SEC: Tyrann Mathieu

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles didn’t offer many specifics about LSU’s first preseason scrimmage on Wednesday -- particularly about which quarterbacks completed the two touchdown passes -- but the Tigers’ coach described the 26-play scrimmage as “pretty productive.”

Miles confirmed that freshmen Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre are both dealing with injuries, adding that tailback Fournette ran a handful of times in “thud” drills (not full contact) and that he should participate in a greater role in Saturday’s full scrimmage.

“He really could have been involved today, but [with] a little bruise, we decided not to,” Miles said.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsCoach Les Miles said that QBs Anthony Jennings, left, and Brandon Harris are both grasping LSU's offense.
He made similar comments about wide receiver Dupre, who already missed a couple of practice days with an undisclosed injury.

“He’s really nicked and on the heal and they don’t think it’s anything major in any way, but we’ve just got to continue to treat and get him going,” Miles said.

He didn’t say which quarterbacks threw the passes, but Miles did reveal that Avery Peterson and Travin Dural caught touchdowns in the scrimmage.

Speaking generally, he said that quarterback contenders Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are in command of the offense most of the time. The rest remains a work in progress.

“They’re young, they’re both engaged in leadership and want to have command of the offense -- and they do for the most part,” Miles said. “They don’t know what command is. They don’t necessarily understand exactly what has to be communicated to make this thing go easy. They’re learning.

“I’d say 70 percent of today was just very, very well done and 30 percent’s probably not enough for anybody that sits in the stands to even notice. And yet that 30 percent we expect from our quarterbacks.”

Miles said defensive tackle Quentin Thomas -- initially thought to be lost for the season with a torn bicep -- worked in individual drills on Wednesday and might still play this season.

“Today he went through individual and moved and used his hands. It’s one of those things when you have a big old arm and you get it nicked, you can’t quite tell what it is and what it isn’t initially. Frankly he’s as fortunate as he could be.”

Miles added that the Tigers’ occupational therapist, “looked at it and he says there’s absolutely no reason to do anything else than rehabilitate and let him play.”

Thomas’ versatility: One of the primary benefits of LSU’s “Mustang” defense is that it’s difficult to tell which rushers will attack the line of scrimmage on any given play. So perhaps it fits that one of the Tigers’ key players in that package is Dwayne Thomas, since you never know where he might play.

Thomas said he has learned the duties of every position in the secondary, joining Jalen Mills as the only Tiger defensive backs who can do that.

“Corner, safety, nickel and dime -- I pretty much know the entire defense,” Thomas said. “Wherever Coach [Corey] Raymond needs me, I just go fill in. It’s a great opportunity to do that. Being able to be in the mix of any position is good for the next level.”

Thomas said he added safety to his repertoire since the end of last season, having worked at the position throughout spring practice.

“Once I got safety down pat, that was like the last position I had to learn for the entire defense,” Thomas said. “I had already been doing nickel and dime and corner. After the spring passed, getting all the safety reps down pat was just fantastic.”

But it’s that Mustang role where Thomas might make the biggest impact. Because of his speed off the edge -- aided by his ability to jump the snap count, work with assistant coach Brick Haley on the finer points of pass rushing and film study of former Mustang standouts Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks -- Thomas could be even more valuable in that role this season.

“Dwayne really gives us what we’re looking for at that position. He does a great job there,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said when asked about who will play the rushing positions in the Mustang. “Jalen Mills has played a lot at that position. I’m not ready to say anything other than we expect Thomas to be one of those guys.”

Kick returners: Dural said one factor will probably determine who eventually wins LSU’s kickoff and punt return jobs.

“We’re battling every day to see who’s going to drop the ball first,” Dural chuckled.

Dural listed a half-dozen candidates who are contending for the return jobs when they catch balls before and after practice each day.

“It’s just me, Tre White, Leonard, Jamal [Adams], Malachi, Trey Quinn. We’re all back there battling for a spot,” Dural said. “Everybody wants to be that dynamic player. Everybody wants to be the kickoff guy or [punt].”

LSU had one of the nation’s best return men last year in Odell Beckham, who entered the NFL draft after winning the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player. Dural said it won’t be easy to replace the explosive Beckham, but he believes the Tigers have plenty of promising candidates.

“It’s hard to replace someone like that, but we have a lot of guys who have the ability to make those plays,” Dural said. “Tre White, he’s a guy that can return punts and return kickoffs as well as Leonard. Leonard’s back there returning both of them. So as the season goes on, whoever that guy may be, you’ll start to see him make those types of plays that Odell did.”

A Decade of Les: All-Miles team

August, 8, 2014
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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 with Miles helming the Tigers' program. Today we take a swing at naming a roster of the best players from the Miles era.

