SEC: Ronald Martin

BATON ROUGE, La. -- They aren't SEC superstars -- they don't even rank among the headliners on their own team -- but two of the unquestioned leaders on the conference's top defense are also its lone senior starters.

LSU's Jermauria Rasco and Ronald Martin will play together one final time in their college careers beyond next week's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- when they compete in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.

[+] EnlargeLSU defense
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsLSU's Ronald Martin (26) will play with teammate Jermauria Rasco in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.
“It's just an honor. It's a blessing," Martin said of the invitation to participate in the all-star game, which will be played in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I thank those guys for giving me an opportunity to be a part of it and I'm just going to give my all and try to give my best impression."

Martin was a second-team All-SEC safety this season after ranking third on the team with 66 tackles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions and 10 passes defended. Easily his biggest play of the season was his game-saving interception at the goal line to clinch a win against then-unbeaten Ole Miss.

“He's really done a great job, been a great leader for us and played well and made plays -- made plays that were significant, certainly," LSU coach Les Miles said this week. “The interception against Ole Miss is something he'll remember for a lifetime."

While the statistics he compiled in his first season as a full-time starter were nice, Martin said he is just as proud of the leadership he displayed as the old man in the secondary. For instance, he heaped praise on freshman Jamal Adams for wanting to learn and said he took on a big brother role with his young position mate.

“That's the big thing, I was trying to be a leader for these guys this year and teach those young guys," Martin said. “Like I was saying about Jamal earlier, I really took that kid under my wing when he got here because I saw how hungry he was to want to play. So I took the time teaching him the plays, teaching him to try to get him prepared because I knew we were going to use him. So that's all I was trying to do, just do my part as a teammate."

Likewise, Rasco's value to the team is not adequately measured by simply looking over the stat sheet. The senior defensive end led the team with four sacks and eight quarterback hurries and is fifth with 63 tackles, but his knack for always being around the ball was a big factor in the Tigers' defensive improvement throughout the season.

“That's one thing that Coach Brick [Haley] preaches at practice," Rasco said. “That's one thing that has always been like that around here."

Rasco believes this was his best season at LSU, largely because he was finally healthy. He had surgery on injured shoulders in each of the previous two offseasons, but he was able to play full speed as a senior.

Now at the all-star game, he'll have a chance to show scouts that he can do more than just play defensive end should a pro team give him a shot.

“I feel like whether I'm on the ground or standing up, honestly I'm just ready to play ball," Rasco said. “After we finish up with Notre Dame, I'm just ready to have an opportunity to play ball. Wherever I'm at, I'm just going to take flight from there."

Showing some versatility during the week of practice might be necessary for Rasco. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL defensive end. But he believes he could also play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and that his work dropping into coverage this season in the Tigers' “Bronco" package was good practice for that job.

“Coach Brick and [defensive coordinator John Chavis], they helped us out a lot trying to put a new wrinkle in there that would give us a chance to stand up and roam around a little bit and just bring a different look to the team and also help out the team," Rasco said.

LSU redshirt review: Defense

December, 23, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU got considerable production out of its vaunted freshman class this season, but some members of the class are still waiting to contribute.

On Monday and today, we looked at the freshmen who are in line to redshirt, as well as a couple who appeared in only a game or two. After focusing on the offense yesterday, today we turn to the defense.

DB JOHN BATTLE

Height/Weight: 6-1/186 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Three stars, No. 26 safety

2014 in review: Battle played in the Sam Houston State game, so he might not receive a redshirt. He doesn't seem to have settled into a permanent position yet after working at both cornerback and safety during the season. His versatility should be an asset, though, as he has worked at both positions and in the nickel and dime packages in practice.

Teammate's comments: "Battle, he's going to be good. He's a very talented young guy. He's going to help us a lot. I don't think they've figured out what position he's going to be playing permanently yet, but he's real talented. He can play safety and corner, so wherever Coach [Corey] Raymond decides to go with him, I think he's going to be great." -- senior safety Ronald Martin

CB RUSSELL GAGE

Height/Weight: 6-0/180 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Three stars, No. 57 athlete

2014 in review: Gage played against Sam Houston State and New Mexico State, so he will not receive a redshirt. But he worked at cornerback throughout the season and will be part of the competition at the position next season, particularly if the Tigers lose one or two of the regular corners after the season. Jalen Collins is mulling early entry to the NFL draft and sophomore Rashard Robinson's status for 2015 is unclear while he serves an indefinite suspension.

Teammate's comments: "He's doing pretty good. He's an athletic guy -- one of the most athletic guys that I see that we have on the team. He's just learning and continuing to get his technique right. Once he gets on the field, he's going to be a big-time player. I can already see it." -- sophomore cornerback Tre'Davious White

LB CLIFTON GARRETT

Height/Weight: 6-2/242 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 31 overall prospect on ESPN 300, No. 2 inside linebacker

2014 in review: Garrett actually played twice (against Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State), so he might not be in line to receive a redshirt. One of the highest-rated defensive prospects in LSU's signing class, Garrett will be in position to compete with sophomore Kendell Beckwith for playing time at middle linebacker in 2015.

Teammate's comments: "His future's going to be bright. He's just got to come along a little bit faster. He works hard and he's going to be a great player. When he learns to get the plays down and everything, be smart -- he's the Mike 'backer, so he's got to know all the keys and all that. When he gets all that down, he's going to be all right." -- junior weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander

DT TREY LEALAIMATAFAO

Height/Weight: 6-0/300 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 27 defensive tackle

2014 in review: LSU's coaches expected Lealaimatafao to contribute as a freshman, but a serious cut suffered during a summertime weight room incident delayed the freshman's progress. He will contend for playing time during spring practice and could be part of the rotation at tackle in 2015.

