SEC: Trey Lealaimatafao

Opening spring camp: LSU Tigers

March, 6, 2015
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Schedule: LSU opens spring practice on Saturday with a workout at 11:45 a.m. ET. They will scrimmage on March 21 and March 28 and will hold their National L-Club Spring Game on April 18 at 2 p.m. ET. No practices will be held April 4-12 during LSU’s spring break.

What’s new: The Tigers have three new assistant coaches this spring, including a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele. When longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis split for Texas A&M after LSU’s bowl loss to Notre Dame, his close friend Steele left a position at Alabama to join Les Miles’ staff. LSU introduced Steele and new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who replaces Brick Haley, at the same news conference in January. Finally, former Georgia assistant Tony Ball takes over as receivers coach after Adam Henry accepted a job with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Tigers desperately need either Anthony Jennings, left, or Brandon Harris to take seize the starting QB position and give the offense balance.
On the move: Nothing is set in stone yet, but there could be some movement along the offensive line. When they announced in January that they would return for the 2015 season, left guard Vadal Alexander and right tackle Jerald Hawkins said they both expected to play tackle this fall. Ethan Pocic, meanwhile, is capable of playing any position on the line after starting at center and guard last season. It will also be interesting to see what defensive backs coach Corey Raymond does with senior Jalen Mills. Mills can play either safety, where he started last season, or cornerback, where he started for the two seasons before that. The Tigers have talent at corner, but not a ton of experience.

New faces: The Tigers will have four early enrollees in camp. Two names to watch this spring are those of cornerback Kevin Toliver and running back David Ducre. Toliver was the highest-rated signee in LSU’s 2015 recruiting class (ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and No. 2 cornerback) and could compete for immediate playing time in the secondary. Same with Ducre, who jumps directly into the competition to replace Connor Neighbors at fullback. The Tigers also have quarterback Justin McMillan and tight end Hanner Shipley in camp as early enrollees.

Question marks: We addressed several spring storylines in greater detail in a post earlier this week. One of the leading questions entering spring practice is what shape the defense will take under Steele’s guidance. Chavis coached a 4-3 base defense and regularly deployed personnel packages with five and six defensive backs. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Steele continue those alignments since that’s what the current Tigers were specifically recruited to play. But we will also likely see him add some new wrinkles -- maybe even some 3-4 looks like his defenses played under Nick Saban and Kirby Smart at Alabama.

Key battle: No question about this one. LSU will have competition at nearly every position, but the most important one is at quarterback. The single most important issue for the Tigers this season is getting more effective play from the quarterback position. Incumbent Anthony Jennings started 12 of 13 games last season, but completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and clearly didn’t frighten defenses with his passing ability. However, talented freshman Brandon Harris was unable to overtake Jennings and was a flop in his one starting opportunity against Auburn. The Tigers desperately need one of them to grab this job and develop into an effective SEC quarterback. It could mean the difference between contending in the SEC West and remaining in the middle of the pack where LSU sat last fall.

Breaking out: After a standout freshman season, safety Jamal Adams seems likely to play a key role in the secondary this fall. This is also an important time for junior defensive end Tashawn Bower to lock down one of the starting spots vacated by Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Up front, two defensive tackles who sat out in 2014 -- Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao -- have a chance to make an immediate impact. On offense, it will be interesting to see which pass-catchers -- receivers like Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, John Diarse and D.J. Chark and tight ends like DeSean Smith, Colin Jeter and Jacory Washington -- join Travin Dural as the Tigers’ most reliable targets. Dural (37 catches for 758 yards and seven TDs last season) had 20 catches and 440 receiving yards more than the next-closest Tiger in 2014.

Don't forget about: Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture developed into an effective combination at defensive tackle as last season progressed, after the interior line was a bit of a mess early in the fall. Should Steele tinker with the Tigers’ defensive alignments, it will be interesting to see how many ways he is able to use the duo -- both of whom would probably fit better at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.

All eyes on: The Tigers return a pile of talent from last season’s young 8-5 team, led by star running back Leonard Fournette, but plenty of questions remain for Miles’ club. Steele’s impact will be a source of interest, but the likelihood of improvement probably rests on the job Cam Cameron does developing his quarterbacks. This is a team with enough talent to contend in the SEC West -- and maybe even for a College Football Playoff spot if everything goes smoothly. It starts with developing a more consistent passing game and a competent player under center who will prevent defenses from stacking the box to defend Fournette.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's coaching staff had not fully completed its 2015 signing class before 2016 was already front-and-center in the coaches' minds.

