As LSU Football Prepares for First Walkthrough Practice, Coach Ed Orgeron Says Team is Ready

Orgeron talks special teams, why it's Damone Clark's time to shine in Tigers defense
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It's been a long, arduous five-month journey for college athletics but teams are now on the verge of getting back on the field. Starting Friday, the NCAA will allow college football teams to start an "OTA style" camp, which will include practicing with a football.

On Tuesday during his weekly appearance with 104.5 ESPN radio show "Off the Bench," LSU coach Ed Orgeron previewed the upcoming two-week camp before actual fall practices can begin on Aug. 7. The team will practice twice a day on Friday and Saturday, once at 6 a.m. and later in the afternoon at 3 p.m.

"We're ready, we had a meeting with our guys, we're focused and ready to go," Orgeron said. "It's only a walkthrough but our guys are ready, we'll have a football so we look forward to getting a lot of our offense and defense in. We've got a lot of teaching but our guys are looking forward to being out on the field again."

One of the areas Orgeron and the coaching staff want to address from the jump on Friday is establishing that culture and unity on the football field. Since his first season as the coach in 2017, that has been one of the pillars Orgeron has preached in building a successful program and the it's shown over the years as no one person or player believes he's better than another.

"Our standard of performance, the way we practice, the way we do things, the way we meet, the way we take the field, our demeanor," Orgeron said. "Everybody working together, ongoing skill development, execution, all of the things that made our program at an elite level we have to stay there and we have to get better."

The topic of special teams was brought up on Tuesday and particularly who the Tigers were looking at on kick return. Last year it was Clyde Edwards-Helaire's job as he rarely returned a kickoff, the team instead electing to fair catch most kicks and start at the 25-yard line. 

Orgeron said the team is looking at a number of players at kick return including John Emery, Ja'Marr Chase, Trey Palmer and Jontre Kirklin. These initial two-week walkthoughs will give the staff a little clarity about that spot. The Tigers have a history of using running backs at that kickoff returner spot so Emery feels like the player who will earn the spot.

"We're going to fair catch it if we feel we don't have a good return," Orgeron said. "John Emery is explosive and I think he's going to do a great job back there."

Junior linebacker Damone Clark is one of the players Orgeron is excited to see back out on the field as he looks to take over as the Tigers next elite inside linebacker. Clark and teammate Jabril Cox were named to the Butkus Award watch list on Monday, an award given annually to the best linebacker in the country. 

After spending two years learning behind Devin White, Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips, Orgeron says it's Clark's time to shine.

"He has a great character about himself, I think the sky's the limit for him, outstanding young man," Orgeron said. "On Saturday mornings, he's in here watching film on his own so it tells you a lot about him. He's very smart but football school and camp, now's is his time, let's see if he can do it."

Another key part of that 4-3 defense this year will be the play up front by the defensive line. One of the questions centered around that group is just how much will fans see Tyler Shelvin and Siaki "Apu" Ika out on the field together. Orgeron said it's one of the many options the team will utilize this season but also admitted the program needs to see Shelvin shed a little more weight.

"I do believe in Tyler that he will get the weight down but there are some instances where Bo has in his defense where we need two big guys in there," Orgeron said. "That's going to be Bo's call and anytime we need to do it, we'll do it."