Teammate's comments: "For a guy to be so little, he's real powerful and he brings a lot to the table. [He and Travonte Valentine] are going to be the secret weapons for next year as long as they do what they have to do on and off the field." -- senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco

DT TRAVONTE VALENTINE

Height/Weight: 6-3/325 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 164 overall prospect on ESPN 300, No. 11 defensive tackle

2014 in review: Valentine was a late qualifier and his debut was delayed further while LSU worked to clear up the freshman's academic eligibility issues. He started practicing with the Tigers during the season, however, and he should be good to go during spring practice. The enormous defensive tackle would add a much-needed big body to the defensive tackle rotation if he's ready to play next fall.

Teammate's comments: "Tray Valentine, he's a true run stopper. He's got some juice in him in the pass rush. You'll see him in a game and you won't be expecting him to be able to move as good as he moves." -- Rasco

LSU defensive juniors also weigh NFL leaps

December, 18, 2014
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Les Miles said his discussions with the players haven’t gone beyond the informal stage yet, but he knows that a number of LSU players are weighing the possibility of entering the NFL draft after the season.

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.

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Gerald Herbert/AP PhotoJalen Mills is one of several LSU draft-eligible defenders with a decision to make.
“It’s just basically revealing simple statistics about conference opponents and guys that are going to have senior quarterbacks and teams that are going to lose this and lose that, whereas we’re really in pretty good shape should we return our junior class,” Miles said.

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:

DEFENSIVE LINE

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.

LINEBACKER

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.”

SECONDARY

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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.

LSU Tigers season review

December, 17, 2014
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LSU will enter 2015 with the same glaring question that faced the Tigers entering a roller coaster 2014 season: Who will be the starting quarterback?

The job belonged to Anthony Jennings for all but one game this fall – a blowout loss at Auburn – but freshman Brandon Harris hasn’t been able to push past the inconsistent sophomore.

While LSU’s defense rebounded from an awful start to eventually lead the SEC in total defense at 305.8 yards allowed per game, the quarterback issues plagued the offense for most of the season, and Cam Cameron’s attack was frustratingly unproductive as a result.

It remains the leading storyline of the season as LSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) prepares to conclude the season against Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Here is a recap of the Tigers’ season to this point:

Best win: Rival Ole Miss came to Tigers Stadium undefeated and ranked third nationally, but the Rebels left with a disappointing 10-7 loss. Tight end Logan Stokes scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard catch late in the fourth quarter – Stokes’ only catch of the season – and senior safety Ronald Martin sealed the win with an interception at the goal line with 2 seconds remaining. The win briefly reignited LSU’s hopes of sneaking back into the SEC West race, although an overtime loss to Alabama in its next game snuffed out those aspirations.

Worst loss: A 41-7 loss at Auburn was the ugliest, but the Tigers’ most painful defeat was probably its 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama. LSU was in position to upset the eventual SEC champs, grabbing a 13-10 lead on a Colby Delahoussaye field goal with 50 seconds to play. But Alabama drove for the game-tying field goal in the final minute and then won the game with a touchdown pass from Blake Sims to DeAndrew White in overtime. That gave the Crimson Tide, LSU’s bitter rival, its fourth consecutive win in the series.

Player of the year: La'el Collins. Although he could have entered the draft after last season like teammates Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill, Collins returned and almost certainly improved his draft stock. The senior left tackle won the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference’s top blocker and generally dominated opponents while becoming LSU’s only first-team All-SEC selection. A three-year starter at LSU, Collins will leave an enormous hole on the left side of the line in 2015.

Breakout player: Leonard Fournette. Receiver Travin Dural probably deserves mention here, too, after leading the team with 758 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but we have to go with Fournette. The freshman running back – formerly the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect – flashed moments of brilliance and carried the Tigers to narrow wins against Florida and Texas A&M. The SEC All-Freshman team member leads the team with 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and is averaging 126.8 all-purpose yards per game. It wasn’t enough to maintain a Heisman Trophy campaign like some expected, but it was a solid debut effort.

Play of the year: We have to go with Fournette’s touchdown run against Texas A&M where he evoked memories of Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker by running over Aggies safety Howard Matthews on his way to the end zone. LSU fans can only hope it was another sign of great things to come.

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While Fournette’s powerful run takes the cake, Dural’s school-record 94-yard touchdown catch against Sam Houston State deserves a mention, too. The speedy wideout’s catch from Jennings was a heck of a first offensive play in the Tigers’ home opener at expanded Tiger Stadium.

video 2015 outlook: As has been the case in several recent seasons, LSU’s success in 2015 might hinge on which underclassmen decide to enter the draft. The Tigers have been hit hard by the draft lately and might lose a handful of draft-eligible players again this year. Four of LSU’s starting offensive linemen are eligible to enter the draft, as are defensive backs Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. This was a young team that should improve next year, and the Tigers could be Western Division contenders if the draft hit isn’t too painful and a consistent quarterback emerges.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As far as Jalen Collins is concerned, it wasn't until the Ole Miss game that LSU's secondary became great again.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJamal Adams could be among a host of LSU defensive backs who earn All-SEC attention in 2015.
Considering how the Tigers lead the SEC in total defense (and rank eighth nationally, allowing 305.8 yards per game), are first nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fourth in passing yards allowed (162.3), the junior cornerback is making a strong statement when he opines that it wasn't until Game 9 that LSU's secondary truly clicked.

