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LSU Five for '15: Questions as camp opens

Les Miles and Cam Cameron have yet to decide between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With LSU opening preseason practice today, we've spent time this week examining some of the key issues facing the Tigers in 2015.

Today we'll look at five questions the Tigers will attempt to address as they prepare for their first game against McNeese State on Sept. 5:

5. Will the receivers take a big step forward?

LSU's young wideouts were placed in an unpleasant position last season. Thanks to the departures of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, James Wright and Kadron Boone, the Tigers were left with one receiver -- Travin Dural -- with any significant game experience.

Dural had a solid first season as a starter (758 yards, 7 touchdowns), but even he looked like a green rookie at times. And his fellow regulars -- namely freshmen Malachi Dupre, John Diarse and Trey Quinn -- failed to produce much of anything for large stretches.

Certainly LSU's rocky quarterback situation also played a part in those production lapses, but the Tigers must become more consistent at receiver if the offense is to improve. And they will be this season if spring practice was any indication.

Everyone of significance is back, and sophomore D.J. Chark added another weapon to the arsenal during the spring. Now a host of signees, led by Tyron Johnson, will enter the mix and potentially make the group more dangerous.

4. Do the Tigers have enough in the front seven?

Overall, LSU's starting lineup in the defensive front seven looks like it could be good. It starts up the middle with budding star Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker and a pair of defensive tackles -- Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture -- who progressed throughout their first season as starters.

The edges of the front seven are the question. Teammates predicted this spring that senior Deion Jones would become a standout at weakside linebacker, and either Lamar Louis or Duke Riley should be OK at strongside linebacker. However, nobody knows what to expect from the defensive ends (we'll get to that in a second). The group is largely unproven, and at this point there are no obvious breakout stars at the position.

Depth is another question here. Thanks to some offseason departures, the Tigers' numbers aren't great at defensive tackle or linebacker. They'll be fine as long as they avoid any catastrophic injuries, but the situation is not ideal.

3. How will the defense change under Kevin Steele?

Although he has been noncommittal on the subject among reporters, most believe that new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will guide a transition from LSU's traditional 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 that resembles what Steele left at Alabama.

How much of that will we see this season, before the staff has had adequate time to recruit players who fit that scheme? It's impossible to say at this point. He and head coach Les Miles have said they expect to do some of both, but it will probably take several games to decipher what Steele plans to do with this unit and how he might deploy personnel differently than predecessor John Chavis.

2. Who generates the pass rush -- and will it improve?

Let's get back to the defensive ends. With 2014 starters Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco out of the picture, who starts at end and will they do a better job of taking down opposing quarterbacks?

LSU's total of 19 sacks last season ranked toward the bottom of the pack nationally, and it's not as if that number is guaranteed to rise. Maybe Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower will emerge as solid starters. Maybe they'll get some help from sophomores Deondre Clark or Sione Teuhema. But the name to watch might be that of blue-chip signee Arden Key, whom Miles said is up to 240 pounds and "will play a lot of the snaps as a true freshman."

Steele and new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron might also have some tricks up their sleeves -- think blitzes or creative line twists or stunts -- that could help LSU amp up the pressure this fall.

1. So who's the starting quarterback in the opener?

Asked an obvious question on Wednesday -- which positions he believes are the most unsettled as the team opens camp -- Miles didn't take long to pinpoint one spot.

"Quarterback. We'll have to find us that starter. The good news is both guys are very talented, both guys have more experience than they've had, so we'll be much improved," Miles said. "We just want to see which one."

The sooner that Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron settle the battle between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, the better. That was a major issue throughout last season, with then-sophomore Jennings struggling mightily in his first season as a starter and then-freshman Harris imploding in his one opportunity to start.

Miles and Cameron both complimented the quarterbacks for their improved play this spring, and both players completed those practices with solid outings in the spring game. However, Harris might have gotten a leg up this summer by leading voluntary passing sessions while Jennings was suspended following an arrest.

Miles reinstated Jennings late last week, so he certainly remains a viable candidate. The question is whether the talented Harris will perform consistently enough in August to wrestle the job away from his more experienced competitor.

The answer there might determine LSU's offensive personality -- and perhaps the fate of the season -- in 2015.