Only three days after national signing day, LSU will stage its "Boys From the Boot" recruiting weekend where it will host many of the state's up-and-coming prospects -- so getting the state's top talent on campus this weekend became an immediate top priority.

"We'll have guys from 2016, 2017 from the state of Louisiana here on our campus," LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said Wednesday afternoon, "and so we've got Thursday, Friday, we're fighting like hell to get those guys here on campus, and Saturday it's showtime."

This is a good time to make an impression on the prospects who visit Baton Rouge this weekend. Much like 2014, when in-state recruits like Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson, Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and Hootie Jones made Louisiana one of the most competitive recruiting battlegrounds in the country, 2016 is shaping up as another year where the state is loaded with high-end talent.

Five of the top 29 players in the ESPN Junior 300 -- defensive tackles Edwin Alexander, Rashard Lawrence, athlete Shyheim Carter, quarterback Shea Patterson and offensive tackle Willie Allen -- and 12 of the top 105 hail from the Tigers' home state.

Allen was among the players who received a scholarship offer from LSU at the event last year, and there will likely be a number of offers going out this weekend, as well.

"We've done all the communication by way of email, by way of correspondence and literature, camp brochures -- all the things that lead up to this point," Wilson said. "It would be the first time on campus that we describe to them the expectations from our staff, and what we expect from them to be recruitable athletes for us at LSU."

Two priority positions in the 2016 class will be linebacker and defensive tackle -- both spots where LSU did not sign a player in 2015. The Tigers would hit a home run at one of those positions -- defensive tackle -- just by taking care of business in state.

They already have a commitment from 6-foot-4, 349-pound Donavaughn Campbell, but tackles Alexander (No. 7 on ESPN 300 and No. 1 tackle) and Lawrence (No. 16 overall and No. 3 tackle) are the two most coveted prospects from within the state. ESPN's No. 13 defensive tackle Glen Logan also hails from Louisiana.

"You can probably imagine 2016 will be a big year for us defensively, as we return several guys this year and our numbers are probably minus-2 where we would like them to be, but we'll get it with no problem next year at the linebacker position, at the defensive tackle position," Wilson said. "As those guys -- [starting defensive tackles] Christian LaCouture, Davon Godchaux -- as they get older, we'll look to have some parity in the distinction between our sophomores and juniors and the freshman class that will come in.

"So I think we'll have a heavy emphasis on our defensive line, our linebacker position and kind of take the rest of them in stride based on graduation and guys that may opt to go the National Football League."

Junior LaCouture and sophomore Godchaux return as starters, and new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will also have a number of third-year sophomores (Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron) and redshirt freshmen (Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao) at his disposal in 2015. Recruiting the 2016 tackle standouts will not only be about bolstering depth, but solidifying the interior line for several years to come.

"We're very deep, but we have some young players that played very well last year. We have some guys that we redshirted here that we think are going to be great players," Orgeron told ESPN's Niki Noto Palmer on Wednesday. "Obviously we always want to get the best defensive tackle in the country here at LSU. That wasn't available to us this year, but it's a great year for defensive tackles in the state of Louisiana and across the country and we look to sign a bunch next year."

LSU struck out with inside linebacker Leo Lewis on Wednesday, making the position even more of a concern for new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Kevin Steele over the next year. Only half of the six linebackers LSU signed in 2012 (Lamar Louis, Deion Jones and Ronnie Feist) remain on the roster, and the Tigers signed just two linebackers in 2013 (Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley) and 2014 (Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander) before landing none this year.

Noted recruiters Steele and Orgeron only joined Les Miles' coaching staff three weeks before signing day. That was certainly not enough time for them to make a huge impact in this recruiting cycle, although Wilson said "we couldn't have gotten" Arden Key (ESPN's No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end for 2015) without the two new coaches.

However, just wait until this time next year, Miles said, once Steele and Orgeron have had adequate time to connect with recruits.

"In a year you're going to see how good they recruit because they will have relationships that they will carry over for a solid year and then they will have an opportunity to have those men sign with us, first and foremost," Miles said. "But both of those guys know the brand at LSU. Both of those guys played against us. Both of those guys had an opportunity to grow up around this program.

