LSU mailbag: Flipping Justin Fields, Lowell Narcisse playing time and JUCO targets

Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman. In this edition, we touch on whether the Tigers have a shot of flipping Justin Fields away from Georgia, if LSU will burn Lowell Narcisse’s redshirt and what some recruits thought of LSU’s 17-16 win over Florida in the Swamp.

To submit a question for Spiegelman, tweet at  @SamSpiegs on Twitter  on Monday nights.

It’s over.

After committing to Georgia on Friday, Justin Fields told reporters that it’s highly unlikely he will even visit other schools. There’s even a chance he enrolls early, so after being committed to Penn State for a long span of time and now settling on the Bulldogs, Fields is likely done with the recruiting process.

What’s more is that the 5-star quarterback is set on bringing some other key targets along with him to Athens, Ga. He’ll put on his recruiter hat and sell other offensive prospects on playing with him.

Sure, LSU did lure Fields onto campus last month for an official visit. That was a product of the coaching staff pushing hard to sell the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2018 about immediate playing time and a new-look offense. Fields spent the next two weekends in Athens before officially visiting Alabama. By then, he had settled on the Dawgs.

Since the spring and over the summer, Fields’ recruitment came down to Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, and at times, LSU and Alabama. When Florida added 2018 5-star quarterback Matt Corral to its class, that knocked the Gators out of the Fields sweepstakes. The only team that feels it may have a chance to get back into the thick of it for Fields is Florida State, but if Fields was ready to commit last Friday, that’s not a promising sign for Florida State, for LSU or for any other team hoping to flip him.

Last week at Florida, I believe we saw Arden Key very close to being back at 100 percent. I like the phrasing of “senioritis,” but the junior B-LB was getting great penetration early against the Gators offensive line. I know he’s not filling up the stat sheet, but he did notch a quarterback hurry, which is a promising sign.

Key made his season debut after missing all of spring workouts and the majority of fall camp in LSU’s conference opener at Mississippi State. That was four games ago … in other words, just about a month. During his weekly press conference on Monday, coach Ed Orgeron said that his ace pass rusher was close to 255 pounds — down from 270 when he reported to campus at the end of July.

Getting back into shape, and more specifically, into game shape is paramount now. While the numbers are not that impressive, his progress is standing out to the LSU coaching staff.

“Arden Key had his best practice last week,” Orgeron said Monday. “I think he’s down to 255 [pounds] as opposed to 270. Watching film from the first game he played to this one, he’s lost weight. His pass rush needs to get better. It’s not where it needs to be. But he’s trying his butt off right now.”

This may not be a one-week solution. He’s at the right weight, but he’s still a ways away from getting after the passer as routinely as what we’re accustomed to. Look for Key to thrive off the energy in the Tiger Stadium against a quality opponent like Auburn this Saturday, but let’s be patient, too. After Auburn, LSU travels to Ole Miss and then has a bye week. That gives Key three more weeks until the Tigers travel to Alabama, and by then, he  should have rounded into form.

Based on the depth chart, it looks to be a toss-up between Nick Brossette, who will be the senior in the clubhouse, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who will be entering his sophomore season.

As it stands, LSU holds commitments from a pair of running backs in 3-star Tae Provens and 3-star Chris Curry. Neither are early enrollees, so their first crack at competing for backfield roles will be in the summer when they arrive on campus.

The big X-factor here is, of course, 4-star Alabama tailback Harold Joiner, who is making the trek to Baton Rouge this weekend for LSU’s home tilt against Auburn. Joiner has previously named LSU as his top school, and that has stuck despite a valiant effort lately from the Crimson Tide.

For argument’s sake, let’s put Joiner into LSU’s 2018 recruiting class along with Provens and Curry. None will be on campus this spring, so it will be rather difficult to push experienced players such as Brossette or Edwards-Helaire, who have both seen the field in glimpses this fall and are more familiar with the offense.

Here’s the counterargument: Brossette has not shown he can be a feature back yet. Granted, he hasn’t had the opportunity to prove himself with Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams ahead of him on the depth chart the past three years, but he’ll have every opportunity to lock down a starting job beginning next spring.

Edwards-Helaire should push him, though. The Catholic (La.) High School alum generated buzz throughout fall camp and earned some snaps already this season. It’s also worth noting that the coaching staff holds a high opinion of the freshman since he’s one of the starting kickoff return specialists.

For now, I’d project that Brossette will be the starting running back come 2018, but it will be a backfield timeshare along with Edwards-Helaire and one of Provens, Curry and even Joiner (if he winds up at LSU) depending on which one of the freshmen impresses during fall camp.

I do not expect Lowell Narcisse to see the field this season.

