It's an age old saying not just in football but in all sports. That year one to year two jump is critical in determining the long term outlook for a player.
For the 2020 LSU football team, the growth of some of its most talented sophomores will be pivotal in the Tigers defending their championship title. There are plenty of sophomores that will carry that weight on their shoulders, starting at the running back position.
Three sophomores, Chris Curry, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price will be asked to carry the baton left behind by Clyde Edwards-Helaire. In Curry's case, he'll be entering his third year with the program after redshirting in 2018.
He's also the only one of the three that has the experience of being a primary back, even if it was just for one game. Curry's 16 carry, 90-yard performance against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl was one of the many bright spots in the Tigers' beat down of the Sooners.
"I really like what Chris did last year, he's tough, he's physical and he's a leader," coach Ed Orgeron said in an interview Tuesday with Off the Bench. "Tyrion Davis-Price, think about him, he's 6-foot-1, 227, we've got John Emery and I'm excited about Kevontre Bradford. We've got four running backs that can play. The first three are all starters and let's see what happens."
The offensive line, particularly left tackle Dare Rosenthal, will be key in opening up holes for his fellow sophomore running backs. Rosenthal is the favorite to win the left tackle job after earning three starts for Saahdiq Charles as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
"Had an excellent bowl season practice and I believe Dare has a chance to be a top draft choice," Orgeron said in a separate interview with Off the Bench a few weeks back. "But he's got some things to work on and things to do."
On defense, there are two main position groups, linebacker and safety, that have a heavy dose of rising sophomores. At the linebacker spot, Marcel Brooks is listed as the backup Mike linebacker to junior Damone Clark at the moment.
At 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, Brooks is a freakish athlete who came to Baton Rouge originally as a safety but was moved to outside linebacker towards the end of last season and transitioned to the inside during the offseason. Under new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, the Tigers will likely be multiple with their linebackers so if Brooks can adapt to the position quickly, having him out on the field will be an extra energy boost.
The other sophomore linebacker that Orgeron and the staff are a little undecided about where his future lies is Devonta Lee. As part of his interview Tuesday, Orgeron mentioned that Lee is a unique athlete at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds and could wind up at safety or in a "JaCoby Stevens type role" closer to the line of scrimmage.
"We're trying to find a spot for Devonta, it may be safety, linebacker or may be a position like we use JaCoby Stevens. That might be something he [Devonta] can do, closer to the football, making plays and rushing the passer," Orgeron said.
If the coaching staff does decide to make the move and put Lee at safety, he'll be joining another young sophomore that got his feet wet in the latter part of the 2019 season. Dual sport athlete Maurice Hampton Jr. saw ample playing time at deep safety against Arkansas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma and left a strong indication that he is primed for a big leap.
Hampton was off playing baseball for the three practices of spring camp the Tigers were able to squeeze in but Brody Miller of the Athletic reported he was one of the defensive backs training with Derek Stingley Jr. during the quarantine.
He'll likely be battling Todd Harris and Jordan Toles for reps but possesses great upside on the back end of the defense.
Stingley returns as one of the best players in all of college football but it's fellow sophomore Cordale Flott who could be tasked with starting on the opposite side. Flott will be battling freshman recruit Elias Ricks for that spot.
"You look at the other side, we have Cordale Flott, who I think did a tremendous job for us, you have Elias Ricks, who came on strong at the end of spring," Orgeron said. They only had three days, but he looked very good with a limited workout because of his shoulder."
If both prove to be starting caliber players in fall camp, Orgeron envisions a scenario where the Tigers could move Flott inside to the nickel, freeing up Ricks to be the other corner opposite Stingley.
Whatever tinkering the staff does between now and September, it's fairly clear the sophomore class will have a sizable imprint on the team's success. From running back to offensive line to linebacker all the way to the secondary, that year two jump will be important on many levels for the Tigers this season.