"Ed Orgeron is having a blast being an LSU Tiger and coaching for us and Kevin Steele is, as well. Really it was a natural fit in recruiting. Both guys are professional and know how to do it"
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With two weeks left until national signing day, new LSU assistants Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron have an opportunity to show why they are considered two of the most effective recruiters in the Southeast.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron and LSU's recruiting gurus have their work cut out for them, especially on the defensive front.
Much like at this time a year ago, the Tigers have numerous spots to fill in their 2015 recruiting class, and if they close with coveted recruits like they did then, LSU's late rise could once again rank among the top stories Feb. 4.

"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."

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

Developing talent the key now for LSU

October, 6, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s 2014 season is halfway home, but in some ways it feels like it’s already over.

The Tigers’ 41-7 loss to Auburn on Saturday night was the worst in Les Miles’ nine-plus seasons at LSU, a program that Miles and his staff have kept among the annual contenders in the SEC and national championship pictures. Not this year, though.

Today the Tigers (4-2, 0-2 SEC) are in an unfamiliar position: unranked and an afterthought in the loaded SEC West. After losing their first two games in conference play -- the first time that has happened since 2001 -- it's natural to wonder what LSU can do to salvage this season.

“Well, win, stupid,” you’re probably saying. Yes, closing the regular season with a six-game winning streak would certainly be a perfect salve for the wounds LSU suffered in its two SEC games thus far: losses to No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Mississippi State, which combined for 1,136 yards of total offense against John Chavis’ struggling defense.

But let’s be realistic. ESPN’s Football Power Index shows that LSU has the nation’s toughest remaining schedule. It hasn’t lost for the final time this season.

A program can’t lose this much underclassman talent to the NFL and reasonably expect not to feel the effects of those departures. Miles surely hoped talent (and LSU has plenty of that) would trump experience, but this is the wrong season in the West to test that assumption.

Mississippi State and Auburn both destroyed LSU with runs up the middle. Surprise, surprise, the Tigers lost both of last season’s starting defensive tackles, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, who handled the vast majority of snaps at the position before entering the draft as underclassmen.

This year’s defensive line is young and has been ineffective. The Tigers have signed some coveted defensive line prospects in recent years, but many of those players either aren’t healthy or aren’t ready to perform.

Last year, LSU was the best offense in the nation at converting third downs, but all four of the most important skill players in that standing (quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) are gone. Three of them had eligibility remaining when they entered the draft.

With the exception of the disappointing offensive line, evaluations of just about any position group at LSU sound like a broken record: Talented, but inexperienced. Not playing to its potential yet. Over and over and over.

LSU’s problem, as a friend said to me last week, is that there is no free agency in college football. The Tigers aren’t the New York Yankees. They can’t break out the checkbook and sign a high-priced free agent who can fill an immediate need or trade prospects for a veteran who can help them contend for championships today.

The only way LSU can salvage this season is by developing the talent that will help the Tigers return to the top of the SEC West heap in the future. It might be painful in the short term, but this team has more than enough talent to compete for a College Football Playoff spot in the next couple of years. It wouldn’t hurt to think about the bigger picture, even if Miles understandably will refuse to write off this season.

Settle on a quarterback between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings and then let that guy endure the growing pains that will help him at crunch time in 2015 and 2016. Give lots of reps to sophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith and freshman safety Jamal Adams, the future leaders of the Tigers’ defense. Get those young defensive tackles on the field. Miles said last week on his radio show that true freshman Trey Lealaimatafao might play Saturday against Florida and that fellow signee Travonte Valentine might become eligible in the near future. Get that back to being the position of strength that it usually is at LSU.

Getting those guys on the field is how LSU can make the second half of this season a productive one. Tigers fans might not like the immediate results, but something tells me that when those players are winning All-SEC honors and the Tigers are winning big again in the next couple of years, they’ll agree that having enduring those temporary (and unavoidable) growing pains made the wins that much more enjoyable.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 25, 2014
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So a man by the name of Richard Malzahn was one of the visual effects supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Please, please, please tell me there's some relation to Gus Malzahn!

SEC lunchtime links

July, 22, 2014
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SEC coaches Mark Richt, Gary Pinkel and Derek Mason joined “College Football Live” on Monday to share their expectations for the 2014 season.

