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Losses might define another LSU offseason

12/31/2014

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As has been the case each year since LSU's loss in the 2012 BCS championship game, the Tigers’ offseason will be defined by what they lose.

LSU dealt with a massive exodus of 11 underclassmen after the 2012 season, followed by seven more players with eligibility remaining -- including rookie NFL stars Odell Beckham, Jeremy Hill and Jarvis Landry -- jumping ship at the end of the 2013 campaign.

At least a half-dozen Tigers have mulled an early exit this year, but the story for now is how it appears that LSU’s early NFL entries won’t represent the only turnover within the program. Coach Les Miles might be on the verge of losing one of his most valuable assistant coaches -- longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis, who is mulling an offer from Texas A&M -- and might have to battle to retain other staffers.

“I’m told that that’s the case. I’ll have to find that out later,” Miles said of a possible Chavis departure after Tuesday’s season-ending loss to Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

But at that point, he hadn’t heard it straight from Chavis’ mouth -- and Chavis wouldn’t address the subject in postgame interviews.

“I’m here to talk about the game and the game only,” Chavis told reporters who pressed him about the Aggies job.

Once again, Miles will probably have holes to fill in an offseason, putting a damper on some of the optimism his program might otherwise have carried into 2015. The Notre Dame loss – which dropped LSU to 8-5, matching the Tigers’ worst record since becoming the Tigers’ coach in 2005 – notwithstanding, LSU still could be poised for a return to championship contention next fall.

It all depends on how successful Miles’ sales jobs will be between now and national signing day. The questions start with his coaching personnel, continue with the potential draft hit the Tigers will absorb and conclude when recruits officially sign their national letters of intent on Feb. 4.

To date, the Tigers have only 16 commitments for the upcoming signing class – including just five ESPN 300 honorees – but Miles’ more important recruiting job might be convincing some folks to stay. Even if it’s not Chavis, retaining more junior talent than he has in recent seasons would make a huge difference next fall.

If draft-eligible Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins were to leave, LSU would return only one starting offensive lineman. Similarly, safety Jalen Mills and cornerback Jalen Collins, linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Danielle Hunter would also leave a void if they opted to forgo their senior seasons.

“I just hope they make the best decision for themselves,” sophomore middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “I’m with them either way. I look at Kwon like an older brother, I look at Lamar [Louis, a junior linebacker] like an older brother. I’m going to be with them either way.”

Most of LSU’s draft-eligible underclassmen are not viewed as elite 2015 draft prospects, so it’s entirely possible that LSU won’t face as much carnage this offseason.

Senior offensive tackle La'el Collins, who was the lone junior star from last season who opted to return, said during bowl practice that he discussed the impending decisions with both Hawkins and Vadal Alexander.

Collins apparently improved his draft stock by returning for another season in college – ESPN Scouts Inc. lists him as the No. 26 overall prospect for the upcoming draft – but he said his decision shouldn’t necessarily convince his younger teammates one way or another. He said they should evaluate how much another season might help them and trust their guts.

“I tell them, ‘Hey these are some of the things that I looked at when I decided to come back. These are some of the things that I thought about,’ ” Collins said. “And I just give the information that I had and the people that helped me out with it. I just tell them, ‘If you have any doubts about leaving, I would stay.’ If you have any doubts about making any decision in life, then you probably shouldn’t make that decision.”

Collins said choosing whether to stay at LSU last year was “definitely the hardest decision of my life,” and multiple Tigers will face a similar dilemma in the coming days and weeks -- including some coaches.

Miles has repeatedly mentioned in recent weeks that his 2015 club could have championship potential if some key veterans choose to stay. But if the Tigers are once again hit hard by coaching turnover and NFL departures, LSU making a big jump next fall becomes a much more daunting task.