SEC: D.J. Welter
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Dozens of NFL scouts and coaches will descend on LSU’s football facility Friday to watch more than 20 former Tigers participate in the program’s annual pro day.
Here's a breakdown:
Watch it live: The SEC Network will televise the workouts from 1-3 p.m. ET. It will also be available on the WatchESPN app and on SEC Network+. SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy will provide live reports and interviews, while Dari Nowkhah, former LSU star Marcus Spears and NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl will offer in-studio analysis.
LSU’s official site will provide updates from the players’ performances at lsusports.net/proday.
Headliners: Offensive tackle La'el Collins and cornerback Jalen Collins are the Tigers’ top two draft prospects. ESPN Scouts Inc. ranks La’El Collins 28th and Jalen Collins 29th on its list of the top 32 prospects in the upcoming draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists them 17th and 24th, respectively, on his Big Board and had both players getting selected in the first 20 picks in his most recent mock draft.
Jalen Collins is not expected to participate in pro day after undergoing recent foot surgery. However, he seemed to solidify his spot among the top cornerbacks with his buzzworthy performance at the NFL scouting combine last month. He ran a stellar 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash, finished among the top handful of cornerbacks in several other drills and performed exceptionally in the positional drills. At 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, his size is also a great asset considering how many NFL clubs like big corners.
La’el Collins also helped his cause in Indianapolis. He performed well in the workouts and showed out in the positional drills, which could help him become LSU’s first offensive lineman picked in the first round since Alan Faneca in 1998.
Other top Tigers: Defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Kwon Alexander are LSU’s other candidates to become early-round selections.
At the combine, Hunter posted the fastest time among defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash, 4.57 seconds. Alexander was second among linebackers with a 4.55 time in the 40. Their speed and athleticism help both players rank among the better prospects at their positions.
This week, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranked Hunter eighth among defensive ends and Alexander 10th among outside linebackers. ESPN Scouts Inc. lists Alexander as its No. 53 overall prospect and Hunter at No. 77.
Friday’s storylines: The 40 times of LSU running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will be among the big storylines at pro day. Both players participated in the combine, but Magee didn’t run the 40 and Hilliard posted a disappointing official time of 4.83 seconds.
Scouts Inc. lists Magee as the No. 13 running back and No. 147 overall prospect, so he seems likely to be selected somewhere in a draft with 256 total picks -- and he can help by showcasing his versatility and posting a respectable 40 time at pro day. Hilliard is listed as the No. 29 running back and No. 286 overall prospect. He could use a productive pro day in order to solidify a shot as a free agent, even if he doesn’t become a late-round draft pick.
Multiple pro day participants will be in Hilliard’s position Friday. Only five of them seem to be surefire draft picks, but several could become undrafted free agents. Among the Tigers who didn’t earn combine invites but should have a chance to sign as undrafted free agents – if they don’t become late-round picks – are fullback Connor Neighbors (Scouts Inc.’s No. 2 prospect at his position), All-SEC safety Ronald Martin and defensive end Jermauria Rasco.
Participants: Eighteen members of LSU’s 2014 team are scheduled to participate: Alexander, receiver Luke Boyd, La’el Collins, offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika, tight end Jake Franklin, Hilliard, Hunter, receiver Chris LaBorde, receiver Jeff Lang, receiver Quantavius Leslie, Magee, Martin, Neighbors, center Elliott Porter, Rasco, tight end Logan Stokes, offensive lineman Evan Washington and linebacker D.J. Welter.
In addition, four former Tigers -- fullback J.C. Copeland, offensive lineman Chris Faulk, linebacker Karnell Hatcher and linebacker Tahj Jones -- are schedule to participate.
Schedule: Pro day begins at 11:30 a.m. ET in LSU’s weight room. The players will first participate in vertical jump, broad jump and bench press then. At 1 p.m., they will move into the indoor practice facility to complete the 40-yard dash and shuttle runs. At about 2:15 p.m. they will begin individual workouts with NFL coaches by position (passing session at 2:15, running backs at 2:40, tight ends at 3, offensive line at 3:15, defensive backs at 3:35, linebackers at 3:55 and defensive line at 4:10).
Kendell Beckwith didn’t claim a starting spot until past the midway point of last season, but once he entered the lineup, he rarely left the field. If LSU’s defense is to live up to its lofty expectations, the junior middle linebacker will be a central figure in its success:
Spotlight: Linebacker Kendell Beckwith, 6-2, 245 pounds, junior
2014 summary: After mostly playing defensive end as a freshman, Beckwith shifted to his preferred position of linebacker last spring and challenged senior D.J. Welter for a starting spot. He eventually grabbed the job midway through the season, entering the lineup against Auburn and starting in the middle for the last seven games. He finished second on the team with 77 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss and is unquestionably one of the leaders on LSU’s defense as he enters his second season as a starter. He helps set the defense before each play and should be one of its leading tacklers.
The skinny: He had a relatively quiet freshman season, but last fall Beckwith started to prove why he was LSU’s highest-rated 2013 signee. He was a leading factor in the Tigers’ defensive transformation after a sluggish first half of the season, when Mississippi State and Auburn gashed the Tigers for more than 560 yards apiece. The Tigers lost leading tackler Kwon Alexander – also one of the defense’s emotional leaders – to early entry in the NFL draft, and they’ll feel his absence at weakside linebacker. But Beckwith says the defense is his now, so expect him to take over a leadership role as a tackling machine and as a guy who gets his teammates into the right spot before the snap. Beckwith said last week that he expects LSU to have one of the nation’s linebacker groups, with senior strongside linebacker Lamar Louis returning as a starter and Deion Jones replacing Alexander on the weak side. As long as the leaders stay healthy, Beckwith’s prediction might be correct. Think back on his biggest plays last season: a key third-down stop late in the upset victory over Ole Miss or the last-minute fumble recovery against Alabama that should have given LSU a victory. Those plays were made by a guy in his first season as an SEC linebacker. He’s only going to continue to improve, and that’s hardly good news for the offenses that will face LSU this fall.
"We're going to get it, and we're going to go after every top player in the country," Orgeron said. "I don't care if they're committed to somewhere or not. We're going to take our shot, and I'm going to go in there and try to bring back the best players that we can at LSU."
LSU's hope is that adding Steele and Orgeron -- both of whom have been named national recruiter of the year at some point by a recruiting service, as has Tigers recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson -- will spark further interest from top prospects Les Miles' staff has been recruiting for months.