Let's break down the picks by offense, defense and special teams and discuss some of the tougher decisions.

OFFENSE
Among the most difficult positions to settle on were running back and wide receiver.

We went with Jeremy Hill (who set a record for a back with at least 200 carries by averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013) and Jacob Hester at running back. Because of his ability to play fullback, Hester -- the leading rusher on the 2007 BCS championship club with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns -- gets the nod over a host of talented alternatives like Charles Scott, Joseph Addai and Stevan Ridley.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJarvis Landry had 77 catches for 1,193 yards last season before being drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.
Receiver was an even more difficult position to evaluate. Wideouts such as Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Rueben Randle all belong on the list, but we went with Jarvis Landry, whose 2013 (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) was the best single-season effort in the Miles era, and Brandon LaFell, a two-time All-SEC pick who is LSU's career receiving leader (2,517 yards) under Miles. We added Odell Beckham Jr. as an all-purpose player thanks in large part to a standout 2013 season (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) when he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and ranked second nationally in all-purpose yardage (178.1 yards per game).

There are quarterbacks worth mentioning aside from JaMarcus Russell, namely Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger, but Russell completed one of the best seasons by a quarterback in LSU history in 2006 (232-of-342, 3,129 yards, 28 TDs) before becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

La'el Collins gets the nod at one offensive tackle spot over candidates like Andrew Whitworth and Joe Barksdale, so he needs to prove he deserves that distinction this season. He has the potential to be the best pro prospect LSU has had at tackle under Miles.

LINEUP
QB: JaMarcus Russell
RB: Jeremy Hill
RB: Jacob Hester
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Richard Dickson
OT: Ciron Black
OG: Herman Johnson
C: Rudy Niswanger
OG: Will Blackwell
OT: La'el Collins
AP: Odell Beckham Jr.

DEFENSE
Defensive line and secondary have been loaded positions under Miles and John Chavis, so picking just two players at those positions wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards during the 2010 season.
At defensive end, we went with two-time All-SEC pick and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson and Sam Montgomery, LSU’s sack leader under Miles with 32.5 between 2010 and 2012, over alternatives like Barkevious Mingo and Melvin Oliver.

One tackle position was easy with 2007 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott award winner Glenn Dorsey claiming one of the spots. The other tackle was a tough call, but we went with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers over a ton of great options such as Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Bennie Logan, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.

It would have been awfully difficult to pick just two cornerbacks if we hadn’t added a nickelback spot for Tyrann Mathieu to occupy. One of the SEC’s leading defensive playmakers of the 2000s, he definitely belongs on the roster, but Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne feel like no-brainers at corner, too.

At safety, it wasn’t much fun leaving All-American Craig Steltz off the list, but Eric Reid and LaRon Landry both made All-America teams, too -- and both of them became first-round draft picks, while Steltz went in the fourth round in 2008.

Linebackers Kevin Minter (130 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss in 2012) and Kelvin Sheppard (116 tackles in 2010) posted the top single-season tackle totals of the Miles era, while Ali Highsmith earned one All-America designation when he totaled 101 tackles and nine tackles for a loss on the 2007 BCS championship club.

LINEUP
DE: Sam Montgomery
DT: Glenn Dorsey
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Tyson Jackson
LB: Ali Highsmith
LB: Kevin Minter
LB: Kelvin Sheppard
CB: Patrick Peterson
S: Eric Reid
S: LaRon Landry
CB: Morris Claiborne
Nickel: Tyrann Mathieu

SPECIAL TEAMS
LSU has had a bunch of electric kick returners under Miles. Peterson, Claiborne and Beckham would have been among the top options among kickoff returners, but since they're already on the roster, we went with Trindon Holliday, LSU's career kickoff return yardage leader under Miles (1,806 yards between 2006 and 2009). Peterson, Beckham, Holliday and Mathieu were phenomenal punt returners, so let’s add another new name to the list in Skyler Green, who ranks second all-time among LSU punt returners with 1,064 yards between 2002 and 2005.

It's tough to ignore LSU's single-season and career kicker scoring leader Colt David, but Josh Jasper is the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (83.9 percent) and trails only David on the kicker scoring list with 120 career points.

Brad Wing posted two of the top five seasons by a punter in school history in 2011 (an All-America season where he averaged 44.37 yards per punt) and 2012 (44.8), so he gets the nod over Derek Helton, Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson.

LINEUP
PK: Josh Jasper
P: Brad Wing
KOR: Trindon Holliday
PR: Skyler Green
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 seasons of the Miles era.

