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How LSU Football is Preparing for Tricky Roster Management in 2021

Tigers facing low roster numbers as more players continue to opt out of season

Every Monday morning when Ed Orgeron walks into the football ops facility, he and the coaching staff will have a roster management meeting. The topics vary from week to week but will always touch on the latest rumblings out on the recruiting trail, potential graduate transfer options and what the future of the program's roster will look like. 

This COVID-19 laced season has made it difficult on a number of fronts for the Tigers. Coaches are not allowed to have in person contact or set up official visits with recruits. The NCAA has established a rule specific to this season that grants fall athletes an extra year of eligibility which could further hinder roster sizes. 

And in LSU's specific case, the athletic department has self imposed an eight scholarship deduction over the next two seasons, a move that goes into effect in 2021. The Tigers are down to 69 scholarship players and according to a report from The Advocate, more players could soon be out the door.

Orgeron and company will be in roster management madness over the coming weeks and months of the offseason, trying to dramatically improve a roster with plenty of holes to plug.

One of the major concerns for Orgeron and coaches across the country are the opt outs that have grown rampant over this 2020 season. Whether it's before the season or as we most recently saw with Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert during the season, the program is losing its top players at a moment's notice. 

It's why, at the end of the day, Orgeron is hoping the NCAA will grant more scholarships in the future if opt outs remain a relevant theme throughout the sport.

"I wish they gave us more, but they don't. We have 25, that's it. Just because a guy opts out, you don't gain another initial. That's what  makes it tough to get your roster back to 85," Orgeron said. "It's not my call, but hopefully in the future the NCAA changes the rule to where you can have more initials.

"Opting out and stuff like that, your roster is so fluid that you have to keep up. Obviously for us, graduate transfers at key positions have been very successful for us. We hope we can do it again."

LSU has adjusted course in its pursuit of filling out the rest of the 2021 class. With the decommitments of Anthony Hundley and Naquan Brown the Tigers now have five open slots in the class and will heavily focus on the offensive line to fill those spots. 

Tackle Garrett Dellinger is currently the only offensive lineman committed in the class but the program is hoping to land talented Virginia prospect Tristan Leigh as well. Orgeron said the program will look to add at least one or two more linemen through the 2021 class as well as leave a scholarship open for a potential graduate transfer. 

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"Obviously offensive line is a priority for us. We only have one commitment right now. There's a sense of urgency there. I do believe we're in on some big-time players," Orgeron said. "I believe we're going to have success on one or two. We may need a junior college player or maybe a graduate transfer in that area. I may have to hold a couple scholarships for graduate transfers."

Another part of building a more competitive roster next season is convincing some of the older players to return for 2021. Veterans like JaCoby Stevens and Jabril Cox are likely out the door one way or the other but there are some veterans like center Liam Shanahan and safety Todd Harris who the program could use in a return. 

"I talked to most of the guys about coming back. Some are dead set on going. Some are considering coming back," Orgeron said. "We still talk to them on a daily basis. We want them to come back, we'd love them to come back, where they're at, talking to their families."

The pitch to the veteran players is pretty much what Orgeron will tell high school recruits. It all depends on the draft stock and what the players are hearing from teams. 

But development and the potential to improve their draft stock are the two main selling points Orgeron has approached with all of his juniors and seniors. 

"Some guys stay another year and make $10 million by staying another year, get drafted higher," Orgeron said. "It all depends where they're at, where the draft grade comes back, first round, second round, lower-round player. Come back, have another year, get drafted higher."

Shanahan and Cox were both asked about their futures with the program this week and both haven’t made their minds up about staying or moving on to the NFL.

“I'm still looking to finish out this season strong and see what will be the best outcome for me going forward," Shanahan said. "Obviously everyone's frustrated, it's been an especially trying year and we haven't done the best job we could've done this season. There's no reason for us to be doing what we've been doing so we have to improve and finish this season strong."

Even a year after a national championship run, another season like 2020 could spell trouble for the future of the program under Orgeron. This offseason will be as important as any he's had since taking over as full time head coach in 2017. 

The players he brings in and the results of next season will speak volumes to LSU getting back to its ultimate destination, the College Football Playoff.