They've already got five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver -- the No. 10 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 -- on campus as an early enrollee and are still pushing hard to land additional top-10 prospects, including No. 1 Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida/Armwood), No. 4 Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California/Long Beach Polytechnic) and No. 9 CeCe Jefferson (Glen Saint Mary, Florida/Baker County).
With Toliver already enrolled, adding Marshall, athlete/cornerback Donte Jackson (Jefferson, Louisiana/Riverdale), Xavier Lewis (Laplace, Louisiana/East Saint John) and Jeremy Cutrer (Kentwood, Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) would easily put LSU in contention for the nation's top group of defensive back signees.
Same with the defensive line, if Orgeron helps sway defensive ends Cowart, Jefferson and/or No. 24 overall prospect Arden Key (Lithonia, Georgia/Hapeville Charter), who visited LSU this past weekend. Beefing up the D-line was one of Orgeron's stated objectives when he officially joined Miles' staff last week.
"You've got to recruit those animals up front, and you've got to get them in a bad mood and develop them," Orgeron said with a chuckle.
They also have holes to fill at linebacker after losing junior Kwon Alexander to the NFL and senior D.J. Welter to graduation. LSU has not secured a commitment from a linebacker yet for this class and signed just two, Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander, in 2014. A name to watch in the next two weeks is that of Ole Miss commit Leo Lewis (Brookhaven, Mississippi/Brookhaven), the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 60 overall prospect, whom LSU continues to pursue.
LSU finished with ESPN's No. 2 recruiting class last year, thanks to a late push on national signing day. Not only did the Tigers secure a signature from top overall prospect Leonard Fournette, but they also held on to a commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Deondre Clark, added four-star prospects Malachi Dupre (the nation's No. 1 receiver), Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao, and convinced three-star prospect Sione Teuhema and his brother, Maea, ESPN's No. 2 offensive guard and No. 71 overall prospect for 2015, to sign with LSU over Texas.
It's far from a given that LSU will make a similar leap in the recruiting rankings when the dust settles in two weeks, but it's still a distinct possibility. Prior to Jackson's announcement Wednesday, LSU had ESPN's No. 13 class with just 16 slots filled.
If the Tigers sign their customary 25 players and fill the remaining spots with some of the big fish remaining on their board, they are sure to make another huge move on signing day.
That was an expected outcome when some in the media anointed Miles' restructured coaching staff a recruiting dream team after Steele and Orgeron came aboard. Now, as Orgeron admitted, it's time for them to prove there was something behind the hype.
"There's some tremendous recruiters [at LSU], but we have to produce. I'm into production," Orgeron said. "Let's see what the production is, and then let's declare that after we produce."
That’s nothing new for LSU’s coach, who has lost 17 underclassmen to the draft in the last two years, but he also knows the potential that will exist for his 2015 team if juniors like offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive backs Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills opt to return.
“I think that this team has the potential to play in championships and should the juniors recognize how close we are to being in the [College Football Playoff] that frankly this could be a great class for quite some time and a great team for quite some time,” Miles said this week.
Those upcoming decisions will be a major factor in whether LSU fulfills that potential next season. Miles said he has made and will make that point in further discussions with his underclassmen on whether another year in college would benefit them.
Earlier today, we examined each position on LSU’s offensive roster and which players have NFL decions to make. Now we turn to the defense:
Key departing seniors: Defensive end Jermauria Rasco (63 tackles, 4 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss)
Key draft-eligible player: Junior defensive end Danielle Hunter (64 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 12 TFL)
Key underclassmen/not eligible for draft: Sophomore defensive tackle Christian LaCouture (37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL), freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (34 tackles, 1.5 TFL)
Comment: Hunter refused to discuss his draft situation on Wednesday, but there is good reason to believe that he can and will jump to the pros after the bowl game. If he and Rasco are both gone, the Tigers might lean heavily on Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal, Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema to provide a pass rush next season. The good news is that the tackle spot will be much better off in 2015 now that LaCouture and Godchaux have established themselves, with junior Quentin Thomas and a number of freshmen and redshirt freshmen (look out for Travonte Valentine) capable of grabbing some playing time for themselves.
Key departing seniors: D.J. Welter (35 tackles)
Key draft-eligible players: Junior Kwon Alexander (79 tackles, 7.5 TFL), junior Lamar Louis (29 tackles, 2.5 TFL)
Key underclassmen/not eligible for draft: Sophomore Kendell Beckwith (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 6.5 TFL, INT)
Comment: This figures to be a strong position even if Alexander jumps to the pros. Asked whether he requested an evaluation from the NFL’s advisory committee, Alexander said, “One of the coaches told me to put it in. I just threw it in there, but I’m not worrying about that right now. I’m just trying to focus on this bowl game.” He had a strong first season at weakside linebacker, posting a team-high 79 tackles and earning second-team All-SEC honors, but could certainly boost his draft stock by returning. Starting strongside linebacker Louis figures to return, and Beckwith should be a star next year in his first full season as the starter in the middle. Plus, the Tigers will have regulars Deion Jones and Duke Riley back, and freshman Clifton Garrett will be coming off his redshirt season. With so much depth and talent returning, Alexander predicted that his position group next year can be “the best linebackers in the country.”
Key departing seniors: Safety Ronald Martin (66 tackles, 2 INT)
Key draft-eligible players: Junior cornerback Jalen Collins (33 tackles, INT), junior safety Jalen Mills (54 tackles, 3 TFL, INT), redshift sophomore defensive back Dwayne Thomas (24 tackles, 2.5 TFL, INT)
Key underclassmen/not eligible for draft: (Safety) sophomore Rickey Jefferson (23 tackles, 2 INT), freshman Jamal Adams (56 tackles, 3 TFL), (cornerback) sophomore Tre'Davious White (32 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INT)
Comment: Mills and Collins are both expected to explore their draft possibilities. Mills hasn’t spoken to reporters since the end of the season, and Collins said Wednesday that “I’ve thought about it a couple times, but I haven’t made any final decisions yet.” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rates Collins as the No. 8 draft-eligible cornerback prospect for 2015. Even if they both jump to the pros, the secondary should still be in good shape. Thomas and junior safety Corey Thompson will return from injury, while Adams, White and Jefferson have all established themselves as reliable contributors. Rashard Robinson is a wild card, as Miles hasn’t announced whether the suspended cornerback will be allowed back on the team. “I would hope that he might be here [next season],” Miles said earlier this week. If Robinson is gone permanently, the Tigers might have to rely on a freshman like Ed Paris, John Battle or Russell Gage.
