SULPHUR, La. -- Former Louisiana State University linebacker Tahj Jones was injured after being shot by another former LSU football player, police said Saturday.
Sulphur Police Chief Lewis Coats said Jones, a Sulphur resident, was shot Friday night at an apartment complex by Brandon Winey, a former offensive tackle for LSU.
Jones, 24, went to the apartment complex to visit a woman and Winey arrived shortly after to visit the same woman. A fight ensued, and Winey pulled out a handgun and shot Jones in the abdomen, Coats said.
The woman drove Jones to a hospital in Sulphur. He was transferred to Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria for surgery Saturday morning. Hospital spokeswoman Charla Ducote said Jones was in serious condition following surgery.
Winey fled in his vehicle and was later arrested at his house in Lake Charles, Coats said. Winey, 36, was charged with attempted second-degree murder and remained jailed Saturday in Sulphur on $1 million bond, according to the Sulphur police department. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney.
LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette says the university is aware of and monitoring the situation.
Jones, whose college career ended after last season, had taken part in LSU's pro day last Wednesday. A versatile linebacker who also played on special teams, Jones started three games and played in eight for LSU in 2013, but played only one game in 2012 because of academic problems.
He was a backup in 2011 and 2010, coming to LSU after twice being named to the 5A all-state first team at Sulphur High School.
An obvious point this spring was that Les Miles’ coaching staff was working with an incomplete roster. Seven underclassmen jumped ship to enter the NFL draft and only two of the Tigers’ 23 signees -- quarterback Brandon Harris and defensive back Edward Paris -- enrolled early to participate in spring practice.
That leaves plenty of questions as the team moves into the offseason -- five of which we’ll address now:
5. Do the Tigers have adequate depth in the backfield?
But even when freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams arrive this summer, will that be enough? An injury here or there could cause major problems. For example, look what happened at Georgia last season. When the season opened, it appeared as though the Bulldogs had one of the nation’s top backfields with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall leading the way and freshmen J.J. Green, Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman serving as backups. But then Gurley suffered a minor injury in the opener against Clemson followed by a serious ankle injury in Game 4 against LSU. The next week, Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury.
All of a sudden, Georgia was down to a bunch of freshmen -- all of whom were mid-level prospects -- by the first week of October. It’s no mystery why the Bulldogs went 1-2, and very nearly 0-3, in that October stretch before Gurley returned to the lineup. A lack of backfield depth in the SEC can be a season killer when you make a living on the ground like Georgia and LSU typically do.
4. How many players will figure into the Tigers’ plans on the defensive line? And how good can they be this season?
Aside from quarterback play, this might be the most important factor for the 2014 Tigers. Brick Haley’s bunch was a bit erratic last season, and now it must function with youngsters replacing departed juniors Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the middle.
The good news is that there is plenty of talent on hand along the interior line. Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas worked as first-teamers, with redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron chipping in as reserves. There is an extremely high ceiling with that group, but they’re about as green as it gets. It will also bear watching during preseason camp to see whether a signee like Travonte Valentine can crack Haley’s rotation, too.
The end spots are also a bit of a mystery. Jermauria Rasco -- who missed the spring while returning from offseason surgery -- and Danielle Hunter seem locked in as starters, but will they improve upon middling results in 2013? And who fills in the depth chart behind them? Tashawn Bower seems like a safe bet, but who else? We’ll see.
3. Who will start at safety?
Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin seemed to have these jobs locked down during the spring, but Rickey Jefferson and Corey Thompson -- another player who missed spring practice due to injury -- will be in the mix in August.
Keep in mind that nearly every time this position came up in one of his post-practice press gatherings, Miles mentioned how the Tigers’ safety signees -- Jamal Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle -- will be part of the preseason competition, too.
2. Will this offense be productive enough to win a championship?
It probably was last season, but for once it was LSU’s defense that was in the middle of a retooling effort. John Chavis’ defense appears to be on the rise now, but Cam Cameron must replace nearly every significant skill player from last season’s offense.
Freshmen like Fournette, Harris and receiver Malachi Dupre don’t just look like serviceable college players, they look like superstars in the making. But it’s a lot to ask of true freshmen to be superstars immediately.
Cameron’s dilemma is that he will almost certainly rely on at least a half-dozen newcomers to make an impact this fall. It’s a tricky proposition, but his getting reliable production out of that group might mean the difference between LSU contending for the SEC West title this fall or having to wait another year or two until they mature and bring the Tigers back to national championship contention.
1. Will Harris overtake Anthony Jennings at quarterback?
We can’t post this list and fail to address the biggest question surrounding the Tigers this spring. After a month of practice, there doesn’t seem to be an answer, although Harris clearly outperformed his sophomore counterpart in the spring game.