5. 2010: Thanks to a series of heart-stopping wins early in the season -- most notably last-second victories against Tennessee and Florida in consecutive weeks -- LSU started the 2010 season with a 7-0 record. Eventual BCS champion Auburn handed the Tigers their first loss in an exciting 24-17 ballgame, but LSU bounced back by knocking off defending BCS champ Alabama in its next game. The Tigers dropped their regular-season finale, 31-23 at No. 12 Arkansas, but rebounded to beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl. LSU finished 11-2 in a season that set up what would become a huge 2011 under Miles.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and LSU enjoyed one of the school's finest seasons in 2011, though it ended with an ugly loss.
4. 2005: Miles’ debut season provided glimpses of what would become staples of the coach’s LSU tenure: wild outcomes (including three overtime contests, a crazy comeback win over Arizona State in Miles’ first game and seven games decided by seven points or less), five wins over ranked opponents and the first of his three SEC West titles. The Tigers finished the season 11-2, capped by a 40-3 destruction of No. 9 Miami in the Peach Bowl.

3. 2006: The Tigers could make a case as the hottest team in the SEC West by the end of 2006 as they bounced back from a loss to eventual BCS champion Florida by winning their final seven games. That run included road wins against No. 8 Tennessee and No. 5 Arkansas and a season-ending 41-14 win against No. 11 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Although starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell would leave to become the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL draft, this 11-2 season -- much like 2010 -- helped LSU build toward an appearance in the BCS title game the following season.

2. 2011: Led by Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter, Brandon Taylor, Michael Brockers and seemingly a defensive cast of thousands, Miles’ 2011 LSU club was one of the best college football teams of the 2000s. There’s just one problem: the Tigers’ sputtering offense laid an egg in the BCS title game, a rematch against Alabama -- a team the Tigers had beaten 9-6 in overtime in the fall. That spoiled what had been an undefeated season. The Crimson Tide’s 21-0 victory in the rematch was probably the most miserable night of the Miles era, but this still goes down as an incredible team even if the 13-1 season ended with a thud.

1. 2007: Miles had to know he had something special on his hands when the Tigers obliterated No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7 in the second game of the season. And he did. One of the most exciting seasons in school history ended with a second BCS title in four seasons -- with the Tigers navigating through insane wins against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, bouncing back from triple-overtime losses to Kentucky and Arkansas and eventually throttling top-ranked Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS title game. Once again, LSU featured a fearsome defense that included defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, safety Craig Steltz and linebacker Ali Highsmith -- all of whom earned All-America distinction from at least one organization. The offense was led by quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Jacob Hester and a deep group of productive receivers en route to Miles’ first SEC title and the third national title in school history.
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 some of the greatest wins of the Miles era.

10. No. 9 LSU 31, No. 5 Arkansas 26 (2006): Sometimes a victory is notable for what it gives your team, and sometimes it’s noteworthy for what it takes away from the opponent. This one did a bit of both. By holding off Arkansas in 2006, LSU knocked the Razorbacks out of the BCS championship picture and eventually booked a Sugar Bowl matchup with Notre Dame (where it destroyed the Fighting Irish).

9. No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27 (2011): Oregon played Auburn for the BCS title the previous season, but it was no match for Tyrann Mathieu and LSU in the 2011 opener. This is the game that introduced “The Honey Badger” to the world, as Mathieu scored a touchdown after forcing a fumble and returning it 3 yards to the end zone, and he also posted a team-high 10 tackles and two pass breakups.

8. No. 13 LSU 28, No. 8 Tennessee 24 (2006): Miles’ Tigers suffered a painful 2005 loss to Tennessee in their first home game after Hurricane Katrina, so this was an especially meaningful win -- one that came when JaMarcus Russell hit Early Doucet with the game-winning touchdown pass with 9 seconds remaining.

7. No. 5 LSU 35, No. 15 Arizona State 31 (2005): Miles’ LSU debut had to be moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe in the aftermath of Katrina, but it produced a memorable outcome. The Tigers trailed 17-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, but prevailed after a wild final period when Russell hit Doucet with the game-winning pass on fourth-and-10 from the ASU 39 with 1:13 to play.

6. No. 12 LSU 33, No. 14 Florida 29 (2010): His penchant for making gutsy calls at crucial times will come up again on this list, but Miles’ decision to call a late fake field goal against Florida has to rank among his gutsiest. The Tigers trailed 29-26 with 35 seconds to play when Josh Jasper lined up for what would have been a 53-yard field goal -- only he instead took an overhead bounce pass-lateral from holder Derek Helton for a 5-yard gain and first down. LSU drove and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard Jarrett Lee pass to Terrance Toliver with 6 seconds remaining.