Key departing seniors: None
Key draft-eligible players: Junior punter Jamie Keehn (45.0 yards per punt), junior snapper Reid Ferguson
Key underclassmen/not eligible for draft: Sophomore kicker Colby Delahoussaye (11-15 FG, 34-36 PAT, 67 points)
Comment: Keehn told reporters this week that he plans to return, so LSU’s kicking game should remain intact. In fact, there could be added competition next season now that freshman kicker Cameron Gamble has had time to settle in and possibly challenge Delahoussaye and sophomore Trent Domingue for opportunities on field goal/PAT and kickoffs.
Typically that’s a sign of a disappointing season, which is certainly the case for a Tigers team (8-4) that fell well short of the standard that Miles set in his first decade at LSU. This was not a great season, and if the Tigers fail to win their bowl game, they will match the 2008 team for LSU’s fewest wins in a season under Miles.
With all of that said, however, LSU’s matchup in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl is as good as an 8-4 team could expect. The Tigers drew Notre Dame (7-5), which like LSU was ranked in the top 10 early in the season before a late slide.
Both programs have played for a national championship within the last four seasons, and while they both finished this regular season with a flop, a game featuring two of the sport’s most successful programs provides a reason to get excited about playing one more game.
“No matter who the opponent would have been, we would have got up for it, obviously, but definitely Notre Dame, we can get excited for a great team like that, to play them.”
The caliber of the programs should drive interest despite a 3 p.m. ET kickoff on Tuesday, Dec. 30, and the game will add to the considerable history between the Tigers and Fighting Irish.
LSU and Notre Dame have actually played 10 times, the most of any SEC opponent against the Fighting Irish. Both clubs have won five times in series history, so this will be a rubber match of sorts.
“LSU and Notre Dame, they have some history with each other in bowl games,” LSU running back Terrence Magee said. “So growing up, Notre Dame is a big program. They’ve been on the big stage lately playing Alabama in the national championship, and I think it’s going to be a big matchup for us. I’m excited about it.”
Oddly enough, the bowl trip also will help LSU’s seniors cross Nashville off the list of SEC towns where they will have played. The Tigers haven’t played in Music City since 2010 and while several fifth-year seniors (including Connor Neighbors, D.J. Welter, Travis Dickson, Evan Washington and Justin Maclin) were on LSU’s team that season, none of them played in the Tigers’ 27-3 win over Vanderbilt.
Missouri is the only SEC team that LSU hasn’t faced in the last five seasons, and Mizzou, Kentucky and South Carolina are the only SEC towns where the Tigers haven’t played in that period.
But the location of this game is only a footnote. After all, nobody on either of these teams set a preseason goal of finishing the year with a bowl game in Tennessee. It’s the opposition that drives interest for fans and players alike.
“It really doesn’t matter, the destination,” LSU cornerback Jalen Collins said. “I feel like the opponent is the bigger part. It’s who we’re playing and how we finish the game.”
In that regard, both clubs are getting off lucky. Notre Dame lost five of its last six games after ranking as high as fifth at one point. LSU dropped two of the last three after it ranked eighth early in the season.
Obviously the season didn’t end the way fans of either school once hoped, so getting to face a big-name opponent in a bowl game was far from a foregone conclusion. The sunny side of the teams’ late stumbles – certainly from the bowl’s perspective, as this is probably the best pairing in Music City Bowl’s 17-year history – is that they paved the way for a bowl pairing that’s actually interesting.
Both teams were better last season, but Notre Dame’s bowl game against Rutgers and LSU’s against Iowa didn’t do much for anybody. At least now we get to see two of the sport’s most historically significant programs meet. All things considered, that’s not so bad.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five of the most intimidating words in college football are “Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.” Unless you’re Dak Prescott.
You chalk up a loss when your team is playing against LSU under such circumstances. Always, always, always.
Only twice in Les Miles’ nine-plus seasons at LSU -- at least before Prescott and Mississippi State dominated most of Saturday’s 34-29 win before the No. 8 Tigers' frantic comeback -- had a visitor come to Death Valley on a Saturday night and walked away a winner: Florida in 2009 and Alabama in 2012. Two teams that came in ranked No. 1 in the nation. One that eventually won a BCS title and one that easily could have.
In other words, this simply doesn’t happen. Especially in the fashion that the Bulldogs made it happen on Saturday night. They controlled the line of scrimmage on defense, limiting LSU to 89 rushing yards. They ran around and through an LSU defense that had not allowed a single point in 31 possessions and nine quarters, rolling up 570 yards of total offense -- the most ever allowed by a Miles-coached LSU team.
“Our guys were very, very confident coming in here and really expected to win. I don’t know, to the guys in the locker room, that this is a big upset for us,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I think it obviously is on more of a national stage, but I think our guys really believed that we could come in and if we did our job, took care of plays and made plays, we could win the game, and we were able to do that.”
Louisiana native Prescott was the leading figure in the upset, using his running and passing skills to embarrass LSU’s previously dominant defense. The Bulldogs’ quarterback was a Heisman Trophy dark horse prior to Saturday night, but he’s sure to get more serious attention after carving up the Tigers’ defense for 268 passing yards, 105 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
“I think this game was really big for him, coming here,” Mullen said. “He wanted to have a big game.”
Prescott had plenty of help.
Josh Robinson rushed for 197 yards and a score and Jameon Lewis had 116 receiving yards, including a 74-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs a shocking 31-10 lead. Mississippi State’s defense overwhelmed an LSU offensive front that came in as a question mark and a quarterback -- Anthony Jennings -- who has yet to prove himself as a consistent passer.
As a result, the Tigers’ offense was often stagnant and unable to counter punch until freshman Brandon Harris provided a late spark and actually had a chance to toss a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play before Will Redmond intercepted it at the Bulldogs 1-yard line.
So where does this leave us now? One of these teams exits Tiger Stadium as a legitimate contender in the SEC West, and it’s not the team that came in as a Top-10 club. Mullen was 2-23 against ranked opponents and had never beaten a Top-10 team as State’s coach before Saturday, but as Miles indicated earlier this week, this might be Mullen’s best team since he arrived in Starkville in 2009.
The Bulldogs certainly played like it on Saturday.
