Yesterday was a great day for LSU Tiger fans as many packed TJ Ribs on Acadian to hear The Voice of The Tigers Chris Blair talk some football with LSU head coach Brian Kelly for the first ever episode of The Brian Kelly show. It certainly was an exciting time as the debut of the weekly radio show means one thing, which is that we are getting closer to football action. Since it is the first show, it was just strictly football talk just with Chris and Coach Kelly. There were some questions that were sent from the audience that Chris did ask the first year LSU head coach, but it was the first time that the fans got to interact with Coach Kelly and send in questions about the upcoming season. With kickoff against Florida State being just only week away, there was a lot to discuss.
Opening up the show, Coach Kelly talked about how difficult change can be, especially to a new program, but the players have embraced the change within the program and all the adjustments that were made when he originally took over the program. Also, he wants to realize that bringing the high standard back to a prestigious college football brand like LSU does not happen overnight, and that it does take time.
“There’s not going to be a magic wand in the sense that we are already going to have 15 All-Americans and the depth that we needed. We are still short in certain areas because we all knew that we had 36-38 scholarship players at one time so it was going to take a little bit of a reboot, but what I love about what this football team has done since January is that they are bigger, faster, stronger, more committed, and they have prepared the right way so this is the best version of this team that we put together since January, and they are going to play the right way.
“My job is to have them prepared from a physical standpoint, a mental standpoint, technically, and tactfully. That total preparation, our fans are going to see how this team plays. Now, there are some areas that we need to continue to recruit and develop, but you are going to like how this team plays. They will play hard for four quarters, and they are some talented players. Again, there was no mistake that there were some deficits that we need to overcome. We will overcome them by being smart as a football team, competing hard for four quarters, and being well prepared as we go into each and every game.”
After talking about the total scope of the program, Chris and Coach Kelly dived into the position groups, starting with the defensive line. It is without a doubt that the front four of BJ Ojulari, Maason Smith, Jaquelin Roy, and Ali Gaye is one of the most dominant in all of college football heading into the season, but Coach also loves what he sees from the defensive line rotation.
“Obviously, there is some talent up front. Maason Smith has great size. Clearly, Ali Gaye is somebody that can play off the edge with BJ Ojulari. Again, when you look at the defensive line, I think you look at J Roy as well at defensive tackle. A guy that has been outstanding is Mekhi Wingo, who transferred in from Missouri. He gives us a lot of flexibility that he can play both tackle positions for us. Saivion Jones has been outstanding for us, and Desmond Little has been a big surprise for us. We felt that in the spring, he probably did not have enough weight, but he committed himself to the weight room. He’s gotten a lot stronger, and so that front has a lot more versatility and depth than maybe what you had in the spring, but your anchor starts with Smith, Gaye, Ojulari, and J Roy.”
Coach Kelly then went on talking about how defensively, they want to play a hybrid 3-4 defense with the flexibility to play a four man front. After talking about the defensive line, Coach talked about the safety play and how that position group has taken all the right steps.
“What’s really transpired here is that the safety play has really picked up for us. Jay Ward has been really solid for us. Greg Brooks has come in from Arkansas and has settled us down at the nickel position with Sage Ryan. Those two guys are doing a really nice job for us. I think Major Burns playing the other safety position. You know a guy that is really smart, a great communicator, and has galvanized that back end for us. I really like what is going on back there. Add in Joe Foucha, Matt Langlois, that gives us a lot of depth in the back end that we did not necessarily see in the spring.”
Of course, when talking about safeties, the cornerbacks were also discussed. Just like the safeties, that has been a position group that has been a great surprise to Coach Kelly.
“Another added bonus is the cornerback position, which has really solidified itself. We have Mekhi Garner. You saw what he could do in the spring game. Jarrick Bernard-Converse comes in from Oklahoma State and was an All-Conference player from the Big 12 last year. They throw it around quite a bit. Colby Richardson, a transfer from McNeese, who I have butchered his name a couple of times. I had a bunch of guys that played for me named Dickerson, and I had to go and apologize to Colby a couple of times. Colby has been outstanding for us, and to get that kind of depth now at the cornerback position has been outstanding. Even a freshman Jaelyn Davis-Robinson, who is one of our fastest guys, has added some depth to that position as well.”
Defensive coordinator Matt House is certainly excited after knowing the defensive line is already going to be really good plus the depth at cornerback and safety has also emerged. At linebacker, Coach Kelly also likes the mix he has there.