5. No. 1 LSU 9, No. 2 Alabama 6, OT (2011): This one would rank higher on the list but for the way the season ended in the rematch between these two teams (when Alabama dominated the Tigers 21-0 with a BCS championship at stake). One of several “Game of the Century” meetings between these two programs, LSU prevailed in this defensive struggle in part because of a blocked field goal and three long missed field goals from Alabama -- including Cade Foster’s miss from 52 yards in overtime.

4. No. 5 LSU 30, No. 18 Auburn 24 (2007): Some might question the sanity of Miles’ final play call against Auburn in 2007, but he insists the call came in plenty early enough and quarterback Matt Flynn simply took too long to start the play. Regardless, LSU turned the tables on Auburn when instead of centering the ball to prepare for a makeable game-winning field goal try, Flynn instead dropped back and hit Demetrius Byrd with a 22-yard touchdown pass that he completed with just 1 second to play.

3. No. 12 LSU 24, No. 5 Alabama 21 (2010): This game is remembered for two things: Miles getting caught eating grass by CBS’ TV cameras, and for the reverse the Tigers perfectly executed moments before his infamous grass-eating display. LSU trailed 14-13 with 9:51 to play when it faced fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. The Tigers caught the Tide defense completely off guard, however, when they ran right only to then flip the ball to tight end DeAngelo Peterson, who streaked around left end for a 23-yard gain. LSU would go on to score the go-ahead touchdown and never trailed again, knocking Alabama out of the SEC West race.

2. No. 1 LSU 28, No. 9 Florida 24 (2007): Many LSU observers rank this among the Tigers’ greatest victories in the long history of Tiger Stadium. Tim Tebow and the defending BCS champion Gators led 24-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, but LSU rallied to win, with Jacob Hester plowing into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 1:09 to play. LSU converted all five of its fourth downs that night, including the fourth-and-4 Byrd touchdown reception that cut Florida’s lead to 24-21, and two conversion runs by Hester on the game-winning drive.

1. No. 2 LSU 38, No. 1 Ohio State 24 (2007): There are more entertaining games on this list and several more interesting wins from the 2007 season alone, but none of them were for a national championship. Miles’ Tigers dominated most of the game against Ohio State and claimed the program’s second BCS title in five seasons.

Five that missed the cut:
No. 1 LSU 42, No. 12 Georgia 10 (2011 SEC championship game)
No. 5 LSU 21, No. 14 Tennessee 14 (2007 SEC championship game)
No. 9 LSU 23, No. 3 South Carolina 21 (2012)
No. 4 LSU 41, No. 11 Notre Dame 14 (2006)
No. 5 LSU 16, No. 4 Alabama 13, OT (2005)

Second-year stars: LSU

June, 10, 2014
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One of the most beneficial aspects of the LSU coaching staff’s philosophy of liberally using true freshmen is that those youngsters are often ready to blossom in their second seasons. Think Tyrann Mathieu, who became one of the SEC’s most explosive players as a sophomore in 2011. Think Patrick Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Eric Reid -- all of whom emerged as stars when they were sophomores. The list could go on and on and on.

With that history in mind, it should come as no surprise that LSU has plenty of candidates who are poised to repeat what Mathieu and company accomplished in recent seasons by achieving stardom in their second year in the SEC.

The Tigers are next up in our series projecting who might become a second-year star at each SEC program.

[+] EnlargeRashard Robinson
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLocking down Texas A&M's Mike Evans gave a sign of what rising LSU sophomore Rashard Robinson can do.
Class recap: Thanks in part to LSU’s 11 early entries into the 2013 NFL draft, the Tigers had lots of holes for freshmen to fill last fall. Most notably, cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White had jumped into the starting lineup by the end of the season. But a number of other freshmen played last season, including Anthony Jennings -- who filled in at quarterback when senior Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending knee injury in November -- defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, defensive end/linebacker Kendell Beckwith, tight end DeSean Smith and offensive lineman Ethan Pocic. Still, some of the most talented players in the class redshirted in 2013, and there should be several breakout candidates from that bunch, including receiver John Diarse and defensive linemen Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore. Overall, the 2013 signing class has left a small impression already, but this should be the year where its impact is truly felt.

Second-year star: CB Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1/163)

Recruiting stock: A three-star athlete from Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- the same school that sent Peterson to LSU -- Robinson wasn’t cleared to enroll at LSU until three days before the first game. But his dynamic athleticism helped him begin contributing by Week 2 and start by the end of the season.

