As much as coaches say every position is up for grabs at the beginning of preseason practice, Brian Kelly admitted he usually has someone already in mind at this time of year. Of course the depth chart can change, but teams often have an idea who will start long before the first game.
That’s not the case this season. With an almost entirely different staff, 15 transfers and a new crop of freshmen, Kelly knows LSU opened preseason camp Thursday afternoon with unknowns all over the field, particularly at quarterback, offensive line and cornerback.
He believes LSU has quality options ready to handle the rigors of the Southeastern Conference, but the coaches haven’t seen enough to know who will play in the opener against Florida State. More than usual, they have to rely on camp evaluations over the next four weeks to make decisions.
“That’s a little bit different,” Kelly said. “Everyone says the depth chart, it’s always open, but you always have a guy penciled in somewhere. There’s not a lot of penciling in yet. Yes, there’s some work to be done.”
Quarterback competitions can be difficult to navigate, and LSU has one of the most wide-open contests in the country. These factors will determine the starter.
After a summer full of training, that work resumed Thursday with the first day of preseason practice. LSU opened the indoor session for 30 minutes during individual drills. The players wore helmets as they started a seven-day acclimation period.
The first practice was light by design. Hoping to avoid soft-tissue injuries, Kelly wanted to control how much the players did as they returned from a break at the end of July. He focused on the structure of practice and making sure players approached it the correct way.
A couple of times, Kelly reminded star receiver Kayshon Boutte what he wanted. Boutte had missed the spring and never practiced with Kelly before. But Boutte, who returned from a season-ending ankle injury last October, did more Thursday than LSU expected. Kelly recognized his commitment multiple times.
“His player load was pretty high today,” Kelly said. “It’s probably a little bit more than we thought we wanted for him and he handled it well. And I expect him to continue to build on that.”
Asked about players who hadn’t participated in spring practice, LSU coach Brian Kelly put the spotlight on a few that stood out to him on the …
At quarterback, the competition restarted between sixth-year senior Myles Brennan, junior Jayden Daniels and redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier while they focused on progressions and footwork. Nussmeier took first-team reps during a period near the end of the session, but there was no visible differentiation this early in camp.
Kelly said there won’t be separation for the first week, which is designed to ease players into practice as they finish academic requirements. Once the team starts regular full-contact practices, it will use plays tailored to the quarterbacks’ skill sets to “ramp up” the competition.
“You’re not going to see much separation in the first seven days,” Kelly said. “That’ll begin to take shape and form as we get them in down and distance situations.”
The most revealing insight came on the offensive line. Using different combinations, LSU showed a window into its process for identifying starters on a remade group. Offensive line coach Brad Davis, who cross-trains multiple linemen at various positions, shuffled the unit around during practice.
Running back Tre Bradford was not listed on LSU’s roster or seen during the 30-minute viewing period of practice on Thursday.
At first, the line included Will Campbell at left tackle, Tre’Mond Shorts at left guard, Charles Turner at center, Kardell Thomas at right guard and Cameron Wire at right tackle.
During a later period, Miles Frazier played right guard and Anthony Bradford stepped in at right tackle with a version of the first-team offense. Kelly said Frazier and Bradford could play either tackle or guard.
“We’ve paired them up on the right side because we think they’re interchangeable,” Kelly said. “We like the fact that Bradford’s got really good feet. But Frazier’s got some length.”
Davis plans to move players around throughout camp to find the best starting five. The first-team line one day may look different the next, especially over the next couple of weeks as players such as sophomore Garrett Dellinger and junior Marlon Martinez work at multiple spots. Both healthy again, Kelly said they’ll take reps at center and guard.
LSU coach Brian Kelly provided updates on players recovering from injuries in his opening preseason camp press conference Thursday night.
Basically, not much has been decided.
“I think it’s important that there’s some flexibility here for the first two, two-and-a-half weeks,” Kelly said. “We’ll build the starting five.”
Kelly roamed down the middle of the field watching the practice from underneath a white visor. LSU also has three transfer cornerbacks competing for two spots. The pecking order at linebacker, the specialists and the rotation among a deep group of receivers needs to get settled as well.
The next practice will be inside with helmets again. Then LSU will add shoulder pads as it builds toward full contact on the sixth day. Within those practices, it will add more and more situations designed to prepare the team for the opener and allow players to earn their spots.
They spent the summer working out and focusing on nutrition. Football drills take over now. As the practices intensify, Kelly will learn more about his first LSU team. He has a month to pencil names into the depth chart.
“The fact of the matter remains,” Kelly said, “we’ve got to figure out who those guys are.”