LSU’s coaches understandably see no need to declare a starter five months before the season starts. They’ll battle it out this summer in passing sessions and then again in August. Harris looks to be the contender with higher upside, but he must prove he can avoid the decision-making problems that most freshman quarterbacks encounter when the pressure of the season arrives.
Prediction No. 1: Freshmen will contend for playing time
We were hardly going out on a limb here, but it appears as though plenty of redshirt freshmen secured 2014 playing time over the last month. Players worth mentioning from that group include receiver John Diarse and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore.
Prediction No. 2: Anthony Jennings keeps the QB job
Outcome: To be determined. Harris clearly outplayed Jennings in last Saturday’s spring game, but LSU’s coaches and players insist the competition is far from over. Jennings etched his name into LSU lore by leading the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas last year in relief of an injured Zach Mettenberger, but his mediocre performance in the Outback Bowl and highly average spring game -- he threw two interceptions, both to linebackers who returned them for touchdowns -- leave this race wide open.
Jennings might very well start the opener against Wisconsin, but we can’t claim victory (or accept defeat) on our quarterback prediction at this point.
Prediction No. 3: Right guard isn’t the only offensive line job that’s up for grabs
Outcome: Right guard is the only spot that didn’t return a starter, so it was clearly up for grabs. We were curious as to whether new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes might shake things up along the line, but it doesn’t appear that he did.
Returning starters La'el Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliott Porter and Jerald Hawkins apparently held onto their starting roles, although it wouldn’t be completely untrue to say that some of their jobs were up for grabs had one of the reserves put together a dominant spring. Nonetheless, the right guard battle -- Evan Washington, Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic all remain in the running for the job -- was the only one that seemed highly competitive this spring.
Prediction No. 4: Rashard Robinson keeps rising at cornerback
Outcome: Another fairly safe prediction here. As long as Robinson remains on the active roster, it seems highly likely that he will build upon his late charge in 2013 and become a star in the secondary.
Harris and Rob Bolden teamed up to beat him on a pretty throw down the sideline in the spring game, but Robinson otherwise held up well last Saturday. After shutting down Texas A&M superstar Mike Evans last season, Robinson has LSU fans excited about his potential -- and he didn’t seem to hurt his cause on the practice field this spring.
Prediction No. 5: Danielle Hunter improves as a pass rusher
Outcome: Anyone who saw Hunter manhandle the second-string offensive line in the spring game -- including back-to-back sacks on one possession -- would say this prediction seems to be sound.
LSU posted just 27 sacks last season, which was a big drop-off after the last few Tigers teams boasted at least one or two scary pass rushers. Jermauria Rasco led the team with just four sacks, and Hunter tied for second with three.
It would be a major upset -- and a big disappointment -- if Hunter fails to exceed that total this fall.
Now let’s take a look at our predictions for five players to watch during the spring: Paris, Jennings, Fanaika, wide receiver Quantavius Leslie and defensive lineman Mickey Johnson.
There were some hits and misses here. Jennings was an obvious choice since he and Harris were clearly going to battle for the quarterback job. Picking either one made sense, but we went with Jennings since he was the more experienced player. Harris was the contender who generated all of the positive buzz in the spring game, however.
Fanaika, Leslie and Johnson are all veterans at positions with major playing time available, so they seemed like good picks. Fanaika is still a leading contender to start at right guard and Leslie had a productive second scrimmage (four catches, 135 yards and three touchdowns), although he was quiet in the spring game. But Johnson dealt with injuries during the spring and was not a factor in the Tigers’ competition at defensive tackle.
The problem with our Paris prediction was that we projected him as a contender at safety, which is where ESPN listed him as a prospect. The early enrollee practiced at cornerback during the spring, so we can’t feel too good about that prediction. But he was working with the second-team defense by the end of the spring, so at least he flashed some potential.
If we could redo the list, we’d place Harris, Washington, Diarse, Bain and sophomore Kendell Beckwith -- who shifted to middle linebacker this spring -- on there.
The LSU head coach was photographed attending a UT history class along with his wife, Kathy.
Months ago, amid the coaching search to replace Mack Brown, a photo of Miles being spotted on Texas' campus might have burned down the Internet. But no need to panic, LSU fans, he's only in town for his family.
What's going on here? LSU wrapped up its spring practices last week, giving Miles and his wife time to get away this week and visit their daughter, Kathryn "Smacker" Miles, a freshman on the Longhorns women's swim team.
Miles also attended Texas' annual academic awards banquet on Wednesday night and told the Austin American-Statesman he was impressed by the event.