2013 in review: Robinson put himself on the map when he shut down Biletnikoff Award finalist Mike Evans for most of the game in LSU’s dismantling of Texas A&M. Evans averaged 107.2 receiving yards per game, but he had only three catches for 13 yards against Robinson before adding a 38-yard reception against a different Tigers defender late in the game. Robinson also notched his first career interception in the game. He finished the season with 16 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and four passes defended.

2014 potential: Now that he has found his footing, Robinson is poised to team with White to become LSU’s next set of shutdown cornerbacks. As long as he keeps his academic ship in order, the sky is the limit. He probably needs to add some weight to his thin frame, but Robinson has the athleticism and coverage skills to dominate in the SEC and become a pro cornerback in the not-so-distant future.

Also watch for: Aside from Robinson and White, Smith is another top candidate for the “second-year star” honor from LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron typically utilizes the tight end, and Smith’s receiving skills could make him a major weapon this fall. In addition, Beckwith generated headlines by switching to middle linebacker during spring practice, and he seems ready to challenge D.J. Welter for playing time there. Keep an eye, also, on LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and the previously mentioned redshirt freshman defensive linemen, who will almost certainly all play key roles this fall. Any of these players would make sense as the LSU pick for this series, but Robinson’s potential pushed him to the top of the list.

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.

UGA-LSU games always memorable

September, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – As an SEC West school, LSU is hardly a fixture on Georgia's annual football schedule. But when the Tigers and Bulldogs do get together, the results are almost always memorable.

Just think back over the past decade. Two meetings in the SEC championship game – one won by each school. The phantom celebration penalty against Georgia receiver A.J. Green in 2009, helping pave the way for LSU's comeback victory. Georgia putting huge point totals on LSU's defending BCS champion teams in 2004 and 2008.

There's a lot to remember – and just like in Saturday's meeting between No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0) – there are often major SEC and BCS implications in play.

“[I told the younger players] any game can go down to the last second, but what kind of fight that they're going to have to be ready for,” said Georgia fifth-year senior receiver Rantavious Wooten, one of the few Bulldogs who were on the team when LSU last visited Athens in 2009. “They've got aspirations just like we do. They want a championship and we want a championship and this game right here, this is the game for it. So I just let them know what to expect and how it's going to be and just to get ready for it.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 3-4 against LSU since arriving at UGA in 2001 and Tigers coach Les Miles is 2-2 against the Bulldogs. Let's take a look at the last five times their programs squared off:

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Mark Richt and the Bulldogs hope to give LSU its first loss of the season on Saturday.
2011 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 1 LSU 42, No. 16 Georgia 10
In one of the most bizarre games of Richt's tenure, Georgia's defense thoroughly dominated the first half. LSU didn't muster a single first down and was in danger of falling down by a big margin, but Georgia receivers dropped a pair of potential first-half touchdown passes and LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu took a kick back for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Georgia at halftime. The second half was a completely different story, as the Bulldogs committed a couple of turnovers, LSU's pounding rushing attack began to have its intended effect and Todd Grantham's defense seemed helpless as the Tigers rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns after intermission, turning the game into a rout.

Oct. 3, 2009 (Athens): No. 4 LSU 20, No. 18 Georgia 13
This one will forever be remembered among Georgia fans for a referee's questionable decision to penalize Georgia superstar Green for excessive celebration following his leaping, go-ahead touchdown catch with 1:09 to play, giving Georgia its first lead at 13-12. The penalty forced the Bulldogs to kick off from their own 15 and LSU return specialist Trindon Holliday made them pay by returning the kickoff to the Georgia 43, with a 5-yard penalty against the Bulldogs on the kickoff moving LSU even closer to the UGA end zone. Two plays later, Charles Scott rushed for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard run with 46 seconds to play allowing LSU to improve to 5-0.

Oct. 25, 2008 (Baton Rouge): No. 7 Georgia 52, No. 13 LSU 38
As wild as the ending of the 2009 game was, this one was crazy from the very beginning. Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble returned an interception for a 40-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and added a 53-yard pick six in the game's closing minutes as the Bulldogs hung half-a-hundred on LSU's porous defense. The Tigers surrendered 50-plus twice that season – the first time in school history that had happened – leading Miles to dump co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto after the season in favor of former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, who has been in Baton Rouge ever since.

2005 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14
Although fellow receiver Sean Bailey caught a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from D.J. Shockley that got Georgia off on the right foot, Bulldogs senior Bryan McClendon – now the team's running backs coach – might have delivered the play of the game when he blocked a punt midway through the second quarter deep in LSU territory. That helped Georgia score to take a commanding 21-7 halftime lead which LSU never threatened. The Bulldogs' defense also did its job that day, limiting an LSU rushing attack that dominated in their 2003 meeting in Atlanta to just 74 rushing yards.