ESPN’s “Car Wash” continues Tuesday with Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier among the coaches in Bristol for the day. If you missed anything or want to know what’s going on around the league, be sure to check out Tuesday's lunch links.
BATON ROUGE, La. – At his national signing day press conference, LSU coach Les Miles ran down a list of names on a sheet of paper, rattling off details about each of the Tigers’ signees. But when he got to the new defensive tackle from San Antonio, Miles grinned and had to pause.

“I better call him Trey L. this minute,” Miles chuckled while struggling to pronounce Trey Lealaimatafao's last name. “It will take me several years to get to that. And I want you to know something, he’s a wonderful man and I pray that he’ll be forgiving my inability.”

Miles predicted it would probably take “a couple years” before he clears that verbal obstacle, adding that his struggles will provide reporters with fodder “to throw at me just about any point in time that you need to.”

I can’t make any guarantees, but I’d imagine the kid will cut Miles some slack. Sure, questions and jokes about your name might get annoying from time to time, but you definitely get used to it. Continuing to get angry about it won’t do any good and would only mean you’d walk around in an irritable state most of the time.

Mr. L. seems to share that perspective. Just this week, he tweeted instructions on how to pronounce it for those who understandably need some assistance.



Simple, right?

[+] EnlargeTrey Lealaimatafao
Tom Hauck for Student SportsHis last name isn't the only big thing about Trey Lealaimatafao's (left) game.
Anyway, once he becomes a legit LSU letterman, Lealaimatafao will tie for the longest last name in Tigers football history. I know because I looked it up myself.

These are the things you do when you’re a bored college football writer during the summer months. You get a wild hair and comb through the list of lettermen in the media guide, checking to see if the new signee actually has the longest name among the six pages and hundreds of lettermen listed from more than 120 years of Tigers football.

In case you were wondering -- and I know you were -- Lealaimatafao’s 13-letter last name ties with 1939 letterman W.H. Froechtenicht for the top spot on this important list. They edge former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (12 letters), among others, by a single character.

Among some of the notable long names on the list: Ricky Jean-Francois (should hyphenated names count?) and All-SEC honorees Robbie Hucklebridge and Godfrey Zaunbrecher.

Ideally, Lealaimatafao will perform well enough at LSU that he eventually becomes a household name, not one that gives announcers nightmares.

At the very same introductory press conference, Miles compared him to a former Tiger who earned such “household name” distinction among LSU fans a few years back.

“What he would remind you of is Drake Nevis,” said Miles, referring to the Tigers’ former All-SEC defensive lineman. “He’s maybe a little taller, a little wider, maybe a little faster, but he has a very high motor and real acceleration on the field.”

For now, Lealaimatafao’s claim to fame will remain his difficult-to-pronounce last name, but that could change soon enough. If Miles’ comparison holds water, the transition might just occur sooner rather than later.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brick Haley faces the blessing and the curse of coaching LSU’s defensive line each year around this time.

The blessing is that the Tigers’ coaching staff has attracted loads of NFL-caliber talent to Baton Rouge. Just check the stats. Eight LSU defensive linemen have been drafted since Haley joined the staff in 2009, a number that would grow to 10 if defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are selected this year.

The curse is that continuity is nearly impossible to maintain, particularly at defensive tackle. This is Haley’s sixth spring practice at LSU and the third where both of his starting defensive tackles -- whoever they might be in 2014 -- will be new to starting roles.

“That’s LSU,” said Christian LaCouture, who is attempting to take over one of the starting jobs after Johnson and Ferguson both bolted for the NFL after finishing their junior seasons. “That’s something where guys, we want to win a national championship, we want to win an SEC championship and a lot of the guys go to the league. You’ve got to prepare. It’s the next man in here and you’ve got to produce.”

LaCouture is perhaps LSU’s most experienced interior lineman, having appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman. But he faces plenty of competition for a starting job from junior Quentin Thomas and redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. Redshirt freshman Frank Herron also took some practice reps at defensive tackle earlier this spring, but he appears to be playing end for now.

While LSU coach Les Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage that there’s a chance that the defensive tackles “could be as successful as any group that we’ve had,” the dynamics in play this fall could be significantly different from a season ago. Ferguson and Johnson played the vast majority of scrimmage downs in 2013, but the workload might be spread more evenly between players this season.

“They definitely were the impact players of our defensive tackles. They definitely were, and it’s all good,” Gilmore said. “I think that was a good year for us to sit back, learn the plays, learn the techniques. So I think this year now we have everybody that’s equal, trying not to have a drop-off in the twos and try to rotate in.”