“They’ve definitely gotten better every year -- every year I’ve played them,” LSU senior linebacker D.J. Welter said. “They always come in here and give a tough fight and compete well against us. They definitely had the upper hand tonight. They did a great job of executing and we didn’t do so well.”
Mississippi State gets a week off and then will host Texas A&M and Auburn in its next two games. Winning in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1991 was a major hurdle to clear, but we might know by mid-October whether the Bulldogs have staying power in the Western Division race.
“We’re 1-0 in the SEC West this year with a lot of football [to go],” Mullen said. “I think the next two games we play are against teams ranked higher than LSU was, which is hard when you have that much depth and talent in our side of the league, and then Alabama’s I think even higher than those two. So there’s so much to play for in this league. You’re going to have to bring your A-game every week.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, look like a young team that will experience the growing pains that most of us expected prior to the season. Their season-opening comeback win against Wisconsin and ensuing blowout wins against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe provided LSU fans with hope that maybe they were ahead of schedule while breaking in a host of new players in key roles. State provided a wake-up call on Saturday night that the SEC West is the wrong division in which to rely on a host of youngsters.
There are bright days ahead for Miles’ team, but Prescott’s Bulldogs are perhaps the team of right now. Can they play with the A&Ms and Auburns and Alabamas that remain on the schedule? We’ll find out soon enough.
But the team that dominated LSU in Tiger Stadium for most of Saturday night looked like it can play with just about anybody -- even the heavyweights in the toughest division in college football.
It's a chicken-AND-the-egg thing -- because without one, the Tigers likely won't have the other.
"If you're covering and they're not getting that pressure, you can only cover for so long before somebody gets open," cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "But if you have both going at the same time, it's hard to get beat."
Improving in both categories was an area of offseason emphasis for LSU's defense, and the Tigers seem to be showing marked improvement. Through two games, LSU leads the SEC in pass-efficiency defense (50.6), is tied with Arkansas for the league lead in sacks (seven) and ranks second with four interceptions (Ole Miss has five).
"We've been working on a lot of ball skills and a lot of strip drills and a lot of fumble-recovery drills. As far as getting it done at practice, it's coming easier to us in the game," said defensive back Dwayne Thomas, who halted Sam Houston State's opening drive last week with an interception at LSU's 6-yard line.
Clearly it's too early to pronounce LSU's problems in either area solved. The Tigers notched three takeaways and all seven sacks in last Saturday's 56-0 rout of Sam Houston State, an FCS opponent that isn't up to the competitive level of some of the teams waiting on LSU's schedule.
And yet the Tigers picked off multiple passes for the third straight game -- their longest such streak since an all-star secondary intercepted at least two passes in each of the final four games of the 2010 season -- and recorded LSU's best single-game sack total since getting seven in a 2007 win against Alabama.
There have been other Sam Houston States on the schedule in the last several years, but LSU didn't post numbers like that against any of them. Perhaps the offseason work is actually starting to pay dividends.
"[SHSU's] offensive line, they were pretty good and we had to run our stunts perfectly. By doing that, you saw a bunch of sacks," said linebacker D.J. Welter, who accounted for one of the sacks and also stripped Bearkats quarterback Jared Johnson on the play for a fumble that Deion Jones recovered at the SHSU 1. "That definitely helps going into the next couple of games to have more confidence in the pass rush."
Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe will provide a further test of their progress -- the Warhawks have surrendered four sacks and have had just one of their 86 passes intercepted through two games -- but the truth will truly come to light starting the next week against Mississippi State.
In eight SEC games last season, the Tigers recorded 15 sacks and seven interceptions. Those numbers weren't pitiful, but they definitely weren't up to LSU's previous standards, either.
LSU's 2014 defense intends to function more like its dominant predecessors, and in a shutout streak that stretches over the last 87 minutes, 24 seconds of action, the Tigers have offered regular glimpses of such play.
"We kind of struggled a bit last year as a secondary," White said, "and I feel like us having two big games, going down the road that'll give us so much confidence when we get into the big-time games that we can make those plays, too."
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Previewing the 2014 season for the LSU Tigers:
2013 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC). Beat Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl.
Key losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Odell Beckham, WR Jarvis Landry, LB Lamin Barrow, S Craig Loston, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson, RB Alfred Blue.
Instant impact newcomers: RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris, WR Malachi Dupre, WR Trey Quinn, LB Clifton Garrett, S Jamal Adams, CB Ed Paris, DB John Battle.
Breakout player: It’s tempting to focus on Hunter or sophomore cornerbacks White and Rashard Robinson here, but let’s go with Fournette. As the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect and headliner of ESPN’s second-ranked 2014 recruiting class, the star tailback has already generated a ton of buzz. Magee, Kenny Hilliard and freshman Darrel Williams will all get some touches, but anything short of immediate stardom for Fournette would be a bit of a letdown.
Key position battle: Quarterback competitions always generate the most attention, and that will be the case this August at LSU. The battle between early enrollee Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings started in spring practice -- and the freshman won the first round by clearly outplaying Jennings in the spring game. LSU’s coaches were in no rush to name a starter at the time, though, so Jennings still has a chance to prove he deserves the job. He engineered the game-winning, 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas after replacing an injured Mettenberger and got a win (despite a disappointing performance) in his lone start, the bowl win over Iowa. Impressive dual-threat talent Harris is going to be awfully difficult to hold off, however.
Most important game: Oct. 4 at Auburn. Sure, the Alabama game (Nov. 8 at Tiger Stadium) is the game every LSU fan has circled, and the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin carries plenty of intrigue, but the Tigers’ midseason visit to the defending SEC champs might be the key to the season. LSU handed Auburn its only regular-season loss last season and has won six of the past seven in the series.
Biggest question mark: LSU is inexperienced at several key positions (most notably quarterback, receiver and defensive tackle), so the new starters’ abilities to quickly adapt to the grind of SEC football will likely determine whether the Tigers become serious contenders in the Western Division this season.
Upset special: Oct. 11 at Florida. The Tigers will be only a week removed from what could be a street fight against Auburn when they visit The Swamp. Injury-depleted Florida became a punch line last season, but the Gators have plenty of talent and a chip on their shoulders after crumbling in 2013. LSU is understandably favored here, but getting a win will not be easy here.