"It’s an affirmation of things being done right," Miles told the newspaper. “I think the message certainly is that to compete not only in the pool but in the classroom, and I think she’s enjoying that very much."
Miles is in Austin on the same day that President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush are scheduled to speak at the LBJ Presidential Library's Civil Rights Summit, honoring the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
- LSU hosted its pro day on Wednesday and one of the focal points was Zach Mettenberger, who is coming off a knee injury and was donning pads and a helmet for his pro day, a la Johnny Manziel. Jarvis Landry also performed, Jeremy Hill tried to move on from the past and though he did no drills, Odell Beckham Jr. also impressed.
- Former Alabama quarterback and NFL draft hopeful AJ McCarron got engaged to his girlfriend, Katherine Webb, last week. Now it appears their nuptials will be part of a reality TV show.
- Auburn product Greg Robinson, one of the highest-rated players in the upcoming NFL draft, has visited only three teams but is still garnering positive buzz about his stock.
- Auburn's Brandon King has moved to boundary safety this spring and has found himself much more comfortable than a season ago.
- Bear Bryant's original employment contract with Texas A&M was recently discovered and put on display at a ceremony this week. His salary was $15,000 per year plus 1 percent of ticket sales.
- Arkansas hired E.K. Franks as its director of recruiting. He was previously the associate head coach and running backs coach at Southeastern Louisiana.
- Georgia is getting used to a different coaching arrangement for special teams than Mark Richt previously had, operating this spring with co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and John Lilly.
- Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was dismissed from the Georgia squad, plans to transfer to Louisville.
- Missouri scored a commitment from quarterback Drew Lock, the highest-ranked passer out of the state of Missouri since Blaine Gabbert.
- Kentucky freshman receiver T.V. Williams may be small in stature, but one teammate says "Don't let the size fool you," about his big-play ability.
- Tennessee running back Marlin Lane continues to work through an injured hand and has showed the maturity and consistency that coaches wanted to see from the senior.
- Ole Miss is feeling confident coming out of spring.
- The move to free safety for Mississippi State's Justin Cox has been a welcome one so far.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Although 20 of his former LSU teammates also worked out before NFL scouts at Wednesday’s pro day, Zach Mettenberger was the story.
The former Tigers quarterback seemed a bit displeased by his performance in his first public workout since undergoing surgery to repair the injured ACL and MCL in his left knee in early January. But his performance seemed to impress the pro scouts and coaches in the room, likely reinforcing his stock as a second-round pick in next month’s draft.
Mettenberger discussed the throwing session with a contingent of media members on Wednesday. Here is a portion of what he had to say:
Q: How do you think you showed what you can do in coming back from the knee surgery?
A: I have been saying for a couple weeks now that I’m healthy and good enough to know, and I don’t think all of y’all believed me. I think one thing I wanted to do is show that I could go out there and take an explosive drop and throw the ball downfield like everyone knows I can. It was great to get out there and throw the ball around with all my guys that I threw with for three years for one final time.
Q: What do you think this shows about your recovery?
A: I think people think it’s pretty remarkable at 13 weeks, where I’m at. I did a lot of good things today, but sometimes I just hold myself to almost an unrealistic standard. I wasn’t too pleased with myself on some of those throws today, but all things considered, I thought I did OK, but still a lot to improve on.
Q: How close are you to 100 percent?
A: Right now I’m probably 85, 90 percent. I think by rookie camp in May, I’ll be 100 percent.
Q: Have you had any private workouts with teams yet?
A: I haven’t had any private workouts with teams. Hopefully I’ll get more now since they’ve seen that I’m OK. You saw with the Clemson offensive lineman, he got hurt [Brandon Thomas tore his ACL in a private workout with the New Orleans Saints last week], I think, my feedback from teams, they’re afraid to work me out because they don’t want me to injure anything. So I haven’t had any private workouts, but I’ve been throwing every day with the guys here in town. We were able to jell, mesh kind of how we were, but we were still off a little bit on timing things. But I thought we did pretty well today.
Q: Do you have any workouts scheduled?
A: Yeah, I’ve got a few. I’m flying to the Jaguars tomorrow [and Saturday with the Lions]. I’ve got a couple the rest of this week and then next week. So I’m excited for all those.
Q: What do you think you’ve proven about your health?
A: I think I’ve shown that I’m not going to start the season on the PUP list. I think I showed that I’m healthy enough to go through practice, compete for a job and by the time the season rolls around in September, I should be fully healed, no question.
Q: Did you ever doubt that you’d be back so quickly?
