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Three LSU Football Players to Keep a Close Eye On Against UCLA

Johnson, Smith among the players to be on the look for against Bruins

One of the constant messages out of the LSU program over the last week has been the need to start fast during the 2021 season. The No. 16 ranked Tigers want to start changing the perception of the current roster after an inconsistent national championship succession.

What this team needs is steady execution with a nice mix of aggressiveness when the team travels to Los Angeles on Thursday to face UCLA.  Week one will provide a first look at all of the new and exciting talent on the field this season. But here are three players we will be keeping a close eye on throughout Saturday evening.

Max Johnson (QB)

This one goes without saying but getting to see Johnson opening week will be an exciting look into the future. The LSU sophomore has two years left of eligibility and should he live up to expectations, will have a two-year window to solidify his position as one of the program's great quarterbacks. 

After those final two starts against Florida and Ole Miss, there's plenty to be excited about with the left handed Johnson. He's accurate, has a strong arm, is mobile and at least early in his career proved that much can rattle him behind center. Not to mention he'll have plenty of weapons and opportunity under offensive coordinator Jake Peetz's scheme. 

Coaches and players have raved about his offseason development and becoming more comfortable as a leader of this offense as well. UCLA will prove to be a formiddable first opponent for this LSU offense, that will likely throw a bunch of receivers and running backs on the field and see which ones pop.

"I am not going to change at all. The way I have been is who I am. Learn, compete, and I love football," Johnson said. "I love being with these guys and competing every day and getting better, and we are all just trying to pursue our goals, which is to be the best we can be."

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Maason Smith (DT)

The highest ranked recruit of the 2021 class, Smith has done nothing but exceed expectations since arriving to Baton Rouge as an early enrollee. His teammates are constantly blown away by the impact he makes as an interior defensive lineman with his strength, speed and technique already SEC ready.

It's hard to imagine he won't be a tone setter for this defensive line as the season wears on but just how much playing time will he receive early? Coach Ed Orgeron has pretty much listed him and sophomore Jaquelin Roy as co-starters in the middle of the defensive line next to veterans Neil Farrell and Glen Logan.

With Logan out, it's fair to assume that Smith will eat up many snaps against the Bruins and try and stop a rushing attack that carved up Hawaii last weekend. The interior presence of Smith, Farrell and Roy will be key to stopping the run and with his knack for disrupting the quarterback, expect Smith to be heavily involved with the offensive scheme.

Mike Jones Jr. (LB)

The intrigue surrounding Jones will be extremely high all season. After a successful three-year career at Clemson as primarily an outside linebacker who played in a lot of nickel defensive situations, Jones made the jump to LSU in hopes of transitioning to inside the box, in order to be on the field more consistently. 

But LSU's depth at linebacker, particularly in the middle is looking a lot deeper than it did a few months back. The team has been very impressed with Damone Clark, Jared Small Micah Baskerville and Navonteque Strong so there's no rush to get Jones out there if he's not ready. 

As recently as last week, Ed Orgeron was talking about just how big of an adjustment it's been for Jones since moving inside. The physicality reaches another level inside the box as linebackers can often find themselves going head to head with offensive linemen. The quicker Jones can assert himself as an every down player in this defense, the better because he has some of those unteachable physical traits that are uncommon for players his size.