Key stat: 12-211. With Landry and Beckham combining for 72 percent of LSU’s receiving production (2,345 of 3,263 yards), there weren’t a lot of balls to go around to everyone else. LSU’s tight ends combined for just 12 catches and 211 yards, led by Dillon Gordon (6-88) and Travis Dickson (5-109). Cam Cameron’s offenses have typically made good use of the tight end, and the group believes it will be more active in the passing game this fall. Keep an eye on sophomore DeSean Smith (1-14), who caught a touchdown in LSU’s spring game -- a day when the tight ends combined for eight catches and 131 yards.
ESPN Stats & Information: 8.01 wins
Bovada over-under: 9 wins
Our take: Les Miles has led the Tigers to a school-record four straight seasons with at least 10 wins. Because of the massive production losses on offense -- including the first combination of a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in SEC history -- the Tigers are one of the biggest wild cards in the SEC. The defense looks like it’s rounding into the impressive form that characterized LSU’s best teams of the 2000s, but the Tigers’ record will likely rest on the progress the new quarterback makes, whether Fournette immediately lives up to his advance billing, and whether at least a couple of the young receivers can handle big roles. The window for this team is probably somewhere between eight and 10 wins. Let’s split the difference in our prediction and go with 9-3.
"And that has nothing to do with me as it does with the attitude of the guys, No. 1, but the amount of pressure John [Chavis, LSU's defensive coordinator] and his defense put on them. Any flaw a guy has is going to get exposed and get exposed in the first 30 minutes of practice."
LSU's assistant coaches, quarterbacks and freshmen spoke with reporters on Sunday for the first and possibly only time this preseason, so Jennings, Harris and Cameron were among the day's busiest participants.
Head coach Les Miles said he is not rushing yet to name a starter between sophomore Jennings and freshman Harris as he wants to allow a competitive environment to thrive.
"I think the naming of a starter will be when one separates himself from the other. And when it's a real advantage to name him as a starter because he needs to recognize as does the team that this is where we're going," Miles said. "We're not there."
"My job is to make this decision as tough on Les as possible," Cameron said. "What do you mean by that? Well, we've got two guys that we feel confident we can win with -- if not three, if not four. We're not coaching one guy more than the other hoping he's the guy."
Cameron might even find roles for both quarterbacks to fill.
He's best remembered for leading the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas after replacing injured Zach Mettenberger last season, but Jennings played in nine games -- including contests against TCU, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and his first start in the bowl win against Iowa -- in 2013.
Using him in spot duty made more sense because the dual-threat Jennings possesses a different skill set from Mettenberger, a prototypical dropback passer. However, Jennings and Harris are much more similar players.
Regardless, Cameron expressed confidence that whoever wins the competition will be ready to be successful once the opener against Wisconsin arrives on Aug. 30.
"I would say this confidently: we're going to have more than one quality starter here at LSU," Cameron said. "That's what we're charged with and we'll get that done."
Linebacker rotation?: Defensive coordinator John Chavis has rarely enjoyed the luxury that a deep group of linebackers might provide this season. Beyond starters Kwon Alexander, D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis, Chavis' position group runs two and three deep with quality players across the board -- and that might help not only on defense, but on special teams.
"If they're ready to play, we're going to play them. There's no question about that," Chavis said. "They're not any different than anybody else on our field. In an ideal situation, you'd like to have six starting linebackers and then they all could go play special teams and we could rest them on defense. Unfortunately we haven't been that way with depth.
"Is this a year that we can reach that? We're closer than we've been in the past."
In addition to players such as Deion Jones, Duke Riley and Ronnie Feist, Chavis has talented sophomore Kendell Beckwith trying to surpass Welter as the starting middle linebacker and one of the Tigers' top 2014 signees, Clifton Garrett, behind them.
It might be difficult to juggle, as there are only so many snaps to go around between the three linebacker spots. But Chavis seems confident that everyone who deserves to play will be on the field in some capacity.
"If you can go two deep and you don't have a drop-off, then that just makes your special teams even better," Chavis said.
No decisions on return men: Speaking of special teams, coach Bradley Dale Peveto said he is considering six candidates for the punt return and kickoff return jobs, but wasn't ready to identify them yet.
Tre'Davious White and Travin Dural are among the players known to be working at punt returner and Terrence Magee is among the kickoff return men.
"We had four great days in evaluating a lot of our team, got it down to six guys at each spot," Peveto said. "I don't really want to talk about that yet because we've got a great competition going on, but I'm going to tell you we've got enough. We've got some really good guys, some really talented young men who might compete for those positions."
Miles said earlier that Trent Domingue has taken over as the Tigers' kickoff specialist.
Right guard competition: Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes chuckled when asked how the right guard competition is shaking out.
"It's still shaking," Grimes said. "We'll let it go until somebody lays claim to it."
Seniors Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington have battled for the starting job at right guard, the lone spot where the Tigers lost a starting offensive lineman from 2013.
Now he must somehow retain that honor once the full team begins practicing together later this week -- and that won't be easy with freshman quarterback Brandon Harris breathing down his neck.
"Anthony threw the ball real well. He knew the offense like the back of his hand," wide receiver Travin Dural said after working with Jennings and the first-team offense in Monday morning's practice. "I'm not sure how Brandon's going to do, but I have a lot of confidence that he's going to do real well in the afternoon. And then when we come together, it's going to be pretty good. They're going to show that ability and one of them's going to emerge as the starter."
LSU's team split into two groups on Monday, as it will for each of the first four days of practice, with one group composed largely of starters and a handful of freshmen working out in the morning, while a collection of mostly reserves and the remaining freshmen practices in the afternoon.
LSU coach Les Miles said on Sunday that LSU's two quarterback contenders, sophomore Jennings and early enrollee Harris, will practice with both groups in the first four days before the Friday's first full-squad practice.
Neither quarterback was available to speak to media members on Monday.
Harris practiced with the afternoon group on Monday -- as did several other blue-chip signees in the nation's No. 2 recruiting class like tailback Leonard Fournette and receiver Trey Quinn. Among the freshmen who practiced with the varsity group in the morning were safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Clifton Garrett and receiver Malachi Dupre.
"Once they come in and they do 7-on-7 [in summer workouts], they kind of get a feel for things, but this is really what's going to tell the tale," running back Terrence Magee said. "We're just as intrigued at seeing them play as the coaches are, and to get out there and teach them and help them because we had guys before us that were the same way, ready to see us play and bring [us] along. For me, when I leave, I want to be able to look back at some of those young guys and say, ‘I helped him get to where he's at.' "
New No. 18: With that attitude in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Magee was wearing a new jersey number, 18, when he practiced with the varsity on Monday morning.