"I feel like the Ole Miss game was kind of where we made a statement saying that we're for real," said Collins, the junior cornerback whose defense limited Ole Miss to 313 total yards in LSU's 10-7 win. "Just the way that we played and came out every series, every snap and tried to stop them. They're a great offense and we held them to well under their average for the year."

The Tigers did that to a lot of opposing offenses this season, especially after their 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4. Auburn and Mississippi State both ripped holes in LSU's reconstructed defensive front early in the season, and complemented the run with a handful of big plays in the passing game, but once the Tigers' front seven settled in, LSU's overall defensive results started to improve.

In the second half of the season, only three defenses (Clemson, Central Florida and Penn State) allowed fewer yards per game than LSU's 273.8 and no defense in the country surrendered fewer touchdowns than LSU's 10.

The Tigers capped the season by holding Texas A&M to 228 total yards and 144 passing yards -- among the Aggies' worst performances in either category this season -- with Collins clinching the victory by intercepting a Kyle Allen pass on A&M's final play.

"I feel like we got better every game," Collins said. "Going into camp, [defensive backs coach Corey] Raymond was hard on us and made sure we prepared. And every week we tried to get in some extra work, tried to make sure our communication was good so we were prepared for whoever we were facing. I feel like we did a lot."

It was a far cry from the problems that the 2013 secondary experienced, with multiple opponents lighting up LSU's pass defense early in the season before freshmen Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson grabbed starting roles.

Robinson was suspended twice in 2014, and his future status seems to be in jeopardy since he has been indefinitely suspended for the past three games, but White and Collins formed a consistent combination at cornerback.

And at safety, despite missing Corey Thompson for the entire season and Dwayne Thomas for most of it, the combination of Ronald Martin, Jalen Mills, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams was formidable.

Although All-SEC pick Martin is a senior and juniors Mills and Collins will have the opportunity to join him in the NFL draft pool if they opt to forgo their final seasons of eligibility -- Collins confirmed Sunday that he submitted his name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the draft -- the returning players should help LSU's secondary rank among the nation's best again in 2015.

As White and Robinson did the season before, true freshman Adams started to come into his own toward the end of the season. He started two of the last three games and is now tied for sixth on the team with 56 tackles.

"It definitely slowed down," Adams said after matching his career high with eight tackles against A&M. "Each game, I'm trying to get better, trying to help the team out and each day we're getting better and better as a team."

Depending on who returns next season, Adams could be among a handful of LSU defensive backs who earn All-SEC attention in 2015. Entering his junior season, White will be a no-brainer, and several other Tigers veterans have flashed the skills to join him in the upper echelon of SEC DBs.

"The way that we came to work this past year and just kind of shed that light on the younger guys, everybody's having another year under their belt," Collins said, looking ahead to next season. "It'll just be that much more exciting to see what we can do and how good we can be."
Dwayne Thomas was in a vulnerable position when hundreds of LSU fans rushed the field at Tiger Stadium following an Oct. 25 win against Ole Miss.

The sophomore defensive back was on crutches, less than a week removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee, and easily could have toppled over in the frenzied crowd. Luckily he had a convoy of teammates and support staff to keep him safe on the way to the locker room.

“Jermauria Rasco, he was on my side. I had some great strength and conditioning coaches on my side and we were just all walking in,” Thomas recalled. “Jamal [Adams] was right behind me, Rickey [Jefferson] was right in front of me and we all just were walking in with people coming up and grabbing, excited. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s go in the crowd.’

“It actually was fun because being in the house so much [that week after surgery], not being around a lot of people, it was just so boring. To see that excitement when people rushed the field, I’d never been a part of that before so I enjoyed that moment. I kind of wanted to be out there, so I told them I wanted to stay out there and I didn’t want to go inside.”

That was the closest to on-field excitement that Thomas came in the second half of the season since he injured his knee in Game 5 against New Mexico State. The Tigers were 4-1 at the time and ranked 15th nationally, with Thomas starting to develop as a star in John Chavis’ “Mustang” defensive package.

He was rushing the quarterback off the edge, as he often does in the Mustang, when he suffered the season-ending knee injury. It was Thomas’ second season-ending injury at LSU, as he took a medical redshirt in 2012 after suffering a sports hernia that kept him from playing in the final nine games that fall.

“When they were like, ‘It’s a torn ACL,’ it kind of hit me emotionally a little bit because I was having an exciting season,” said Thomas, who had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a key fumble recovery (against Mississippi State) before the injury. “It was fun to start off fast for me and it was just a little setback and I just felt like I could bounce back from this because it’s just a torn ACL. It’s not like I tore my meniscus or anything else bad with that. I’m just ready to get back. My ACL’s healing faster than a lot of people really think it would.”

In fact, he thinks he’ll be ready to go when the Tigers open spring practice.

“He’s working hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said last week. “His rehabilitation is coming along very nicely. Hope to have him back for spring. I don't know if that’s possible, but as hard as he’s working, we would think that’s likely.”

Thomas’ return would bolster a secondary that might need a player with his capabilities next season. The Tigers will definitely lose senior starter Ronald Martin, while juniors Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are eligible to enter the NFL draft and suspended starter Rashard Robinson’s future at LSU is in doubt.

The secondary fared well overall even without Thomas available – LSU is second nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fifth in passing yards allowed (162.3) – but the group might need his veteran presence in 2015. Not to mention his playmaking ability.

“He’s a different type of player and he brings a spark to our defense,” sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “But even without him bringing that spark, I feel like we’re not really missing anything. We’re missing him as a person and as a player, and we’re missing his playmaking ability, but I feel like as a secondary, we performed well this year. I feel like with him, it’ll make it even better.”