“Obviously, the linebacker position, you need a leader there. Mike Jones has been outstanding for us. Micah Baskerville has been here quite a bit. He is a smart, savvy player that is going to play a lot for us. Greg Penn has been really good in camp. You are going to see him play. West Weeks is a transfer from Virginia. He is another guy that is going to play a lot of football, and we have some young players that are going to step on the field for us. I think everybody knows about Harold Perkins as he was highly recruited and has some outstanding athletic ability. You are going to see him and Kolbe Fields from South Carolina. Those two guys have great speed. Those two guys at GPS, we had at 20 miles per hour. These are guys that can fly. A lot of depth at the linebacker position and some young guys with some veteran players so it is going to be a nice mix at the linebacker position as well.”
Before wrapping up the linebacker position, Coach Kelly also went more in depth talking about Mike Jones as he is a player that may not be a thumper, but he is a winner and is a smart player that can lineup everybody else. He is an invaluable piece to putting together a championship program. When spying Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis in the first game, Harold Perkins can be a player that spies Travis and can track the dual threat quarterback down when he does decide to run with the football.
After being asked about the most surprising thing he has experienced about being in Baton Rouge, Kelly joked that the weather in Baton Rouge is not as hot as advertised, but he did win back the local fans by saying that the people and the food have been great.
Moving back to football, Kelly described the style of play that he wants his team to play on both sides of the football.
Defensively, he wants to focus on stopping the run first before the pass. He also talked about wanting his defenses to take the football away and to get off the field on third downs.
Offensively, he wants his offense to be physical and to not become a finesse offense. He does want to spread the football around, but there also has to be physicality at the point of attack.
In speaking of physicality, it was time to focus on the offensive side of the football. Kelly talked about the identity that he wants in his offensive line and how that plays into finding the right chemistry up front.
“We’re a work in progress, but again, I want to meet where I talked about. The most important principle is physicality at the point of attack, and then, we want to get the ball out. We got to be able to blend those two things. First and foremost, find the guys that allow us to be physical up front. That’s kind of where we are going. This might not be the most athletic offensive line that I’ve coached, but it can be physical. We can be a physical offensive line. Rushing for 116 yards per game is not good enough. That’s what we did last year and that is not going to win us a SEC championship.
“We are looking for physicality, and I think we started that by moving Garrett Dellinger to center. He’s done a great job of solidifying that position. He is 315 pounds, can move, is physical at the point of attack. If you put a guy on top of him at the nose, he is not going to get pushed back. We are going to have a physical presence at the center position.”
“Miles Frazier is working at the guard position. We got Tre’Mond Shorts working at the guard position, and then, we are moving Anthony Bradford both at guard and tackle to give us the biggest, physical opportunity at the guard position. Bradford is 345 pounds. Frazier is about 330. That’s a big offensive line inside out.”
“Now, you get to the edges. We are going to start a true freshman at left tackle with Will Campbell. We also have to be able to be smart and help him. Also, who is going to play right tackle? If Bradford is kicked inside, now, we have to develop Cam Wire, who is a pretty athletic guy on the edges in terms of his pass sets. That’s what we are working on at the outside.”
Elaborating more on being a physical offense and wanting to run the football, Kelly moved on to the running back position.
“Each one of them is going to compete. We are going to play four running backs. When I say play, each one of them will have a role from John Emery to Noah Cain to Armoni Goodwin. Unfortunately, we lost Corren Norman to an injury, but as you mentioned, Josh Williams is just as effective as any one of those backs. Nick Demas and Malachi Lane are guys that are giving us depth at the position. We are going to play four running backs. It is not going to be just that one guy taking over every down. All of them are good with that, and I think they all can be really good contributors to what we want to do from the running back position.”
Playing time for running backs will also depend on who can pass block. Knowing that the most explosive part of the offense is the wide receiver position, being able to pass protect as a running back will give guys reps on the field, especially on third down situations.
The first show could not go on without addressing the biggest elephant in the room, and that is the quarterback situation. Kelly did talk about the current situation and how both quarterbacks are competing for the starting job with just a little more than a week left until kickoff.
“Garrett Nussmeier and certainly, Jayden Daniels have done a great job. Walker Howard has been outstanding too. He is just learning a lot of the nuances of the college game, but he is going to be an outstanding quarterback as well. The battle is between Jayden and Garrett. They are both getting 50% of the reps and Walker gets a little bit of the work. It is a great battle and they are making themselves better because they are challenging each other every single day in practice.”