LSU made it official on Sunday night that the senior running back would be the next recipient of the coveted number, following a vote to determine the most deserving player. The Tigers have a tradition each year in which they select a leader who best represents the team on and off the field to wear No. 18, and this year, it will be Magee.
"The No. 18 really isn't significant of all the leaders that we have on this team, from every senior that we have on the team, from La'el Collins to Jermauria Rasco to even some of the younger guys like Kwon Alexander," Magee said. "They wear their number and they're still leaders on this team. It's not going to change my mindset or how I do."
Magee breaks a streak of three straight seasons where a defensive player had worn No. 18. Linebacker Lamin Barrow wore it last season, following defensive tackle Bennie Logan and safety Brandon Taylor in previous years.
"They really showed me what it means to wear the No. 18," Magee said. "They represented it well and laid the foundation for me to continue the tradition. It's a tremendous honor and I'm very excited that the coaches thought enough of me to pick me."
Fournette's debut: Believe it or not, Fournette didn't take his first handoff at LSU 99 yards for a touchdown -- although maybe it's just because that first handoff came in a simple position drill.
Seriously, though, the heavily-hyped tailback -- as well as the other members of the touted recruiting class -- had even the veterans curious about how they'd look in practice.
"I might go out there and peek when they practice this afternoon ... just see what I'm going to be going up against in a couple days," linebacker D.J. Welter said with a grin.
Thompson, Rasco back; Mills practices: Safety Corey Thompson and defensive end Jermauria Rasco both practiced Monday with the starting defense after missing spring practice while recovering from offseason surgeries.
Thompson wore a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, but seems to have recovered most of his mobility.
"He looks good. He's doing better," safety Ronald Martin said. "Hopefully he gets back up to 100 percent sometime during camp, but today he looked great out there."
A surprise from the afternoon workout was safety Jalen Mills' presence on the practice field. Mills has been indefinitely suspended since June following an incident where he allegedly punched a woman. East Baton Rouge district attorney Hillar Moore informed the Baton Rouge Advocate early Monday that he plans to charge Mills with misdemeanor simple battery, which is punishable with up to six months in prison or up to a $1,000 fine.
An LSU spokesman said Miles will address the junior safety's status with the team when he meets with reporters Monday evening. Running back Jeremy Hill sat out the first five quarters of the 2013 season after pleading guilty to a simple battery charge prior to the season.
"We've just got to keep getting better, keep helping each other get better as a whole, keep trying to [be] cohesive and get better as a unit like we are," Martin said. "And once [Mills] comes back, if he comes back, I hope he does come back, he just steps back into what we were doing this spring and just continue to grind."
With that history in mind, it should come as no surprise that LSU has plenty of candidates who are poised to repeat what Mathieu and company accomplished in recent seasons by achieving stardom in their second year in the SEC.
The Tigers are next up in our series projecting who might become a second-year star at each SEC program.
Second-year star: CB Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1/163)
Recruiting stock: A three-star athlete from Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- the same school that sent Peterson to LSU -- Robinson wasn’t cleared to enroll at LSU until three days before the first game. But his dynamic athleticism helped him begin contributing by Week 2 and start by the end of the season.
2013 in review: Robinson put himself on the map when he shut down Biletnikoff Award finalist Mike Evans for most of the game in LSU’s dismantling of Texas A&M. Evans averaged 107.2 receiving yards per game, but he had only three catches for 13 yards against Robinson before adding a 38-yard reception against a different Tigers defender late in the game. Robinson also notched his first career interception in the game. He finished the season with 16 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and four passes defended.
2014 potential: Now that he has found his footing, Robinson is poised to team with White to become LSU’s next set of shutdown cornerbacks. As long as he keeps his academic ship in order, the sky is the limit. He probably needs to add some weight to his thin frame, but Robinson has the athleticism and coverage skills to dominate in the SEC and become a pro cornerback in the not-so-distant future.
Also watch for: Aside from Robinson and White, Smith is another top candidate for the “second-year star” honor from LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron typically utilizes the tight end, and Smith’s receiving skills could make him a major weapon this fall. In addition, Beckwith generated headlines by switching to middle linebacker during spring practice, and he seems ready to challenge D.J. Welter for playing time there. Keep an eye, also, on LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and the previously mentioned redshirt freshman defensive linemen, who will almost certainly all play key roles this fall. Any of these players would make sense as the LSU pick for this series, but Robinson’s potential pushed him to the top of the list.
The position battles that started in the spring will continue through summer workouts before resuming in front of coaches in August. Let’s take a look at what happened in a few of those spring battles and what we’ll be watching between now and Aug. 30, when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin.
Defensive tackle: The spring was as much a feeling-out process as anything for defensive line coach Brick Haley. He mostly rode two departed veterans last fall while using youngsters Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas in spot duty. LaCouture and Thomas jumped into leading roles during the spring, and Haley also tested Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron (at times) in the middle. Haley has probably established a mental pecking order with the group, but August and the early-season games will certainly play important roles in cementing the coach’s opinions. It will also be worth watching how signees such as Travonte Valentine perform once they arrive on campus, as they might allow Haley to utilize a true rotation in the middle.
Quarterback: Surely you’ve heard by now that the battle between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris appears to be wide open entering the summer months. Jennings has a slight experience advantage, but Harris was the more effective performer in the spring game. Both players made plenty of mistakes, however. Their offseason preparation in the next few months will be enormously important once August arrives.
Right guard: This is another battle that the coaches said was wide open once the spring concluded. Evan Washington shifted from tackle to guard and seemed to take the leading role in the competition. Fellow senior Fehoko Fanaika and sophomore Ethan Pocic are lurking, however. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see all of them play some scrimmage downs against Wisconsin -- or in Weeks 2 and 3 against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe -- as new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes weighs his options. Coach Les Miles complimented all three players after the spring game, so it seems that the coaches would be comfortable playing any of the candidates.
Safety: Injuries caused this position to remain as a bit of a mystery during the spring. Jalen Mills remained in a starting role, and Ronald Martin seemed to be faring well in a return from a fractured right foot. He was injured again by the end of the spring, however, joining Corey Thompson (knee surgery) on the sideline by the time the spring game rolled around. Mills and Rickey Jefferson were the top options in the spring game, but the Tigers could use any number of combinations when the season arrives -- especially once highly-rated safety prospect Jamal Adams and the other signees make it to Baton Rouge this summer. Once the Tigers are back to full strength in August, this should make for one of the most intriguing position battles.