In the meantime, he will continue to rehab the injury and attempt to assist his teammates from the sideline while taking notes about opponents’ tendencies. That knowledge will come in handy if Thomas makes it back to the field according to his expected timetable.

“It was tough in the beginning, but I’m over the mental thing. I’m just looking at all the positive coming out of it,” Thomas said. “The season is almost over. ... It just flew by, and next thing you know we’re going to be in spring and camp and I’m going to be right there on the field with those guys."
Les Miles, Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles and Nick Saban differ in methodology and personality, but they share a winning mentality that has turned their programs into powerhouses.
Separated by more than 340 mostly rural miles, Nick Saban and Les Miles are giants of their time.

Their footsteps shake the southern ground and their wins stack as tall as Atlanta's Bank of America Plaza.

Saturday, the two will meet for the ninth time at their current jobs, with Saban holding a 5-3 lead in this wildly exciting series. Two coaches who thrive on winning and captivated the SEC after stints and upbringings well outside the confines of the country's most polarizing conference.

Miles went from being a Michigan Man to a Cowboy before settling in Cajun country. Saban went from a Michigan State man to Cajun to Dolphin then T-Town. Cross-country journeys brought these two to the Deep South and winning binds these iconic coaches.

Think Hayes-Schembechler with a little more southern hospitality.

While their personas are poked, prodded and overanalyzed countless times each season, and their methods and personalities are sometimes worlds apart, there's no denying that they share an equally impressive winning attitude.

Saban has a 172-58-1 (.747) collegiate record with four national championships -- three at Alabama and one at LSU -- and five conference championships. Miles is right behind him with a 130-47 (.734) record with a national championship and two conference titles.

Miles won 10 or more games seven times in his first nine seasons at LSU, while Saban did it in six of his first seven years at Alabama.

They are the class of the SEC, a conference that has only gained strength since their arrivals. Even with the SEC saying hello and subsequently goodbye to a handful of coaches since the arrival of Miles and Saban, they've stayed put, despite growing pressure and enormous expectations.

"It's really impressive to see how focused, driven and prepared he is every day," Alabama center Ryan Kelly said of Saban. "As you get older, that kind of wears off on you as well."

Saban's rough exterior can overshadow a fun side that Miles seems to embrace more openly. Miles is the quirky genius, while Saban is the evil genius, but Saban knows how to keep things loose, players say.

"He's funnier than you would think," Alabama receiver DeAndrew White said.

There are jokes cracked in practice and his well-known love for Motown and Michael Jackson. There are even multiple videos of him dancing that have come close to breaking the Internet.

It isn't quite repelling off the side of a building or eating grass, that's Miles' territory, and he's perfected off-the-wall .

"I've never seen anyone eat grass," LSU safety Ronald Martin said. "I guess that's his good luck charm."

Miles knows when to be serious, too. He's had emotional news conferences defending his players and his status as LSU's coach. The jokes die during games and when he has to, he isn't afraid to line up with his offensive linemen at practice – knees bent and trusty hat backward -- to show them what perfect technique looks like.

"It's always a great time being coached by him," LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. "He definitely gets down and dirty with us every now and then."

What makes them great is their undeniable coaching ability, but what makes their interaction that much more enjoyable is how different they really are.

People scratch their heads and often giggle at his sometimes indecipherable jargon, while Saban's dry humor is actually hilarious because it's so smart, even if it can come across as smug.

Saban has "the process" and Miles has "the want."

There are palm claps versus near headset destruction.

There's Miles hat, barely sitting atop his head, and Saban's glare, piercing through his own players and coaches, along with opponents.

There's Saban's meticulous attention to detail and Miles' off-the-cuff, Mad Hatter coaching style that can teeter on improbable bliss and disaster.

They differ in methodology and personality, but they share a winning mentality that has turned their programs into powerhouses.

Their teams mimic them in so many ways, and that's why Saturday is once again a huge deal. Excellence has bred success with these two coaches, making every encounter exemplary.
The stakes in the SEC and postseason races will be huge when Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) visits LSU (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday.

Today we’ll compare how the two teams stack up at each position group on offense and defense.

Defensive line

Alabama

For the first half of the season, the numbers just weren’t there. Despite having arguably the best collection of talent during Nick Saban’s tenure, the D-line wasn’t getting into the backfield any more than in years past.

Then came Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee. In those games, the defense racked up 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.

The key against LSU likely won’t be getting to the quarterback, though. Big bodies like A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Brandon Ivory will have to fill the gaps against the Tigers’ vaunted rushing attack.

Against Arkansas, which employs a similar run-heavy offense, Alabama’s D-line helped limit the Razorbacks to 89 yards rushing and 2.3 yards per carry.

Player to watch: A’Shawn Robinson

[+] EnlargeDanielle Hunter
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonDanielle Hunter, No. 94, has proven to be an impact playmaker for LSU's defense.
LSU

As on the offensive side of the ball, LSU had major problems along the line of scrimmage earlier in the season. The Tigers were getting production from ends Danielle Hunter (who is second on the team with 55 tackles and has a team-high 10 tackles for loss) and Jermauria Rasco (42 tackles, team-high three sacks), but now seem to have found a solid combination in the middle with Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, too.

There are entirely different levels of difficulty involved in shutting down Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss and attacking Alabama’s power running game, however. Saturday will be the biggest test of the progress LSU has made up front.

Player to watch: Danielle Hunter

Linebacker

Alabama

The emergence of Reggie Ragland has meant everything to a group that had to replace All-American C.J. Mosley this season.

Finally using his strength and athleticism to his benefit, Ragland has become the team’s leading tackler with 56 total stops, and ranks third with 6.5 tackles for loss.

