Junior quarterback Anthony Jennings, who started all but one game a season ago for the Tigers, is involved in one case and, along with junior defensive back Dwayne Thomas and sophomore defensive lineman Maquedius Bain, has been indefinitely suspended by head coach Les Miles.
So too has second-year defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao, who added to his troubling short time on campus with what is allegedly a more violent crime than the one reportedly perpetrated by the above trio.
While the legal system is still playing out, TSD is taking an early look at the ramifications of the arrests on the field should any or all of the four players miss time due to these off-the-field incidents.
WHAT IT MEANS: JENNINGS
This certainly isn’t how you draw it up as a coaching staff when you want one quarterback to gain separation from another amid a position battle. But the events of yesterday, and ongoing investigation, certainly tilt the scales under center toward rising sophomore Brandon Harris.
LSU’s offense powered by Jennings in 2014 struggled mightily in the passing game as the Marietta, Ga., native completed just 48.9 percent of his passes for 1,611 yards and 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Harris, primarily in a backup capacity, was true on 55.6 percent of his attempts for 452 yards and six touchdowns to two picks. The young gun from north Louisiana also ran it more efficiently, averaging 6.1 yards per carry t0 2.7 ypc from Jennings and scoring three times on the ground to none from LSU’s starter.
So statistically Harris was the better player when allowed chances. And, when it comes to the eyeball test, Harris has usually prevailed as well, given he throws a better fastball (and arguably a better deep ball) than Jennings and definitely is more elusive running in the open field.
But LSU’s coaches, led by Les Miles, were very hesitant to put the younger player in the ballgame, fearful of turnovers and improvisation. Now they may not have a choice. Jennings exited spring as the first-team option at quarterback, but, in light of Thursday’s news, his relative stranglehold on a position many fans don’t understand in the first place figures to lessen.
(For what it’s worth the misdemeanor arrests of Bain and Jennings appear to be the least serious offenses of the bunch. If, as the players are claiming, they were attempting to recover stolen property of Jennings’, it’s foreseeable these two in particular could have charges dropped and be reinstated. Things could get stickier for the next player listed and almost certainly will for Lealaimatafao.)
WHAT IT MEANS: THOMAS
The inclusion of Thomas in Thursday’s local police blotter was the most unfortunate news given what he’s had to go through in recent months to come back from a torn ACL. A resilient player from New Orleans, Thomas is entering his fourth year on campus and now the redshirt junior could be in a pickle.
He was dynamite for LSU’s secondary in sub packages to start the 2014 season. Through basically 17 quarters of play (Thomas was injured early in the team’s fifth game), he totaled 24 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. Thomas was as effective as an LSU secondary member has been as an edge rusher since Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks.
Without him LSU is going to have to get creative or younger in its nickel and dime sets. In nickel (five DBs) the Tigers actually figure to okay, able to bring safety Jalen Mills down into the box and replacing him in the back with the experienced, trusted Rickey Jefferson.
It’s in dime packages (six DBs) where Corey Raymond would have a chore replacing Thomas. His options are freshmen corners Kevin Toliver, who was on campus as an early enrollee this spring, and Donte Jackson, who is being pegged for time on offense and special teams, or going to safeties like Corey Thompson or John Battle to come into the box. Either way there’d be a drop-off in experience and production from Thomas.
WHAT IT MEANS: BAIN
Losing Bain would be a gut punch to depth at defensive end. He’s barely had an impact defensively during his stay in TigerTown, taking a redshirt in 2013 before playing in 10 games with no starts last fall. But Bain was becoming a growing favorite of new position coach Ed Orgeron since he moved from defensive tackle to end during spring practices.
At almost 300 pounds Bain would’ve been on the bigger side of LSU ends, but that’s the direction Coach O and first-year coordinator Kevin Steele want to go in eventually with their front – bigger up front to stop the run. Bain was expected to maybe be the transitional link between old-style Tiger ends and the ones now being recruited by the staff.
If he’s out for any time that would heap some pressure on sophomores Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema, both of whom played a bit as freshmen but will need to bulk up to serve as every-down ends behind projected (new) starters Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal. It would accelerate the learning curve too for newbie Arden Key, who TSD recently learned has not yet reported to campus.
WHAT IT MEANS: LEALAIMATAFAO
Of the four players implicated for LSU, Lealaimatafao likely represents the player least missed on the field . . . partially because he hasn’t played a down yet for the program. Trey L. also faces the distinct possibility of being kicked off the team, more so than any of the other three with the nature of his alleged crime and the fact this isn’t his first brush with the law.
In his stead, a little like Bain, the Tigers would miss out on depth along the defensive line, albeit this time on the interior. Lealaimatafao projected as the fourth defensive tackle, in line behind returning starters Davon Godchaux and Christian Lacouture and fifth-year reserve Quentin Thomas.
If he gets the boot or misses time, Orgeron would have to either shorten his rotation to three or turn to other unproven options like redshirt sophomores Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron. Compounding the situation with Lealaimatafao is the fact Travonte Valentine can’t get his stuff together academically. Minus both of the prized 2014 signees, Coach O may also not be able to move Godchaux out to end as often as he’d like. There may not be enough qualified options to backfill for him.