Tight end: This will be a fun position to track in the fall. They had plenty of playing time last season, but barely made a blip as receivers. They seem to be confident that they will make a more well-rounded contribution in 2014. Sophomore DeSean Smith and signee Jacory Washington possess intriguing receiver skills, and Dillon Gordon, Travis Dickson and Logan Stokes worked this spring to prove that they are well-rounded players at the position. It’s a big group, but all of them should have roles to fill during the season.
Wide receiver: They were the walking wounded for much of the spring, with Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, John Diarse and Quantavius Leslie all spending time in non-contact jerseys. That was a tough blow for a group that has a lot to prove after Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright all left the roster after last season. Travin Dural -- who had an outstanding spring game with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns -- seemed to solidify his spot as the No. 1 receiving option for now. But this will become one of the Tigers’ most interesting position battles in August once a star-studded signing class, led by Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, arrives to challenge the returning wideouts.
As Les Miles’ club wraps up its 15 spring workouts, here are five things we took away from the last month on the practice field:
Whichever quarterback wins the starting job, it’s a certainty that his playing style will differ wildly from predecessor Zach Mettenberger, who stood like a stone in the pocket. With either Jennings or Harris under center, defenses will have to respect that he can take off and make big plays with his legs.
“Oh boy, isn’t that fun to see?” Miles asked, referring to a 41-yard run that Harris made in the second quarter. “You go back in there and the defense makes a mistake and let me tell you what happened: One of those linebackers went over there to the other side with one of those backs and did not stay home. And so that quarterback came out the back side and suddenly 41 yards later, he’s run out of bounds.
“That’s something you can’t do, either, so when you line up against a quarterback with that kind of ability -- and both of our guys have it -- you’d better keep that linebacker home.”
Jennings still seems to have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long while looking to pass. Iowa sacked him four times in the Outback Bowl, and his defensive teammates got to him four times in the spring game. Harris seemed to have a better idea when to tuck it and run, which doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea for either of them, as they can both be dynamic runners when they leave the pocket.
2. Linebackers will be strong: Saturday was a great day for LSU’s linebackers. Not only did Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones both intercept Jennings' passes and take them to the house for touchdowns, but Ronnie Feist (14 tackles) and Lamar Louis (seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for a loss) were their respective teams’ leading tacklers.
Feist seemed to be everywhere, continuing what Miles said was an impressive spring from a physicality standpoint.
“When he hits you, you’re hit,” Miles said of Feist. “There’s no pretend to it.”
Senior middle linebacker D.J. Welter apparently left a major impression on his coaches this spring as well. Not only was he among the defense’s honorees in awards for leadership and for outstanding performance, but he was the lone winner of the Jimmy Taylor Award, the team’s comprehensive spring award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance.
3. Offensive playmakers still must emerge: It seemed like a foregone conclusion even before spring practice started that some of the team’s top offensive players for 2014 weren’t on campus yet. Spring didn’t do much to change that perception.
Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee -- who dealt with a sprained ankle for much of the spring -- were adequate at tailback, but freshman Leonard Fournette will inject some star power to the position once he arrives on campus. Likewise, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and the new receivers will add explosiveness at a position that was riddled with injuries throughout the spring. The receivers were nearly nonexistent in the spring game.
LSU wide receivers totaled seven catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Sounds pretty good, right? But five of the catches, 130 yards and both touchdowns came from one player: Travin Dural.
Otherwise, the group frequently dropped passes and misplayed catchable balls, proving that they need every bit of the available practice time this summer to develop chemistry with their quarterbacks. Dural looks like a star in the making, but the others have a lot to prove from a consistency standpoint.
4. Tight end talk seems legit: DeSean Smith and the Tigers’ other tight ends expressed hope this spring that they would get more opportunities to catch passes in 2014 than they did last season, when wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham got most of the looks from Mettenberger.
They said that’s how things had been going in practice, and Saturday looked to continue that trend. Smith led the way with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, but Dillon Gordon (2-32), Logan Stokes (1-26), John David Moore (1-20) and Travis Dickson (1-8) also made receptions. In all, the tight ends accounted for eight of the Tigers’ 21 catches in the final spring scrimmage, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems pleased with the weapons he has at his disposal at the position.
“Every year, with different personnel, creates a whole new set of opportunities, and I think the opportunities for our tight ends are going to be critical,” Cameron said. “I was thrilled -- for the most part -- I thought they made the most of it.”
5. Defense is on the comeback: Judging by the way the White team (which featured the starters) throttled the Purple team’s offense on Saturday, it looks like LSU’s first-team defense has the potential to rank among the SEC’s best this fall.
The Purple team accounted for 179 yards of offense on 46 plays -- 53 rushing on 27 carries and 126 passing on 6-for-19 attempts. The Purple converted for a first down just once out of 11 third downs.
After saying earlier in the week that he overthought things in his first season as a starter, defensive end Danielle Hunter seems to have cut loose now. He recorded two sacks on Saturday and was a regular presence in the Purple team’s backfield.
He was only one member of a sizable group of defensive players on both teams who flashed major potential in the scrimmage. Things seem to be looking up for defensive coordinator John Chavis’ bunch.
“Not really to be honest with you. We’re going to watch competition [and] it’s a key scrimmage, but it’s also one of those things where there’s a lot of time left before we get to [deciding] playing time,” Miles said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s one piece, but obviously it’s important and any time we walk into that stadium, we expect our guys to play at a certain level.”
So while Miles indicated it would be a mistake to draw any major conclusions from Saturday’s competition, there are still plenty of areas of intrigue worth observing since this is the last time we’ll see the Tigers do anything competitive until they take the field at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Aug. 30. Here's what we’ll be keeping an eye on from the press box:
Quarterback play: Duh. It was no surprise at Thursday’s practice, which was open for students to attend, that the vast majority of them gathered around the field where LSU’s quarterbacks were throwing to their wide receivers. The competition between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris is by far the biggest source of intrigue among Tigers fans, and their performances on Saturday will generate speculation all summer about who is best prepared to lead the offense in the opener against Wisconsin.
Both players have worked with the first- and second-team offenses, although Miles hasn’t been specific about who has done what in practices or scrimmages. Jennings certainly looks to have a better handle on things in the portions of practice that are open to the media. Harris, meanwhile, is all raw potential thanks to a powerful throwing arm. The early enrollee seems more likely to sail a ball over or behind a receiver, but when he does it correctly, it’s a thing of beauty.