Oct. 2, 2004 (Athens): No. 3 Georgia 45, No. 13 LSU 16
Nick Saban's final game against Georgia while at LSU ended with a humiliating loss, as the Tigers surrendered the most points allowed by an LSU defense since Florida hung 56 on them in 1996. Georgia quarterback David Greene threw only 19 passes, but set a school record by completing five of them for touchdowns. The Bulldogs had lost twice to Saban's Tigers in 2003 – 17-10 in Baton Rouge and 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game – but they quickly exacted a degree of revenge by jumping out to a 24-0 lead before LSU could answer. The Bulldogs also generated three turnovers and sacked LSU quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell five times.

Both teams have been ranked in the top-20 in all seven of their meetings in the Richt era, and this will be the second time they've both been in the top-10. While not every meeting between the two has produced a close contest, they've all been memorable – and almost always impacted their respective championship chases.

“They've been great games. ... Just about every one of them, both teams are ranked teams and at least in the Top 25,” Richt said. “It is a cross-conference rival, so it doesn't hold quite the weight of an Eastern Division [game] when it comes to who plays in Atlanta. We could lose the game and still control our destiny, and they could lose the game and still control their destiny, so it's not do-or-die as far as league play, but it's very important for any national title hopes.”

ATHENS, Ga. -- Arthur Lynch refused to let snapper Nathan Theus remain the only scapegoat after North Texas blocked a Georgia punt for a touchdown, the fourth huge special teams error by the Bulldogs in three games.

Although Theus' snap was high -- an error that led Georgia's coaching staff to replace him with Trent Frix later in the game -- senior punt protector Lynch said he misdiagnosed what the Mean Green's rushers were preparing to do and shifted the Bulldogs' coverage.

“That was my fault,” Lynch said. “I should have shifted the protection to the left. The snap and the punter had nothing to do with that. If I would have just gotten the protection corrected … I'll put that on me. We'll correct that.

“It's unfortunate, I knew what was going on and I should have called timeout so we could have shifted it. And that's inexcusable, especially for the fact that I've been doing it for three years.”

No. 9 Georgia (2-1) thoroughly dominated Saturday's game statistically, but two special teams touchdowns by North Texas -- the Mean Green also returned a kickoff for a 99-yard score -- helped make it 21-all early in the third quarter.

It continued a string of early mishaps in the kicking game -- Theus' high snap late in the third quarter against Clemson prevented the Bulldogs from attempting a potential game-tying 20-yard field goal, plus punter Collin Barber dropped a snap in the second quarter against South Carolina, setting up a short touchdown drive – that form an alarming trend.

[+] EnlargeNorth Texas
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNorth Texas players celebrate after a blocked punt resulted in a touchdown against Georgia.
“We've probably had 100 special teams plays by now, but you just hate that the bad ones have been really bad,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

The timing of those errors might be useful for Georgia's coaches, however, considering the opponent preparing to visit on Saturday. Traditionally dangerous on special teams, players from No. 6 LSU (4-0) are no doubt excited over the possibility of making a game-changing play off a return or fake kick against the Bulldogs.

That's a convenient reminder where Richt's coaching staff can reinforce the importance of special teams in this week's practices.

“It's OK to be on high alert this week, so maybe it will help us,” Richt said.

The older players on Georgia's roster probably don't need the reminder on how LSU's return teams can shift the course of a game. The last time these teams played, in the 2011 SEC championship game, LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu helped swing a game that Georgia controlled early with a 62-yard touchdown return and helped turn it into a rout with a 47-yard runback later in the game.

Mathieu is now in the NFL, but the Tigers' current return specialist, Odell Beckham Jr., is nearly as explosive.

“Unfortunately for us, we've seen what their return teams can do: The Honey Badger,” Lynch said.

Auburn didn't give Beckham many opportunities to break a long return on Saturday night. He was able to return just one kickoff and one punt thanks to Auburn's deep and high kicks, neutralizing an explosive player who returned a missed UAB field goal 109 yards for a touchdown earlier this season.

There were still a couple of big special teams plays on Saturday, however -- one that helped LSU and one that hurt. Auburn punter Steven Clark dropped a snap and dove on the ball for a 16-yard loss at his own 10 early in the game, setting up an LSU touchdown on the next play that helped the Tigers go up 14-0.

Leading 28-7 in the third quarter, LSU coach Les Miles elected to fake a field goal at Auburn's 14. Seth Fruge ran 8 yards on the fake, but was stopped short of a first down. Auburn then drove 94 yards for a touchdown that made it a more competitive game, although LSU still won 35-21.

That aggressiveness is part of the reason the Bulldogs know they can't afford to keep making sloppy errors in the kicking game.