With he and big Trey DePriest in the middle, Alabama has the bodies to stop the run.

Throw in the likely return of Denzel Devall at Sam linebacker and Xzavier Dickson’s continual improvement at the Jack linebacker position, and the Tide are in good shape.

Player to watch: Denzel Devall

LSU

The two main names to know here are Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith, both players who opted to sign with LSU over offers from Alabama.

Weakside linebacker Alexander, a native of Oxford, Alabama, leads LSU with 57 tackles and ranks second with six tackles for loss. Beckwith has been a force since entering the starting lineup at middle linebacker three games ago. He’s third on the team with 52 stops and will be one of the key players to watch as the Tigers attempt to defend Alabama’s runs between the tackles.

Since Alabama is a bit more traditional on offense than some of the Tigers’ recent opponents, we may see more of strongside linebacker Lamar Louis than we’ve seen in recent games. Louis made three tackles against Ole Miss’ spread offense and didn’t make a stop against Kentucky.

Player to watch: Kendell Beckwith

Defensive back

Alabama

Landon Collins isn’t letting the whole LSU thing go.

“Personally, this game means a lot,” the junior said. “Just want to show them I picked the right team.”

An All-America-caliber safety, Collins has done well for himself at Alabama ever since his infamous public decision to spurn in-state LSU.

But Alabama’s secondary is more than Collins. Cyrus Jones has stepped up in his first full year starting at cornerback and the battle of Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown has produced good results at the other cornerback position. Big-bodied Jarrick Williams is a weapon at the nickel corner position and Nick Perry has held down the second safety spot better than many expected.

Player to watch: Landon Collins

LSU

Thanks largely to Amari Cooper (71 catches, 1,132 yards, nine touchdowns), Alabama has much more than a run-only offense. Keeping Cooper under wraps will be a major test for an LSU secondary that enters as the SEC’s top pass defense (158.4 ypg).

For the most part, LSU cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Rashard Robinson and Jalen Collins have been impressive this season. Opponents have beaten them deep a time or two, but they have mostly supplied tight coverage to this point. They will all get their shots covering Cooper on Saturday.

Safety has been a bit more of an adventure at times. Veterans Ronald Martin (48 tackles, two interceptions, team-high seven pass breakups) and Jalen Mills (36 tackles, three tackles for loss) are the starters, but youngsters Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams have made some big plays lately.

Keep an eye on Adams in particular, as he is quickly developing into a star in the LSU secondary.

Player to watch: Jamal Adams
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ole Miss fans might have wondered whether Hugh Freeze had brain freeze in the final moments of Saturday night’s 10-7 loss to LSU. But the Rebels’ coach offered a reasonable explanation for each of the missteps that prevented his team from even attempting the game-tying field goal.

The most glaring error was that quarterback Bo Wallace threw to the end zone instead of settling for a safer route along the sideline or throwing the ball away to stop the clock. That is what Freeze said he instructed Wallace to do, which still would have left time for a field goal. Instead, Wallace underthrew Cody Core in the end zone and LSU safety Ronald Martin cut in front of the Rebels wideout to make the game-saving interception at the goal line.

"I think Bo would tell you, I thought we were pretty clear we were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds and try the field goal," Freeze said after the game. "He must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown play there, the clear-out guy. But no, I wish I could do that over for sure."

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanA risky decision by QB Bo Wallace cost Ole Miss a chance to attempt a game-tying field goal at LSU.
Wallace’s poor decision concluded a sloppy final sequence that resulted in the Rebels’ first loss of the season. Freeze actually sent freshman kicker Gary Wunderlich out to attempt a 42-yard field goal with 9 seconds to play, but Ole Miss was flagged for delay of game after the kicking team was slow to arrive on the field.

That was Ole Miss’ first major error at the end of the game, although Freeze said he also wanted to review how the officiating crew handled LSU’s substitutions before the play.

Wallace did not begin to leave the field until 22 seconds remained on the play clock. There were only 12 seconds left by the time Wunderlich arrived at the ball and started setting up to kick. He was finally settling into position when the clock hit zero.

"After the penalty, which I’m going to have to watch the film, they stood over the ball and I thought they had 12 men on the field for a long time," Freeze said. "And then we get the penalty, pushed it back to I think 48 yards from the right hash which is not [Wunderlich’s] favorite deal."

That set up multiple dilemmas for the Rebels. Were he to convert the 48-yard kick, it would have been the longest made field goal in Wunderlich’s three-game stint as Ole Miss’ starting place-kicker. And as Freeze mentioned, most right-footed kickers prefer to kick from somewhere other than the right side of the field, which was where the ball was placed.

When LSU coach Les Miles called timeout to allow pressure to build for the freshman kicker, Freeze decided to toss one more pass in an attempt to move closer to the goal and further to the left.

"It made me nervous as hell because I’m sitting there going, 'Well, if he tries a three-pointer, that’s certainly a tie and we’re going into overtime. Certainly if he tries something else, that could be another ending' and one that we’d all be miserable about right now," Miles said.

Facing third-and-7 from the LSU 30-yard line, Wallace took a shotgun snap and sprinted left. Freeze clearly expected his quarterback to throw to Laquon Treadwell along the Ole Miss sideline at the 23 -- he even held up his arm and pointed at Treadwell as Wallace rolled in that direction -- but Wallace instead released a deep ball to Core with 7 seconds showing on the game clock.

TV replays showed Freeze cringing in agony as Wallace threw downfield instead of passing to Treadwell or tossing an incompletion that would have stopped the clock and allowed Wunderlich to try to tie the game.

