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Insider

Freshman class ready to shine

8/9/2012

From here on out they'll be the silent contributors.

They make up a significant chunk of this 2012 LSU team, and many of them are expected to make major contributions this fall. But this 2012 class of Tiger freshmen -- barring some extraordinary circumstances -- won't be heard from again this season after Tuesday's interview session at LSU media day.

That's a funny thought when considering the impact this freshman class could make. The Tigers have high hopes for their youngsters, whether its a four-man linebacker class that is expected to give added depth to a unit that returns just one entrenched starter. The same can be said for the secondary, where LSU doesn't have many proven commodities behind safety Eric Reid and the cornerback tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon.

"We're all here to work, and we're all here trying to play a role in one of the best defenses," said freshman linebacker Kwon Alexander. "I just love being here, and I love being part of the family."

LSU has only been in camp for a week, but these soon-to-be unsung heroes are already starting to learn their roles. And recent seasons under Les Miles have proven one thing: youth has no bearing on the ability to contribute. With three weeks until the season opener, the LSU coaching staff isn't pulling any punches on its freshmen.

"Everything is being thrown at us, and I'm just trying to make sure I stay in my playbook and stay in the film room -- make sure I don't have to think as much," said freshman safety Corey Thompson.

That's easier said than done, however, as the learning process accelerates. The first three days of camp were spent in split squad practices, where the younger players could acclimate. But already after just seven days, the freshmen are being thrown into the fire with a roster that earned a No. 1 ranking in the opening USA Today coaches' poll last week.

"It's a big step. I don't think any freshman could come in and say he's ready for this big competition that's coming," said freshman cornerback Dwayne Thomas. "I was pretty nervous, but my teammates got around me, told me to relax ... . We were brought here for a reason."

It isn't just blind confidence pushing for playing time. The Tigers' coaches know they'll be calling the numbers of unheralded players this fall. In his Media Day press conference, defensive coordinator John Chavis acknowledged the Tigers' penchant for developing young talent -- something he plans to continue in the coming season.

"There's some real push for playing time with those young guys that are going to get in the mix," Chavis said. "And when I say young, I want you to understand, we're not afraid to play young players -- that's what we've done here."

Chavis himself made the point that in 2010, none of the trio of Reid, Mathieu and Simon was a proven commodity. But by season's end, those three accounted for all four Tiger takeaways in the Cotton Bowl win against Texas A&M. That type of progress is something Chavis said he hopes to see again.

"Because of some youth, this will be a defense that gets better and better with experience," Chavis said. "We've been blessed with some depth, but we'll be a little bit younger (this year)."

That's not an understatement on Chavis' part. Defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has wowed reporters with his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame, won't turn 18 until late October. Classmate Deion Jones, another member of the incoming troupe of linebackers, doesn't turn 18 until November. That age difference is one that comes with some growing pains, as Jones is finding out as he gets used to SEC football.

"I asked a bunch of guys how old they were, and when they make their birthday, and I'm the baby," Jones said. "A welcome-to-college moment? Yeah, (offensive guard) La'El Collins smashed me on a three-spot drill. He said I gave him a pretty good blow, but I think I got most of it."

But don't expect any of that to deter the youngsters. We've seen the impact a freshman can make -- even on a defense this talented -- and with camp getting into full swing, the young guys aren't backing down.

"As long I keep learning from these older guys, there's a chance for some playing time," Hunter said. "I'm comfortable, but there's room for improvement, and there's always more learning."