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LSU’s Kelly frank about uncertainty as camp kicks off

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BATON ROUGE, LA (AP) Encouraged by LSU coach Brian Kelly, who appears to be in his first year at the helm of the traditional Southeastern Conference powerhouse, he doesn’t downplay the relative uncertainty around the Tigers as fall camp opens.

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A coaching staff with only one returning assistant—offensive coach Brad Davis—has to make many decisions about a roster of many new players.

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LSU opens its season against Florida State in New Orleans on September 4th. But when camp opened on Thursday night, Kelly said he couldn’t even outline yet which likely starting players would be quarterback, cornerback, or most of the offensive line.

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“There are a lot of good and bad things going on in these units, and there are questions that need to be answered,” Kelly said. “Now I’m standing here in front of you and feeling pretty good about the players we’ve brought together in a very short amount of time who can go out and play at a very high level in the SEC. But the fact remains that we have to find out who these guys are.”

Late last season, the Tigers were so weak as a quarterback that they had to start with receiver Jontre Kirklin, a former high school QB, in their Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State.

They now have four QBs to choose from, including two — 23-year-old alumnus Mayles Brennan and redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier — who have already played center for LSU. They compete against Jayden Daniels, who has been a three-year starter at Arizona State, and Walker Howard, a coveted recruit.

None of last year’s starting full-backs returned – not many minor players, for that matter. But Kelly tried to solidify her position with the help of Senior Oklahoma State Interpreter Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Ohio State alumnus Sevin Banks, among others.

After losing three offensive linemen in the NFL Draft, this division needs to be redesigned. Among those who returned from last season, Cameron Wire is the most experienced player with four starts, but he was plagued by injuries last season.

“We’re going to make it through camp and have to make some tough decisions and frankly rely on grades at camp to make it through,” Kelly said. “At my age, things are a little different. We used to have guys like – you know, everyone talks about the depth chart, it’s always open – but you always have a guy penciled somewhere. There aren’t many pencils out there yet. So yes, there is work to be done.”

This uncertainty, following last year’s 6-7 record in the final season under 2019 National Champion coach Ed Orgeron, is why expectations for LSU are lower than usual.

The Tigers finished fifth in the seven-team SEC West Division in the league’s preseason media poll.

But if Kelly gets the starting QB right and the lanes are blocked for him, passing can be elite. Kelly said Caishon Butte, who wears the No. 7 jersey traditionally awarded to the most talented Louisiana native on the list, looks good as he returns from ankle surgery.

“He’s an explosive player,” Kelly said. “I’m very happy for him because you can see his potential is one of: can he be the best receiver in the country? I think he might be.”

Jack Beck, one of LSU’s top tight end receivers last season, is back as a wide receiver this year. He is recovering from the injury, but Kelly hoped to be back in training a few days after the calf injury.

The Tigers are also expecting a strong passing streak thanks to the return of Ali Gay in his senior season and the return of sophomore Maason Smith.

An active game should be facilitated by the return of John Emery Jr., who did not fit last season. But the band won’t be as deep as expected; Kelly said that Tre Bradford was no longer on the team and did not attend LSU.

Still, Kelly seemed emboldened by a corps of runners who have seen the addition since the spring of Penn State’s translation of Noah Kane.

“I really like the depth of the band when Cain is added to it,” Kelly said. “Each of them has a chance to contribute. … I’m fine with that. I think it’s great. They are all very competitive and all bring something different to the game.”

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