan has been working over NFL defenses with stints in Miami, was the St. Louis Rams head coach for a couple of seasons (2006-08), then was part of coaching staffs in Detroit and most recently Dallas. How well Ensminger and Linehan mesh, and then how that relationship with Brennan develops will be the key to a boom-or-bust season.
4. Retooling the linebacking corps
The Tigers may not have had the prolific statistical defenses of year's past, but this group got the job done. Ranking 31st in total defense (343 ypg) after facing off against seven top-10 teams, the heart of the defense has to be replaced in the box with starters K'Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen, and Jacob Phillips, all leaving early for the NFL. This task falls on new DC Pelini.
The trio of Andre Anthony, Damone Clark, and Micah Baskerville will get their shot at earning a starting spot, but there is a lot of underclassmen talent ready to push for their opportunity. It'll be fun to see former five-star recruit Marcel Brooks and four-star Donte Starks showing their growth. This will be one of the more entertaining spots to watch throughout the spring.
5. Rebuilding the offensive line
Four of the five starters up front from last year's championship team are gone. The one holdover is right tackle Austin Deculus. This group will be big and talented, but young and inexperienced. The two most important positions to watch are who replaces left tackle Saahdiq Charles and center Lloyd Cushenberry. The hope is that Chasen Hines will seize the pivot and help solidify the front five. Dare Rosenthal was considered a front-runner to start at left tackle but he left school prior to the start of spring practice. He is expected to return in the summer, presenting an opportunity to others to stake their claim to one of the available spots. Redshirt freshmen Anthony Bradford and Thomas Perry have the size to challenge.
— 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.