Perhaps the biggest reason why is that the LSU coaching staff wanted to give the quarterback ample time to rehab his knee in the aftermath of a second ACL tear last August. He’s made strides and looks healthy enough in practice and pregame warmups, but there’s quite a difference between throwing passes before a game on Saturday and then doing so while being chased by SEC defensive linemen.

What is interesting, however, is that Narcisse made the trek to Gainesville, Fla., last weekend. He was not with the team when LSU traveled to Mississippi State last month.

Myles Brennan earned the No. 2 job behind Danny Etling after impressing during fall camp, but another reason why is because of Narcisse’s knee. The staff wants him to compete for the starting job next spring with Brennan and to not suffer any sort of setback beforehand.

While Etling has drawn a lot of attention with his mobility the past couple of games, I’m not sure how many of those plays are designed quarterback runs versus the senior making a play with his legs to simply move the chains. However, that added element has benefited the Tigers on offense, especially on the road against Florida.

I would expect Matt Canada to create designed quarterback runs and bootleg plays for Narcisse when he is directing the offense. However, I don’t anticipate that Narcisse plays this season because, for now, there is little reason to burn his redshirt or risk his health.

LSU is after several junior college prospects at the moment, notably 4-star tackle Badara Traore and 3-star defensive end Dorian Gerald.

Traore is the No. 1 junior college tackle and Gerald is currently committed to Tennessee.

I have a strong sense that Traore winds up at LSU, but his recruitment remains in the early phases. He has made one official visit — to Auburn — and still has yet to make it to Baton Rouge. He is expected to officially visit both LSU and Texas before making a decision in December and enrolling in January. Both Orgeron and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes are making Traore a priority for this 2018 recruiting class because the team is in dire need of tackles that can compete for starting roles immediately.

Gerald is another name to keep an eye on. While he is committed to Tennessee, he has tentative plans to make an official visit to LSU. However, the team he has been most connected to in recent weeks is South Carolina, his home-state team. Gerald visited South Carolina last week as the Gamecocks defeated Arkansas and provided a positive review of the trip. The Vols are working very hard to keep Gerald in their class. LSU communication has been on and off, but expect him to officially visit at some point in the fall.

Remember, the Tigers also hold a commitment from 3-star defensive end Travez Moore, who could play either on the line or be a stand-up linebacker. He is a Bastrop, La., native and is locked in with LSU. While Orgeron has made public comments about a need for reinforcements on both the offensive and defensive lines — perhaps via the junior college ranks — reeling in one and likely two JUCO players seems the most likely.

It was a big victory in the sense that LSU proved it wasn’t heading toward a three- or four-win season. Orgeron’s team has some fight in it, and despite lacking experience in certain areas of the roster, overcame a questionable loss at home against a Sun Belt Conference opponent by going on the road and defeating a ranked Florida team.

With that win, the Tigers improved to 4-2 and 1-1 in SEC play. It should be an interesting road ahead with home games against Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M and road contests at Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee still left. LSU could finish as well as 9-3 or 8-4. Of course, a 6-6 season also could be in the cards.

LSU’s defeat of Florida in the Swamp came in front of several key recruits. That includes 5-star running back Noah Cain, 4-star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, 4-star linebacker Damone Clark (commit), 4-star running back Tyrion Davis (commit), 5-star offensive lineman Kardell Thomas and 4-star defensive end Andrew Chatfield. For the Tigers to leave Florida with a win provided a much-needed bump on the recruiting front. LSU showed improvement on offense and played stout on defense, holding the Gators to only 16 points and getting key stops at the end of the game in order to preserve the win.

As much as a conference victory helps LSU’s cause, you also must take into account that it’s one game. Recruits won’t make decisions based on a one-game sample size or even two. They’re considering an entire season to gauge how hard this team battled for its coach, how the offense improved from September to December, whether they would be a fit on a defense like this and how quickly could they see the field.

After traveling through Louisiana after LSU’s loss to Mississippi State and navigating through Florida following the loss to Troy, recruits were wise enough to indicate they were not rushing to cast judgment just yet.

In fact, here’s what Cain, the top-ranked back in the 2019 class, said about the loss to Troy ( full story here):

People keep asking me about Troy. It hasn’t affected me, them losing. I’m not basing my recruitment on a team’s talent after one loss. They had a lot of suspensions, Guice isn’t healthy, and while that’s not an excuse for losing, it’s not making me shy away from them recruiting me.

Losing to Troy ultimately will be the low point in LSU’s season, but it didn’t yield a negative aftermath on the recruiting trail. Beating Florida helped right the ship, but it’s more about the progress of the offense and continued development of the defense, in addition to how competitive the team is in these nationally televised and well-attended games.

Miss a previous edition? Find every post of SEC Country’s weekly LSU mailbag  right here .

The post LSU mailbag: Flipping Justin Fields, Lowell Narcisse playing time and JUCO targets appeared first on SEC Country.

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