Defenders could tackle Harris and Jennings when they ran from the pocket in last Saturday’s scrimmage, but Miles predicted they will likely wear non-contact jerseys in the spring game.
Offensive line development: Obviously one of LSU’s main position battles this spring has been at right guard, where Evan Washington, Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic have all gotten a look from new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all three players factor into the Tigers’ plans in the fall, although somebody has to be the starter. Washington seems to be the leader, but we’ll gain some understanding of the pecking order on Saturday.
Overall, a line that returns four starters was effective last season, particularly as run blockers. They want to become a dominant group this season, however, and their experience and apparent depth make that seem like a possibility. Let’s see how they fare against an emerging LSU defensive line on Saturday.
Beckwith vs. Welter: We could expand this to the performance of the entire reshuffled linebacker corps, with Kwon Alexander at weakside linebacker and Lamar Louis at strong. But let’s narrow our focus on the play of senior D.J. Welter and sophomore Kendell Beckwith in the middle. Both players have reportedly enjoyed productive springs and both will likely factor into coordinator John Chavis’ plans in the fall. But who will be the starter? Saturday won’t decide that outcome, but it will be interesting to observe how the two players function in a game-like situation.
Interior defensive line: Miles has said a time or two this spring that the competition between the offensive and defensive lines has been encouraging. It will be fun to watch them duke it out on Saturday. One group has a decided experience advantage, particularly after starting defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson both bolted for the NFL draft. But there are some up-and-comers along the defensive line who could shine on Saturday.
By all accounts, sophomore Christian LaCouture has had a strong spring. Sophomore end Tashawn Bower, redshirt freshman tackles Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore and end/tackle Frank Herron are among the youngsters we’ll be watching, as well.
Secondary play: This is a group that simply has to play better in 2014. All of the contenders at safety haven’t been practicing lately, so it’s unclear whether we’ll get a clear idea of where that competition stands on Saturday. But how smooth will Jalen Mills look at safety? What does early enrollee Ed Paris look like after a month of practices at cornerback? Who fills the various defensive back roles if the Tigers line up in their nickel and dime packages? Will Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White continue to develop into the lockdown cornerbacks LSU fans hope they will become? Those are all questions to keep in mind as you watch the scrimmage.
Who are the playmakers?: Freshmen who could become some of the Tigers’ most dangerous 2014 offensive skill players -- such as tailback Leonard Fournette and receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn -- won’t arrive until the summer. But there are several players already on campus who could use a confidence-building performance at Tiger Stadium to catapult themselves into the offseason.
Senior receiver Quantavius Leslie had such an outing at last Saturday’s scrimmage, catching four passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Who else might pull off that kind of feat? Receivers Travin Dural or John Diarse? Tight end DeSean Smith? Tailbacks Terrence Magee or Kenny Hilliard? Somebody else? Stay tuned.
Before the Tigers return to the practice field on Tuesday, let’s recap some of the developments thus far this spring.
Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris appear to lead Hayden Rettig in one of the nation’s most-watched spring quarterback battles. With 2013 playing time under his belt -- including a start in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa -- Jennings appears to be the more composed, polished contender on the practice field. But Harris possesses special passing talent. It should continue to be an interesting race throughout the summer and into the season.
The young quarterbacks endured many sloppy moments early in camp, to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron’s displeasure, but Tigers coach Les Miles said both players threw the ball well in Saturday’s scrimmage. Perhaps they are starting to turn a corner toward being ready to face SEC competition.
Receivers are a mess: Between frequent dropped passes and a spate of injuries, it has not been a banner spring for LSU’s receivers. Early in the spring, they seemed to struggle to get on the same page with the quarterbacks. And by the end of last week, they only had a couple of healthy scholarship players available.
Redshirt freshmen Kevin Spears, Avery Peterson and John Diarse have all dealt with injuries, with those setbacks coming at a particularly inopportune time since the youngsters need to establish themselves before a talented group of signees arrives this summer. At last Thursday’s practice periods that were open to the media, the only scholarship wideouts catching passes from the quarterbacks were Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie.
Miles said last week that he likes what Dural and Diarse have accomplished thus far this spring, and Dural caught a long touchdown pass in Saturday’s scrimmage. But the others still have a lot to prove, which might be why Miles predicted that all four receiver signees will have the opportunity to win playing time in the fall.
Defensive line coming together: Miles seems pleased with the progress that several young defensive linemen have made this spring. In the last week, he has singled out redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore for getting stronger and improving their games since they arrived at LSU last year.
He also complimented sophomores Christian LaCouture and Tashawn Bower after Saturday’s scrimmage. LaCouture and Bain both had sacks in the scrimmage, and Bower had two quarterback pressures.
The defensive line competition won’t generate a fraction of the national interest that the quarterback battle will, but that group’s development might be just as important in gauging LSU’s chances to contend in the SEC West this fall. With Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson both bolting for the NFL, the Tigers desperately needed some players to fill their void -- and Miles makes it sound as if they are developing some good options.
OL battle rages: It’s no surprise that LSU’s coaching staff continues to weigh its options on the offensive line -- particularly at the right guard position.
Seniors Evan Washington and Fehoko Fanaika have worked there, as has sophomore Ethan Pocic. It’s clear that the staff likes what Pocic can do, because he has practiced at guard, center and tackle this spring. Fanaika has been strictly at guard and Washington has worked at both guard and tackle.
With a new offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, coming on board this spring, it’s obvious that he’s experimenting with different player combinations to see what he likes best. That experimentation will probably continue beyond the spring game.
Linebacker shuffle: As with the offensive line, LSU’s linebackers are also trying some new combinations this spring. Kwon Alexander shifted from strongside linebacker to weakside linebacker, Lamar Louis went from middle linebacker to the strong side and Kendell Beckwith is now backing up D.J. Welter in the middle after playing mostly at defensive end last fall.
LSU’s linebackers were somewhat mediocre for portions of 2013, so defensive coordinator John Chavis shook things up a bit this spring. Miles said Saturday that Beckwith’s move to the middle appears to be a good one and that Welter has improved his play this spring with the talented sophomore now battling him for playing time.
The linebackers themselves seem excited about the speed and athleticism that their group possesses. It will be interesting to see whether the lineup shuffling affects the Tigers’ overall defensive performance.