“Today was no exception. Situationally, we went over overtime today. Today was an overtime situational script. Unfortunately, I am sorry to mention this because I think this brings back bad memories, but we went eight overtimes. That’s never a good sign for the offense, but we went eight overtimes, and both of those guys were outstanding. Again, we are getting a lot of work and both of those guys are continuing to work on what they need to work on.”
For whoever gets the starting quarterback job will have a lot of options to throw to at wide receiver. For Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff, they have a good problem on their hands.
“We are having a conversation. Cortez Hankton is doing a great job. We were having a conversation yesterday as a staff about situational players. In other words, having players in the game in the situations that you need them whether it is third down, red zone, blue zone, and how you want them lined up. Do you want Kayshon in the short field all the time or do you want him in the slot so he can get matched up against a nickel? All of these things, we are going to have to set up. You never want to leave a guy in a situation that they can game plan against so we are going to move these guys around quite a bit.”
“You’re right. You got Lacy, Kayshon, Malik Nabers, who has had a great camp and has been outstanding. Jaray Jenkins has been as consistent as any one player we had. He’s done an outstanding job. We love Brian Thomas’ size and one of the strongest guys physically that we have in the weight room. Chris Hilton is coming off a knee injury, but he gives you great speed over the top. That’s another player we love, and of course, Jack Bech is a gamer. Every time he touches the football, he makes a play. You’ve got a lot of options there. Cortez Hankton left Georgia the national champions to come to LSU, and I think he feels that he has more weapons here. He is pretty excited about the opportunity.”
Also, add in a potential freshman All-American at tight end, the Tigers passing game can become very dangerous as Kelly has given a lot of praise to a second generation player.
“We hit a home run with Mason Taylor the son of NFL Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. He has been outstanding. I’ve been blessed. I’ve had some great tight ends. I’ve got seven of them right now that are active in the NFL. Mason Taylor is as good as any freshman tight end that I’ve ever had. He is outstanding. He put on about 20 pounds. He is 242 pounds. He ran 19.6 miles per hour yesterday on GPS. It is one of those things that I like to say that we out recruited everybody else in the country for him. We liked him, but he is better than anything that we could ever hope for. He is going to come in and play a lot of football for us in the SEC. He is going to hit like the kid from Georgia hit in the SEC as a true freshman.”
Comparing Taylor to Brock Bowers from Georgia and saying that he is as good as any tight end that he has coached is a lot of high praise considering he coaches a lot of great tight ends at Notre Dame.
The media got an update from special teams coach Brian Polian about special teams, but the fans got another one yesterday from the head coach.
“I feel really comfortable with Jay Bramblett coming over from Notre Dame. You know he punted for me for three years. He is outstanding and will do the job there for us.”
“The kicking position, we signed Nathan Dibert, who is an outstanding freshman kicker, but Damian Ramos has been outstanding as a walk-on. Trey Finison, who is a Northwestern grad, has been outstanding too. We have two really good kickers, and Nate is going to be really good. He is just young, but he has a strong leg so I feel really good about the kicking position.”
“We scholarshiped Slade Roy coming out of East Carolina so we feel great about our long snapping position. That is in really good hands.”
“In the return game, Malik Nabers is one guy, and I think he has done a great job there. There is also Sage Ryan. Both of those guys are fighting for the punt return position. Armoni Goodwin is doing a good job as the kickoff return guy. We got some really good options and I kind of like where we at right now when it comes to special teams.”
To wrap up the show, Kelly talked about how the team is preparing for their week one matchup against Florida State and how ready he is to coach a game in Tiger Stadium for the first time against Southern. He even threw another joke out to the crowd by saying that he hopes that he doesn’t trip and fall when he runs out of the tunnel in front of 100,000 people.
Finally, Coach Kelly talked about what the schedule is like for the Tigers on a normal game week.
“Monday is a Mental Monday where we don’t go onto the field and it is just game planning. Tuesday is an intense Tuesday where that’s where we get after it a little bit. We are in full pads. Wednesday is Grit Wednesday where you have to be gritty out there. It is the hump day. Thursday is attention to detail. Fridays is Focus Friday where we are locked in and it is walk-throughs. Then, it is Successful Saturday and Assessment Sunday. Sunday is the day off for our team so we will start that process on Tuesday and work through that entire week. We then get ready for our first game against the Seminoles and beat up on Florida State.”
The Brian Kelly show will air each Thursday from 7-8 p.m. CT and is carried on the LSU Sports Radio Network. The show can be heard in the Baton Rouge area on Eagle 98.1 FM, the flagship station for LSU football.