By redshirting Bain and Gilmore -- both of whom ranked among ESPN’s top 130 overall recruits in 2013 -- Haley put a particularly heavy burden on his two starters, and Bain said the effect of that workload was noticeable.

“Last year they were kind of tired between Ego and Freak [Johnson],” Bain said. “They were kind of tired and we told Coach Brick, ‘You wore them guys a little bit more. You can trust us.’ So now that he trusts us, he’s putting us out there in the spring and now he sees that we can do what Freak and Ego did.”

Of course, the candidates must prove to Haley that they deserve to share some of those snaps -- which is the same responsibility that signees such as Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux will face when they arrive in the summer.

Valentine, according to fellow Floridian Bain, could be a candidate for early playing time if he competes well in August.

“Hopefully when Tra Valentine gets in here, he’ll be the fifth man,” Bain said of the freshman signee fitting in with himself, LaCouture, Thomas and Gilmore. “But right now, it’s just a four-man rotation and that’s what we’re going with.”

Last season, Haley made the best of the hand he’d been dealt. Starting tackle Bennie Logan had eligibility remaining when he entered the 2013 NFL draft. Johnson and Ferguson were the returning linemen with whom Haley was the most comfortable, and he decided that the Tigers would be better off riding them as far as possible without relying on the raw freshmen.

Now nobody is particularly proven, and the resulting competition reduces any possibility of complacency within the group. That’s what their counterparts on the offensive line have noticed, anyway.

“They know they have less experience than the guys that left, so of course they’re out there trying to get better each and every day and they’re giving us their all,” senior offensive tackle La'el Collins said. “Last year we had a lot of veteran guys and those guys were just out there going through whatever they needed to go through. But these guys are giving a little bit more effort because they understand that it’s their time to play, so they’re really trying to focus on getting better.”

Center Elliott Porter added that “it’s a grind every day to block them,” which has created worthwhile practice competition for both LSU lines this spring. Although LSU’s offensive line carries a serious experience advantage over its defensive opponents, Miles indicated Saturday that the competition between the two groups has been close -- with two weeks of spring practice left to declare a victor.

“I think that these [defensive tackles] can be dominant players. I think improvement needs to take place,” Miles said. “Again, I think the offensive line and defensive line, they’re measured in the spring. It’s going to be interesting to see that competition as it plays out the next two weeks.”

Sigh of relief at LSU

February, 5, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson seemed to be experiencing more than one emotion Wednesday as he and his fellow coaches put the finishing touches on the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

“Huge sigh of relief. Hard work vindicated,” Wilson said on the program's signing day special that aired on the school's website. “For such a long time, you've put in hard work -- not only our staff, the 10 on-field coaches, but the entire support staff from the top to the bottom.”

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
ESPNLanding Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR, helped LSU climb to No. 2 in the class rankings.
Wilson was obviously excited, as well, and for good reason. The Tigers not only landed one of the top three remaining uncommitted players in the ESPN 300 -- New Orleans receiver Malachi Dupre, the nation's top receiver prospect -- but they added a pair of four-star defensive linemen in Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao. They also flipped defensive end Sione Teuhema from Texas, which should help them sign Teuhema's brother, Maea, who will be one of next year's top offensive line prospects.

They also held onto at least one -- and probably both -- of the ESPN 300 defensive ends who wavered on their verbal commitments (Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark) to the Tigers. LSU has yet to officially confirm Clark's signing, but received his national letter of intent paperwork.

Add the good fortune on signing day to a recruiting cycle that helped LSU land the nation's top overall prospect, tailback Leonard Fournette, and two more players ranked first at their position, plus three players who ranked second. Clark's signature would make 16 ESPN 300 selections in LSU's 22-man class.

“I like, more importantly than being a five star, that these guys are in our class, they were evaluated by our coaches and they fill our needs,” LSU coach Les Miles.

Wilson barely even had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor on Wednesday, however. Shortly after LSU received the final NLI on signing day, the recruiting staff had already erased its 2014 wish list off the board in its “war room.”

“The board is cleaned off, '15 is up, '16's behind them, and I'm like, 'Wait!' It's minutes guys, you haven't even given me a chance,” Wilson chuckled. “That's the reality of it. It's forever moving at a fast pace.”

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