LSU Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch
5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch for LSU
The LSU Tigers enjoyed a strong 2013 campaign, finishing the season at 10-3 with a win in the Outback Bowl. Les Miles and company return in 2014 with their sights set on the SEC Championship and spot in the College Football Playoff to play for the national title this time around. To get there, however, they’ll need to work out some positional battles during spring practice.
As complete as LSU was in 2013, there are a number of key positions that must be restocked for the team to have success in 2014. A huge part of their team has moved on either due to graduation or early declaration for the NFL. The challenge for the Tigers now becomes to find the next man up to take their spots in the starting lineup and continue the Tigers’ success for another year.
Finding that next man up can be tricky, however. That is where the key positional battles in spring practice come into play. This is the first opportunity for the coaching staff to see what their 2014 team is going to look like on the football field (minus incoming freshmen, of course) and start to separate the difference-makers and leaders of the squad from the reserves and bench-warmers. It’s a time where collegiate careers can be made and stars get born.
For the Tigers, they have a number of must-see competitions to keep an eye on during this practice period. With that being said, here are five spring practice positional battles to watch as LSU kicks off the 2014 season.
5. Offensive Line
LSU will have to replace second-team All-SEC selection Trai Turner this offseason after the redshirt sophomore declared for the NFL Draft. Turner started all 13 games for the Tigers last season and was a serious presence on the interior of the line. He’s a big-bodied mauler that will be difficult to replace.
This spring will be a huge one for the offensive line competition. Fehoko Fanaika appeared in 12 games last season as a backup and will likely have first crack at proving he deserves a promotion to the starting lineup. He won’t be alone, however, in going after that open spot. Ethan Pocic is the primary backup at center but is capable of playing other positions on the line if necessary. Jonah Austin also returns after serving as a reserve last season while K.J. Malone and Andy Dodd come off redshirts this spring after arriving as four-star prospects in 2013.
If nobody nails down the guard job during the spring, LSU could turn to incoming freshmen like Garrett Brumfield or William Clapp. Brumfield was rated as the No. 1 guard prospect in 2014 by ESPN and could make a push for immediate playing time. Clapp is no slouch either, coming in rated as a four-star prospect as well. A wealth of options and a new offensive line coach should make for an interesting spring in the trenches for LSU.
The Tigers were unsettled at safety in 2013, using seven different starting combinations at the back end of their defense. Craig Loston was their only consistent starter at one safety position but he’s now gone due to graduation. Micah Eugene, who started two games early in the season, is also no longer with the team after leaving the program in December.
On the bright side, all that shuffling means LSU has options in 2014. Jalen Mills slid over and started his first game at safety in the Outback Bowl victory and could stick at that position this spring. Corey Thompson, Ronald Martin, and Rickey Jefferson all logged starts at safety in 2013 and will return this season to see if they can stick in the starting lineup. The team also welcomes early enrollee Edward Paris Jr. (the No. 4 rated safety in the 2014 class) to the mix this spring to see if the young star can crack the lineup early.
This summer, the team will also add talented incoming freshmen like Jamal Adams (the No. 2 rated safety prospect), Devin Voorhies, and John Battle IV to the mix to see if the young talent will rise to the top of the depth chart. While they managed the constant turnover well enough in 2013, LSU should focus on establishing a depth chart at safety during the spring to help create some consistency at the position in 2014.
3. Defensive Tackle
LSU watched both of their starting defensive tackles from 2013, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, declare early for the 2014 NFL Draft and must now find replacements for their interior line. Johnson recorded 35 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks while Ferguson added 40 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack, as the duo played the majority of important downs last season. The Tigers leaned on them to cover up a thin rotation at tackle last season but will be forced to address the issue this spring.
Christian LaCouture earned immediate playing time last fall as an early enrollee and become one of the few key reserves on the LSU defensive front along with junior Quentin Thomas. Mickey Johnson will be one of the older members of the group as a junior and will be looking for a bounce-back year after being hampered by injuries throughout the 2013 season. LSU will also get some intriguing players into the mix this spring off redshirts, including Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain, and Frank Herron.
Those returning players will have to show some serious growth during spring ball or risk getting pushed aside by some of the team’s incoming freshmen this fall. Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao, and Davon Godchaux all appear have the ability to be immediate plug-and-play options in 2014. The Tigers will have plenty of options at defensive tackle for 2014 but establishing a pecking order in the spring will be huge.
2. Wide Receiver
Last season, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham formed one of the best one-two receiver tandems in college football and accounted for 72 percent of the team’s receiving yardage in 2013. With both of them gone, along with senior Kadron Boone, the LSU receiving corps is basically starting from scratch this spring and will be looking for new playmakers to emerge and distinguish themselves.
Only two players will return from the 2013 roster who caught a pass last season as a wide receiver. Travin Dural (7 catches, 145 yards, 2 TD) and Quantavius Leslie (1 catch, 11 yards) will hope their experience edge helps them land at the top of the receiver rotation but LSU is not short on options this spring. John Diarse, Avery Patterson, and Kevin Spears are coming off redshirts in 2013 and have all the potential in the world to be impact players. Diarse and Peterson both looked like they would have seen some playing time as freshman before injuries in preseason camp got them redshirted.
This spring will be extremely important for the returning receivers to establish themselves before a star-studded crop of receiver recruits hit campus this summer. Malachi Dupre (the No. 1 WR prospect), Trey Quinn (No. 3), and ESPN 300 recruits D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch will provide an immediate spark to the position and could push aside some of the returning players if they haven’t established their roles in the rotation.
Zach Mettenberger saw his resurgent senior season cut short in 2013 with a torn ACL at the end of the regular season. That thrust Anthony Jennings into the starter position to close out the year where he flashed some great things (like a 99-yard touchdown drive to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks) and some bad things (7-of-19, 82 yards, 1 INT) which keeps the LSU quarterback job wide open heading into spring practice.
Jennings certainly has the inside track thanks to his playing experience but he will have to show some growth this spring in order to hold off the challenge of redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig and exciting early enrollee Brandon Harris (No. 2 dual-threat QB in 2014 class). Harris has a similar ability to Jennings to make plays with his arm and his legs but could be headed for a redshirt in 2014 to save a year of eligibility. Senior Rob Bolden also returns this spring, looking to get back into the starting lineup after transferring from the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The coaches are leaning towards letting Jennings keep the starting job in 2014 but if he regresses at all during the spring, it will open up the door for one of the other QBs on the roster to make their move. Whether it’s the experienced veteran Bolden (who threw for 2,045 yards and 7 TD with Penn State) or the exciting Harris, Jennings can’t rest on his laurels this spring if he hopes to keep the No. 1 quarterback job.