“We've just had a couple of off calls. I'm not worried about it,” said Barber, who averaged 49.8 yards per punt against North Texas. “I trust my protection, pride team. We're going to be the best. There's no doubt in my mind that we can't fix it and get it better by LSU.”

That could mean using different personnel on the coverage units, Richt said, beyond simply using Frix as the punt snapper -- although he said it's likely that change will remain in place this week.

“Your center can't afford to be spraying one a game. You can't afford it,” Richt said. “It's got to be on the money. It's got to be where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be there.”

The coaches will make those decisions this week after reviewing what went wrong -- as well as what went right -- against the Mean Green. And Richt made the point on his Sunday teleconference that there has been more right than wrong.

“We'd been really covering kicks extremely well all year long and then you get one like that [touchdown],” he said. “You might think it's broken, but it's really not broken. We've just got to go back to doing what we've been doing all year long and that's placing the ball where we want it and getting guys down there covering it, being in the right spots and making the play when they get there.”

The Bulldogs would do themselves an enormous favor if they get back to doing that on Saturday. Beckham is one of the nation's most dangerous all-purpose performers and he will absolutely exploit any crack in Georgia's kick coverage schemes.

Cleaning up those mistakes was one of the first objectives when the Bulldogs began preparing for LSU on Sunday afternoon.

“Trust me, we know what kind of guys they've got,” Lynch said. “… Special teams will be a deciding factor in this game, I think.”

SEC lunch links

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
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We wrap up the week with a few Friday links:

Alabama, LSU form NFL pipeline

May, 20, 2013
5/20/13
5:15
PM ET
Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com recently suggested that an NFL roster comprised exclusively of Alabama and LSU players wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

As he points out, according to a listing on ESPN.com, there are 49 players from LSU in the NFL and 41 players from Alabama.

In reading that piece, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation I had with former Alabama offensive line coach Joe Pendry just prior to the first Alabama-LSU game in 2011. Pendry retired following the 2010 season and had served as offensive coordinator for both the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans in the NFL before joining Nick Saban at Alabama.

Realizing how much talent would be on the field that night at Bryant-Denny Stadium, especially on defense, I jokingly asked Pendry how anybody would score.

He estimated that somewhere around 18 to 20 of the 22 defensive starters would end up playing in the NFL.

Looking back, he was dead on.

Of the 22 defensive starters that night, 16 were selected in the NFL draft. Six other defensive players who played in the game were also drafted. That’s a total of 22 players. Two other players that went undrafted spent last season on NFL practice squads.

We’re talking high-round draft picks, too. Of the 22 who were drafted, 14 went in the top three rounds.

Moreover, as many as seven other defensive players from that game who are still in school are likely to be drafted in either 2014 or 2015. Among them: Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and safety Craig Loston of LSU.

So, the final tally of defensive players from that game (some played on special teams) who were either drafted or have spent some time on an NFL roster will likely end up being 30-plus.

No wonder those two teams played eight quarters that year, and only one touchdown was scored between them.

Here’s a rundown of the draft picks from that game on defense:

ALABAMA
LSU

More trouble for LSU's Jeremy Hill

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
9:25
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LSU's football team was due a quiet offseason, especially given how turbulent the last two have been.

But this one hasn't started off too well.

Leading rusher Jeremy Hill was arrested early Saturday morning and charged with simple battery following an incident at Reggie's, a bar near the LSU campus. He was jailed briefly and released after posting a $500 bond, according to booking records. Hill is accused of punching a 20-year-old man and was caught on video, according to police. A second attacker is still being sought after the victim said he lost consciousness.

LSU coach Les Miles was in New York City attending the NFL draft and has yet to comment. He dealt with the Tyrann Mathieu situation last summer when Mathieu was dismissed from the team after failing multiple drug tests. And then two years ago, there was the August bar brawl involving starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson that led to Jefferson being suspended for the first part of the season.

The Tigers had a school-record nine players taken in this year's NFL draft, but one of those, cornerback Tharold Simon, was arrested in his hometown two nights before he was drafted in the fifth round for public intimidation of a police officer, resisting an officer, a noise violation and obstruction of a roadway.

In Hill's case, being involved in an incident at a bar is not a huge deal in itself. It happens all the time with college students.

But his past potentially makes it a very big deal. If he's convicted, he could be in violation of his probation from pleading guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile in January of 2011. Hill originally signed with LSU in 2011, but didn't attend LSU that year after being arrested on charges of oral sexual battery involving a 14-year-old girl. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile and accepted a six-month suspended sentence with supervised probation for two years.
You've seen Mel Kiper Jr.'s second-round mock draft so we thought we'd throw another one at you before tonight's festivities begin. This time, we're taking a look at Scouts Inc.'s predictions for the second round.

