Mainstream Louisiana sports fell on hard times, to say the least, in 2015.
But 2015 is in the books. With the recent struggles of the Saints, Pelicans and football Tigers in mind, all we can do is turn the calendar page and embrace the idea that 2016 is a different entity, one that offers hope.
So that said, a look at how that hope might be achieved.
The Saints — A second cornerback, certainly, will be the need garnering the most attention after Brandon Browner was so often exposed in that position. The team found a gem in Delvin Breaux, so thankfully that top spot is covered; the hope would be that Keenan Lewis, arguably the best corner in team history, makes a healthy return. Lewis will turn 30 this season, though, and has been plagued by injury over the past two seasons.
Even more important, though, will be cobbling together some kind of consistent pass rush. Some teams can hide poor secondary play with a strong rush. Some teams can get by with a weaker pass rush via great coverage. Neither is preferable, but if you lack both, you end up with “Saints 2015” and one of the worst defensive efforts in league history. I think the Saints could bring back every single player from this season’s secondary and make a big improvement next season if the pass rushing issue is solved. As well as Breaux played this season, a shutdown cornerback is a true asset. The team may not be that far away, but obviously much will depend on its flexibility to maneuver — and whether Sean Payton and Drew Brees return.
The Pelicans — Need to find a true lead guard, though it may have one in-house with Jrue Holiday. Holiday’s minutes restriction has been lifted, and team came up with a rare road win in his first 30-minute effort in Dallas Saturday.
Holiday’s minutes spike came in conjunction with Tyreke Evans missing the game with a knee problem, and the more this team plays, the more clear it seems it may be better off if it can find another home for Evans, who voiced frustration at Alvin Gentry’s request for him to initiate offense for others more after his initial return from injury. The Pelicans cannot win consistently unless the players buy in, and at times Evans says and does things that make it seem he’s more about how he can be most effective than what is best for the team.
Regardless, Holiday is probably this team’s second best player behind Anthony Davis, and having him as a regular starter could go a long way on its own.
LSU football — Les Miles already made a splash since having his status as LSU coach reaffirmed, landing Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to replace Kevin Steele as the architect of the Tigers’ defense.
Still, while a potential upgrade defensively will obviously make a difference, the people who were ready to move on from Miles among LSU backers mostly wanted to do so because the offense often appeared archaic and the team’s quarterback play, minus a one-year blip by Zach Mettenberger as he threw to a pair of NFL superstars to-be, has been extremely lacking for a while.
It’s a chicken or the egg thing for me. Has Brandon Harris struggled because he’s operating an offense handcuffed by a retro style, or is the offense conservative because the quarterbacks can’t handle more? Mettenberger’s big year suggests Miles is willing to trust his passing game if the pieces dictate; that they don’t more often, then, is a pretty large concern.
One thing is for sure: he’s not going to ever beat Nick Saban again if his gameplan is limited to executing the one thing Saban has set out to stop on a particular day. Leonard Fournette is a great, great player, and he can carry the Tigers past most teams in the nation. But he needs a passing game to compliment him against the best of the best.
Hopefully, the new year yields one.