The LSU Tigers will begin their first spring practice under new head coach Brian Kelly on Thursday morning.
The Tigers' goal is to improve from a mediocre 11-12 record the last two seasons under Ed Orgeron, which is fewer victories than they had in 2019 (15-0) when they won the national title. Not only did LSU bring in several transfers in an attempt to bolster the roster, but one of them could be the new starting quarterback.
LSU will be looking to get back to contending in the SEC. As usual, the West will be tough with Alabama winning the past two division titles, Texas A&M bringing in the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class, Ole Miss on the rise under head coach Lane Kiffin, and Arkansas also trending upward with Sam Pittman at the helm.
Here are some things worth paying attention to as Kelly seeks to put his stamp on the program.
5 Storylines to Watch During LSU's Spring Practice
1. Tigers' quarterback competition
Might as well start with the giant elephant in the room. LSU's quarterback situation has been less than ideal over the last couple of seasons. Max Johnson, who has seen the most action during this span, has transferred to Texas A&M, so the job will be going to someone else.
Initially, the front-runner was believed to be Myles Brennan, who has shown flashes when he's played. The problem is that he hasn't played since suffering an injury in the third game of the 2020 season. Last year, he was expected to be the starter before he broke his arm in a freak accident before the start of fall camp.
Brennan is healthy once again and it's a good thing because he will be facing competition this spring not only from freshmen Garrett Nussmeier (2021 class) and Walker Howard (2022), but also Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels.
Daniels announced his intention to transfer in March and wound up picking LSU. A dynamic, dual-threat quarterback who was getting some preseason Heisman Trophy buzz last season, Daniels went through his shares of ups and downs with the Sun Devils. In three seasons, he threw for 6,025 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
The change of scenery may be just what Daniels needs to get back to his top playing form and he's already on campus and will take part in spring practice. On paper, the Tigers' quarterback situation is already dramatically improved compared to either of the past two seasons. Now it's time to figure out the pecking order.
2. Welcome back John Emery Jr.
Since his freshman season, LSU fans have been waiting for Emery to break out and become the program's next great running back.
However, the road for Emery has been anything but smooth. After rushing for 378 yards and three touchdowns in the shortened 2020 season, Emery was academically ineligible to play in '21.
Reinstated to the team, Emery will have every opportunity to claim the top spot in the backfield. If he picks up where he left off, he could serve as a safety net for whoever wins the starting quarterback job. If the pieces fall into place around Emery, it should help the Tigers improve an offense that finished 12th in the SEC in both total yards and points per game last season.
3. Offensive line needs to step up
As talented as Emery is, he won't be able to do it alone. That's where the offensive line comes in and the good news is that things can't get much worse with this group. Besides struggling to open up holes in the running game (114.1 ypg, 3.3 ypc in 2021), LSU's front surrendered 2.92 sacks per game, which placed them 111th in the country.
Only one true starter, senior Cam Wire, returns and he has a history of knee issues. The coaching staff hit the transfer portal looking for immediate help and may have found it in Miles Frazier (FIU) and Tre'Mond Shorts (East Tennessee State). Marlon Martinez and Garrett Dellinger also will factor into the mix, especially due to their versatility. One spot that will definitely need to be filled is at center.
4. Who will stand out at cornerback?
The secondary was hit hard by attrition and offseason departures, especially at cornerback. Derek Stingley Jr. and Cordale Flott both declared for the NFL draft while Eli Ricks (Alabama) and Dwight McGlothern (Arkansas) transferred within the SEC.
Once again, the coaching staff turned to the portal and brought in transfers Greg Brooks Jr. (three-year starter at Arkansas), Jarrick Bernard-Converse (Oklahoma State), and Mekhi Garner (Louisiana). Even though all three are new, their previous experience probably gives them the edge on claiming the three starting CB spots in nickel sets.
Don't be surprised if the Tigers dip back into the portal when spring practice concludes, especially if the staff doesn't like what it sees.
5. How will Kelly be a cultural fit in Louisiana?
Despite the jokes and memes related to his fake Cajun accent and him starring in a viral video where he danced with a recruit prior to National Signing Day (who didn't even sign with the Tigers!), Kelly could be just what the LSU program needs at this moment in time.
No one can deny the success Kelly enjoyed throughout his tenure at Notre Dame. The winningest head coach in Fighting Irish history, Kelly went 113-40 in 12 seasons, including one BCS National Championship Game appearance (2012 season) and two College Football Playoff appearances (2018, '20).
It will be interesting to see what changes Kelly makes and one can question whether he is ready to succeed in the cut-throat SEC. However, his resume at Notre Dame and his previous two stops (Cincinnati, Central Michigan) is full of a lot of wins. If that track record follows him to Baton Rouge, LSU fans won't care how he sounds or dances.
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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders, and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.