"I told him to sprint out and either take the flat throw right now or throw it out of bounds," Freeze said. "Still, worst case, you’re still at the same point. We were trying to get it to the left hash for him or left-middle. We just didn’t get it done there."

LSU had to run one final play to use up the remaining 2 seconds on the clock, but Wallace was not there to see it. He ran to the locker room shortly after Martin’s interception and avoided the flood of Tigers fans who poured onto the field a few moments later.

Wallace was on the verge of tears when he couldn’t explain his mistake -- his first interception in SEC play all season -- to reporters after the game.

"I’m not going to talk about it. One-on-one, threw it up -- [it’s] done," Wallace said.

In truth, Wallace didn’t need to concoct an explanation. He simply tried to be a hero on the Rebels’ final play when a safer decision might have sufficed, and his mistake spoiled then-No. 3 Ole Miss' bid for a perfect season. Nobody had to hear those words cross Wallace’s lips to understand what had occurred.

The loss wasn’t entirely Wallace’s fault considering how the Rebels went 0-for-6 on third down in the second half and generated just 107 yards of offense (36 on the ground) after halftime. But he’s a senior and a third-year starter and seemed to have finally progressed beyond the mental errors that marked the early days of his career.

His mistake at the end of the LSU game was painful, and it will only become more so if the Rebels fail to make the program's first appearance in the SEC championship game.

Vote: SEC play of the week

October, 26, 2014
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There was also no shortage of spectacular plays in the SEC on Saturday, ranging from a fat-guy touchdown pass to an onside kick return to game-clinching interception. We’ve narrowed the weekend’s best to five. Now it’s your turn. Let us know what play you think was the best in the SEC this week by voting:

Fat-guy touchdown pass
We’ve seen scoop-and-scores from the big guys. We’ve seen touchdown receptions from them. But have you ever seen a 6-foot-6, 350-pound offensive linemen throw a touchdown pass? That happened in the Arkansas-UAB game Saturday. The Razorbacks’ Sebastian Tretola took the snap on a fake field goal attempt and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass off his back foot. Offensive linemen everywhere were proud.

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Who had the play of the week in the SEC?

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    42%
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    13%
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    21%
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    10%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,352)

Onside kick return to the house
There were a handful of Josh Robinson runs that deserve honorable mention on here, but the run of the day came from Mississippi State tight end Christian Holmes, who returned an onside kick 61 yards for a touchdown. Kentucky had just scored to make it a one-possession game. The Wildcats' only option was to try for an onside kick. Not only did Holmes recover it, he snared it and outran the Wildcats’ coverage team to seal the 45-31 victory.

Cooper starts off with a bang
Could Lane Kiffin have scripted his return to Knoxville any better? On the first play, he drew up a fake toss and a quick pass the other way to Amari Cooper. The All-SEC wide receiver did the rest. Cooper took the pass in stride and once he turned the corner, there was no catching him. He blew past the Tennessee defense and took it 80 yards for a touchdown.

video Louis turns on the jets
We all knew Cooper was fast, but how about Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis? Known for his game-winning touchdown grab against Georgia last year, Louis provided a spark for the Tigers on Saturday when he took a jet sweep around the left end and went untouched for 75 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. The play was set up a key block from Cameron Artis-Payne, but Louis did the rest. The junior showed he’s pretty quick, too.

video Martin seals the victory in Death Valley
It was a strange sequence of events in the final minutes between LSU and Ole Miss. Jalen Mills intercepted Bo Wallace to end the game, except pass interference was called. The Rebels were going to line up for a game-tying field goal until a delay-of-game penalty. Finally, with Ole Miss taking one last shot before another potential field goal attempt, Ronald Martin flew over from his safety spot and intercepted Wallace. This time there were no flags. Game over.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Egg Bowl still might decide the SEC West champion, but the dream matchup between unbeaten Ole Miss and unbeaten Mississippi State won’t happen.

LSU made sure of that with its 10-7 comeback win on Saturday night. Tiger Stadium, after all, is where LSU coach Les Miles often says that opponents’ dreams go to die.

No. 3 Ole Miss’ dreams aren’t entirely dead, but the Rebels must regroup in a hurry with No. 5 Auburn coming to Oxford next week.

“They’re hurt. They’ve got to figure out how they’re going to handle it,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said after his team’s loss left Mississippi State, Florida State and Marshall as the nation’s only unbeaten teams. “They’re not the only team in America that is going to go through this. If you’d have told me this team was going to be where we are right now in August, we’d be pleased. We’re obviously not pleased to leave here after the season we’ve had."

[+] EnlargeLSU defense
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsAn interception by Ronald Martin, No. 26, with two seconds left sealed Ole Miss' first loss of the season.
Ole Miss fans hadn’t been this enthusiastic about their program in years, especially after they made it through the first three-quarters of a tough October stretch -- versus Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee -- unscathed. But LSU safety Ronald Martin ruined the Rebels’ chances at a perfect season when he picked off a Bo Wallace pass at the Tigers’ goal line with two seconds to play.

Frequently plagued by poorly timed turnovers earlier in his career, Wallace hadn’t turned the ball over once in Ole Miss’ first four SEC games. He picked an awful time for his first of 2014 -- particularly since Freeze instructed him to either throw into the flat so the receiver could get out of bounds or throw it away, leaving open the possibility for a game-tying field goal try.

“I think Bo would tell you, I thought we were pretty clear we were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds and try the field goal,” Freeze said. “He must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown play there. … I wish I could do that over for sure.”

Wallace fought back tears after the game when asked about his decision on the final throw.

“I’m not going to talk about it,” he said. “One-on-one, threw it up -- [it’s] done.”