Kiper had eight SEC players projected to go in the second around, while Scouts Inc. has nine, including former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Here's a look at Scouts Inc.'s second-round predictions for SEC players:

No. 34: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (San Francisco 49ers)

No. 37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Cincinnati Bengals)

No. 43: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

No. 45: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (San Diego Chargers)

No. 48: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Pittsburgh Steelers)

No. 49: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (New York Giants)

No. 51: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Washington Redskins)

No. 53: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (Cincinnati Bengals)

No. 61: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (San Francisco 49ers)

Tyrann Mathieu upset at report

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
5:45
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Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is disputing a USA Today Sports report that has a quote attributed to him from an unnamed NFL assistant coach about failed drug tests.

The assistant coach told USA Today that Mathieu was asked how many drug tests he failed in college and that he replied that he "quit counting at 10."

Mathieu contacted LSU Friday and disputed the report:
"It is irresponsible and shows a lack of integrity for anyone to disclose medical information regardless of how it was gathered. I would expect that conversations regarding my drug testing history during the course of my medical treatment would be private. LSU has a strong drug testing program and LSU went to great lengths to help me in my treatment and recovery. I understand that many people enjoy reading about the negative side of sports, but to publish those second-hand comments without being given a chance to address that comment prior to the publication of the article is irresponsible."

This could also be quite an ordeal for LSU if Mathieu did in fact fail more than 10 drug tests. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva acted quickly and defended LSU's substance abuse program:
"LSU has a strong substance abuse program that tries to identify and assist in the treatment and long term recovery process of drug use and abuse, and it is a program we would put up against any in the country. Once a substance abuse problem is identified, LSU is diligent in tracking those individuals over extended periods of time with frequent testing and engages them in meaningful opportunities for support through counseling and substance abuse treatment."

Mathieu's history of substance abuse has NFL teams apprehensive about drafting him, but he did sound sincere at February's NFL combine when he talked about about how he had changed his lifestyle through rehab. However, this certainly isn't something Mathieu needed a week before the NFL draft. Whether it's true or not, some NFL teams could still be concerned about the prospects of drafting Mathieu.

Mel Kiper Jr. Mock Draft 4.0

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
4:00
PM ET
We are getting even closer to this month's NFL draft, so get ready for yet another mock draft.

This time, ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is at it again, but has added a second-round mock as well in his Mock Draft 4.0 . Kiper projects that 21 former SEC players will be taken within the first two rounds, including what would be a record 13 in the first round.

Eleven players were drafted out of the SEC in the 2007 draft, and the record for the most taken from one conference in the first round belongs to the ACC, which had 12 taken in 2006.

Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is still projected to be taken No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here's a look at where Kiper has SEC players in the first two rounds:

FIRST ROUND

No. 1: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (Kansas City Chiefs)
No. 3: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (Oakland Raiders)
No. 5: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (Detroit Lions)
No. 9: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (New York Jets)
No. 10: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (Tennessee Titans)
No. 12: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (Miami Dolphins)
No. 14: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (Carolina Panthers)
No. 15: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (New Orleans Saints)
No. 21: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
No. 23: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (Minnesota Vikings)
No. 25: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (Minnesota Vikings)
No. 26: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Green Bay Packers)
No. 29: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (New England Patriots)

SECOND ROUND

No. 34: Matt Elam, S, Florida (San Francisco 49ers)
No. 44: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Carolina Panthers)
No. 48: Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia (Pittsburgh Steelers)
No. 50: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (Chicago Bears)
No. 53: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Cincinnati Bengals)
No. 57: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (Houston Texans)
No. 58: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)
No. 59: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (New England Patriots)
  • Alabama leads the way with five players projected to go within the first two rounds.
  • Moore has really seen his draft stock fall since his dismal showing at the NFL combine in February. He went from a top-five pick to out of the first round. Now, he's projected to go 58th to the Broncos. LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who was viewed as a first-round pick before last season, has also seen his stock plummet.
  • Swearinger is rising up the draft charts. His impressive workouts this spring and keen field instinct make him a very attractive prospect to teams looking for a ball hawk in the second round. While Swearinger is moving upward, LSU safety Eric Reid is falling. Another projected first-rounder before last season, Kiper doesn't even have him in the first two rounds, despite a solid workout at the combine.
  • Mathieu looked to have played himself out of the first couple of rounds because of his off-field issues, but after impressing scouts this spring, he's back in the good graces of the draft. He might not be an every-down cover corner, but there's no denying Mathieu's athleticism and game-changing ability.

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