A: You tear your ACL in late November and have surgery in early January, you kind of doubt being back in three months and throwing. But I had [LSU head trainer] Jack Marucci with me and Dr. [Brent] Bankston and they kept reminding me that I was going to be fine in three months. And here I am three months later and they were right. I probably should have stressed a little less and just listened to Jack.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Barely three months removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, Zach Mettenberger hardly took it easy in his first public throwing session before NFL talent evaluators.
The former LSU quarterback gave NFL eyeballs plenty to see -- and looked both frustrated and exhausted by the end -- when he completed 93 for 107 pass attempts at the Tigers’ pro day workouts on Wednesday.
“I’m three months out of surgery and not in playing shape and my legs are kind of tired. So yeah, that’s kind of something to expect,” said Mettenberger, who will visit the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday and said he will work out with the Detroit Lions on Saturday. “But I’m doing everything I can to work through that to be ready for rookie camp.”
Like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel at his pro day, Mettenberger threw passes while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said before the workout that they had been planning the move since well before Manziel did it, and Mettenberger added that the trend will likely continue.
“You play the game in pads,” Mettenberger said. “We talked about that probably three months ago and really started talking about it seriously two months ago. People can believe it or not, but I just think it’s going to be a new trend for quarterbacks to work out with pads on.”
Mettenberger, who wore a brace on the left knee, said he’s between 85 and 90 percent and predicted he’d be operating at full strength in time for a rookie camp in May. He showed the teams in attendance -- a group that was several hundred strong and included five head coaches and seven general managers -- a variety of drops and rollouts in order to indicate that his knee is stable.
LSU director of athletic training Jack Marucci, who helped coordinate Mettenberger’s rehab, said he placed no limitations on what Mettenberger would attempt in the workout.
“If he was practicing in spring ball, we would have let him do spring ball,” Marucci said.
Overall, it seemed to go well. Mettenberger has never had a problem zipping passes with authority, and although he wasn’t thrilled with the 14 incompletions -- about half of which came on dropped passes -- he understood that some rust was inevitable.
“Timing was a little off,” Mettenberger said. “It wasn’t the most disciplined route running that we’ve had here, something Coach Cam wouldn’t allow. But all things considered, with guys being gone and we haven’t been with Coach Cam every day for the last three months, it was a pretty good day.”
Mettenberger had a big collection of former LSU teammates to throw to on Wednesday. Among the 21 overall participants were receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright and running backs Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue and J.C. Copeland.
Problem solved. Landry’s two official times on Wednesday were 4.58 and 4.51, and he improved his production in all of the testing drills in which he participated at the combine.
“Even though it took a while [since the combine in late February], I feel like today was a positive day,” Landry said. “I got a lot out of today. I’m getting great feedback. I think now is just not letting up, just continue working and continuing to impress people.”
Landry has never been one to test particularly well, but his on-field production in 2013 was unquestioned. He ranked among the SEC’s top receivers with 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns and flashed some of the most reliable hands of any receiver in the country -- reminding Cameron of a star wideout he once coached with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Guys know he can run,” Cameron said. “They’ve already told me, ‘We know this guy can run.’ They’re going to look at the tape when it comes to a guy like that. We had Anquan Boldin, and I don’t know that Anquan ever ran a 4.58, but all he does is catch the ball, compete and win world championships. So I guess he helped himself.”
Hill also improved upon his 40 time at the combine, going from a 4.66 in Indianapolis to a 4.52 and a 4.54 on Wednesday, helping reinforce Cameron’s prediction that he can be a valuable every-down back in the pros.
One player who didn’t need to run again, however, was Beckham. He posted a 4.43 40 time at the combine and joked that he felt so good on Wednesday that he thought about trying to beat that time at pro day.
“I was warming up and I was kind of telling my dad, ‘I want to run again.’ And they were all like, ‘There’s just no point,’ ” Beckham said. “So there was a part of me that wanted to run again, just to show that I do have that speed and it wasn’t just a one-time thing.”
He seems to be the highest-rated Tiger in this draft, with some projections placing him in the middle of the first round. Beckham -- who has workouts ahead with the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills -- said he has already accepted an invitation to attend next month’s draft and is proud to be considered one of the best prospects in a loaded class of receivers.
“Honestly I wouldn’t say that I didn’t expect it, but it’s a little surprising now to finally see that they’re saying that if not the best, you’re one of the best,” Beckham said. “So it’s a great feeling to me and it’s something that I worked for.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Just 13 weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger impressed a packed house full of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts by going through a full pro day workout on Wednesday.
By most accounts, Mettenberger helped to boost his draft stock with a display that would have been considered solid even if had never been injured. He's projected as a possible second- or third-round draft choice.