The common refrain from the Rebels afterward was that this game might be done, but their division title hopes are not. At 7-1 (4-1 SEC), they own a head-to-head advantage over Alabama (7-1, 4-1) and still must face Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0) and Auburn (6-1, 3-1). Win out and they will represent the division in the SEC championship game.

“We’ll bring them in [Sunday] and we’ll sit down and have a heart-to-heart,” Freeze said. “Again, we’re not the only team in this league -- I don’t know if anybody’s going to go through it unscathed, it’s that tough. But you have to respond to adversity the right way.”

That’s what LSU has done. Three weeks ago at Auburn, the Tigers (7-2, 3-2) suffered possibly the ugliest loss of Les Miles’ tenure, 41-7. They’re 3-0 since then and entered a bye week preceding Alabama’s Nov. 8 visit by posting easily their most impressive win of the season.

“One thing about these Tigers, you put them in Tiger Stadium and give us a little bit of time to fix things, they can be very special,” Miles said. “This team wanted to make this night special and they did.”

Beyond what the win means for his team’s season, it was special for another reason entirely to Miles. His mother, Martha, died Friday night at age 91, and Miles said he struggled to determine the proper way to inform his team without affecting the players’ psyche before one of their biggest games of the season.

“I spent time thinking about the way that I need to tell them that when they see me on the sideline, it has not to do with who’s passed and what’s going on,” Miles said. “It has only to do that I’m looking for every opportunity and advantage for us to win, and they need to see me as an aggressive man.

“After the game, I can’t tell you the number of young men that put their arms around me and said they love me, Coach, which is as touching as anything I’ve had happen.”

The players presented Miles with an honorary game ball, an award only given out after victories. Those are always difficult to come by in the SEC West, but this one was unique even by the standards of college football’s toughest division.

There’s a reason why some of the first words out of Freeze’s mouth in his postgame news conference were, “This league is brutal.”

Everyone knew that already, but Saturday’s game was just another reminder of the peril that awaits SEC West teams each Saturday on their division schedule. As Freeze noted, the odds are against anyone in the division finishing with a spotless record. If his team can refocus quickly, the Rebels are still in the thick of the West race.

“It wears on you physically and mentally, but the thing is we still can control everything we want with the schedule that lies ahead,” Freeze said. “We’re going to have to play really good football. They’re sore, they’re down, they’re disappointed, but hopefully we’ll respond in the correct way.”
 
A breakdown of LSU's 10-7 upset win over Ole Miss on Saturday night.

How the game was won: Defense. LSU held Ole Miss to 313 offensive yards and got two critical stops in the final two minutes. The first came with 1:44 remaining on a fourth-and-1 try in which the Tigers stuffed the Rebels, and the second came with two seconds left when, instead of trying a 47-yard field goal, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze elected to try one more play. The Tigers made him pay for the decision. LSU senior safety Ronald Martin intercepted a pass from Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace with two seconds left to seal the upset win.

Game ball goes to: Leonard Fournette. The true freshman running back, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class, came up big after Terrence Magee left the game with an injury. Fournette finished with 113 yards on 23 carries, including some critical runs in LSU’s final scoring drive. He even got his face mask ripped off by an Ole Miss defender, but his work on the last scoring drive help set up the game-winning score. Give the LSU defense a ton of credit also for keeping the Tigers in it even though they turned the ball over four times.

What it means: We have a big shakeup near the top of the rankings and in the College Football Playoff race. Previously undefeated Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will drop and LSU, a team that is in the midst of what many have called a "rebuilding year" seems to be getting stronger. The Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC) have now won three in a row and are building momentum.

Playoff implication: Ole Miss’s chances take a hit. How much of a hit? We’ll find out when the playoff selection committee’s rankings are released on Tuesday. But a team that once controlled its own fate no longer does.

Best play: Without a doubt, the play that sealed the win for LSU ... Martin intercepting Wallace:

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What's next: Ole Miss must regroup quickly as it returns home to Oxford to host No. 5 Auburn a week from today. LSU has an open date next week and doesn’t return to the field until Nov. 8 when it hosts No. 4 Alabama in Baton Rouge.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best recruiting classes of the Miles era.

5. 2013
ESPN class ranking: Seventh
We’re making a call based on potential here, since several of the most talented members of this group have yet to make much of an impact (or haven’t played yet at all). Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson and quarterback Anthony Jennings are the headliners thus far. But players like tight end DeSean Smith; defensive tackles Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron; and linebacker Kendell Beckwith could all become household names among LSU fans before the 2014 season is over.

4. 2007
ESPN class ranking: Sixth
Wide receiver Terrance Toliver was the highest-rated prospect in this 27-man class, and he had a fine college career, but other 2007 signees became the more important college players. The Tigers had three players in this signing class (kicker Josh Jasper, defensive lineman Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Will Blackwell) who became All-Americans according to at least one organization. They also had six players (Blackwell, Jasper, Nevis, defensive lineman Joe Barksdale, safety Chad Jones and running back Stevan Ridley) who made at least one All-SEC team and six (Jones, Ridley, Nevis, Barksdale, cornerback Ron Brooks and receiver Demetrius Byrd) who became NFL draft picks.

3. 2011
ESPN class ranking: 10th
No. 2 overall prospect Anthony Johnson was the biggest fish in this class, but “The Freak” didn’t quite live up to his advance billing in three seasons at LSU before becoming an undrafted free agent in the most recent NFL draft. However, this class was loaded with impact players -- including two of the most productive receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) in school history, a pair of All-SEC offensive linemen from 2013 (La'el Collins and Trai Turner) and several others who should make an impact this season (running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, safety Ronald Martin and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas, among others). LSU also added quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a junior college transfer and signed running back Jeremy Hill in this class, although Hill didn’t contribute as a member of the team until 2012.

2. 2014
ESPN class ranking: Second
Yes, this is completely unfair. These kids haven’t played a single snap in college yet. Much like the 2013 class, it will be several more years before we know the full impact that this class will have at LSU. But with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette), the No. 1 players at three different positions (Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and other exciting additions like quarterback Brandon Harris, record-setting receiver Trey Quinn, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett, this could conceivably become one of the best recruiting classes in school history before it’s all over. Miles said on national signing day that he believes this class can help LSU contend for several national championships, and it certainly has the talent to do so.

1. 2009
ESPN class ranking: First
No. 1 athlete Russell Shepard was initially the crown jewel in the nation’s top signing class, but he wasn’t the guy who eventually made this such a successful class. Sure there were several star prospects who panned out in this class -- including No. 1 safety Craig Loston, No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, No. 2 defensive end Sam Montgomery and No. 11 outside linebacker Kevin Minter -- but the Tigers got as much out of the players who weren’t considered to rank among the highest-rated signees at the time. The Tigers signed 10 ESPN 150 honorees in the 25-man class. Among those who didn’t make the list of the top 150 prospects: cornerback Morris Claiborne; defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan; offensive lineman Chris Faulk and linebacker Lamin Barrow. Claiborne, Brockers and Mingo all became first-round NFL draft picks, and five members of that group made at least one All-SEC team.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings got the first chance to work with LSU's starting offense when the Tigers opened preseason practice on Monday.

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."

Ranking the SEC safeties

June, 19, 2014
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We could have sold ourselves short with a top 10 comprised of all the league's defensive backs. Instead of leaving out too many talented players, we took the long route and split the secondary in two.

Earlier this afternoon you should have read Chris Low's breakdown of the top-10 cornerbacks in the SEC. Now it's time for the safety rankings entering 2014.

Safety position rankings

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesOle Miss safety Cody Prewitt is the anchor of what could be the SEC's best secondary.
1. Cody Prewitt, Sr., Ole Miss: On a defense loaded with former blue-chip recruits, it was Prewitt, a three-star safety from the tiny town of Bay Springs, Mississippi, who stood out the most last season. The 6-foot-2 junior showed the complete package as he led the SEC with six interceptions and became a near unanimous first team All-America selection. Now a senior, he’s the clear face of a secondary that could be the best in the conference.

2. Landon Collins, Soph., Alabama: It’s scary to think what he’ll do as a starter from Day 1. Alabama fans will remember that Collins was the backup to Vinnie Sunseri at strong safety last season and only became a full-time starter after Sunseri tore his ACL. Despite starting only nine games, Collins led the team in passes defended and finished second in total tackles. A heavy hitter as much as he is a ball hawk, Collins could easily develop into a first-round pick with a strong junior season.

3. Tony Conner, Soph., Ole Miss: Talk about fulfilling on promise. Conner, a four-star safety prospect coming out of high school, was an immediate impact player for Ole Miss, playing in all 12 games and earning Freshman All-America honors for his 66 tackles, one interception and seven passes defended.

4. Braylon Webb, Sr., Missouri: Gary Pinkel’s defense could use a veteran presence now that E.J. Gaines, Matt White and Randy Ponder are all gone. Webb, fortunately, is just the stabilizing force that’s needed. He has 30 career starts, and last season he was the team’s second leading tackler in addition to picking off three passes.

[+] EnlargeBrison Williams
AP Photo/Richard ShiroBrison Williams, who had three INTs last season, hits like a linebacker and adds valuable experience to the South Carolina secondary.
5. Brison Williams, Sr., South Carolina: He may look like a linebacker in a helmet and shoulder pads, but the 5-11, 218-pound Williams is all safety. In the past two years he has started 23 games and racked up 97 tackles and three interceptions. In a secondary lacking experience, his leadership will be vital.

6. Jermaine Whitehead, Sr., Auburn: The Tigers’ secondary was unspectacular last season, but Whitehead wasn’t the problem. The soon-to-be senior finished fourth on the team in tackles (65) and third in passes defended (6), two of which he turned into interceptions. Now with a full year in Ellis Johnson’s system, he and the rest of the defense could take a big step forward in 2014.

7. Brian Randolph, Jr., Tennessee: Count Randolph among the better players you probably don’t hear much of. A year after suffering a season-ending injury, the former SEC coaches’ All-Freshman team selection had the best year of his career in 2013, finishing second in the team with 75 tackles. On top of that, he finished fifth in the SEC with four interceptions.

8. Alan Turner, Sr., Arkansas: You’d be hard pressed to come up with a more productive, experienced safety in the SEC this season than Turner, who has played in more than 30 games for Arkansas. The 6-foot senior was the team leader in tackles last season with 97 and also hauled in two interceptions.

9. Ronald Martin, Sr., LSU: This might be Jalen Mills’ spot had he not been arrested and subsequently suspended indefinitely by coach Les Miles. Martin, nonetheless, is a worthy selection. Though he had a quiet 2013, expect a big senior season from him as he takes over for Craig Loston at strong safety in 2014, a spot where his 6-1, 218-pound frame should come in handy in run support.

10. Justin Cox, Sr., Mississippi State: Cox was admittedly a step behind last season after transferring from a junior college. He was asked to play cornerback and ended up contributing very little. But this spring he came up to speed and was welcomed back with a new position that better suits his 6-3 frame: safety. Now the word from Starkville is what an upside he has at safety, how it’s a more natural fit and how he can really cover some ground. Though he may not start right away, don’t be surprised if he climbs the depth chart quickly.

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