"It says a lot about him. And his doctor," said New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who was one of five NFL coaches in attendance for LSU's talent-rich pro day. "It's pretty impressive. You know, 10 years ago you couldn't do that. I thought he did a real good job."
Mettenberger, who had surgery on Jan. 2 to repair his left knee, threw nearly 125 passes and made every throw while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads -- the new trend started by fellow prospect Johnny Manziel last month.
The 6-foot-5, 224-pounder moved in the pocket and threw on the run at times. And he consistently showed off a big arm that many analysts consider to be among the strongest of this year's draft prospects.
Naturally, Mettenberger showed some signs of fatigue with a few mistimed throws. But observers said he threw even more balls than quarterbacks usually do. And his arm strength remained intact through the workout.
"I thought he did outstanding. Almost miraculous," said LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the longtime former NFL coach who directed the workout. "Thirteen weeks after surgery, to come out here and throw more than a hundred balls and complete 90-plus percent of them. ...
"He was grinding today. We could have come out, made it a nice, easy workout, 50 balls. I've been to a couple of these, guys threw 40 balls and called it a day. But I think arm strength matters, and I think arm endurance matters."
Mettenberger was a little harder on himself, saying, "I wasn't too pleased with myself on some of those throws today. But sometimes I hold myself to an almost unrealistic standard. ... All things considered, I thought I did OK, but I still have a lot of room to improve on."
Mettenberger said he thinks Wednesday's workout will also encourage more NFL teams to invite him in for private workouts, since he had been told teams were hesitant to work him out because of the uncertainty over his health.
Mettenberger said his first visit is lined up for Thursday with the Jacksonville Jaguars
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel broke from his norm by commenting on the suspension of WR Dorial Green-Beckham by saying: "It stings me. It stings the players. It stings our fans."
- A whopping 17 players from last season's LSU team will participate in Wednesday's pro day in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams. Expect quarterback Zach Mettenberger to get extra attention.
- Tennessee announced that it has moved its 2014 season opener against Utah State to Sunday night (Aug. 31), making for a big opening weekend on the SEC Network.
- Steve Spurrier previews South Carolina's spring game on Saturday. He thinks it's a "chance for most of the young guys to show the coaches they can play."
- Georgia coach Mark Richt says the plan for Saturday's G-Day game will be the same as last year. Dawgs quarterback-of-the-future Brice Ramsey has a golden arm.
- Nick Saban says he's looking forward to ex-FSU Seminole Jacob Coker joining his quarterback competition. Alabama's second pro day featured safety Vinnie Sunseri working out six months after surgery for a torn ACL.
- Coach Will Muschamp predicts Florida "will have a good team next year" and fans will see "a good-looking team" in Saturday's spring game.
- Auburn WR Ricardo Louis was the latest Tiger to miss part of spring practice with an injury.
- Mississippi State's Justin Cox has moved to free safety after some struggles at cornerback.
- Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the Razorbacks have to correct some pass protection issues.
- Kentucky coaches laud the strength and conditioning program as the foundation of their football program.
- After a solid spring, expectations are growing for the Ole Miss Rebels.
- Coach Derek Mason discusses Vanderbilt's quarterback competition.
- The Johnny Manziel tour of potential NFL teams continues on Wednesday with Jacksonville.
Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema struck down rumors that star running back Alex Collins is thinking about leaving the Hogs.
- The mother of former Texas A&M receiver Thomas Johnson, the top recruit best known for disappearing after the Aggies' 2012 win at Alabama, says he is working out and wants to return to football ... just not at A&M.
- Auburn hasn't been practicing with as much physicality as usual, but Gus Malzahn says the Tigers are ready to "let it rip." Backup QB Jeremy Johnson has gotten the attention of his receivers by throwing heat.
- Here are five Ole Miss Rebels who surprised this spring.
- Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper had a standout scrimmage over the weekend and gave credit to Lane Kiffin. Former players Cyrus Kouandjio, Vinnie Sunseri, Anthony Steen, Ed Stinson and others will participate in Alabama's second pro day on Tuesday.
- After an outstanding first year, Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd is looking for more in his sophomore season.
- South Carolina's Jonathan Walton thinks he can make a bigger impact moving from inside to weakside linebacker.
- LSU's stadium expansion has prompted a "dynamic wind-change study." Coach Les Miles was just joking, but you can never really be sure.
- Kentucky coach Mark Stoops flew to Dallas to watch a little basketball.
- Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett wants no hiccups this season.
- Florida's official website announced the format and details of Saturday's spring game.
- Athlon named its All-SEC team from the BCS era.
As Les Miles’ club wraps up its 15 spring workouts, here are five things we took away from the last month on the practice field:
Whichever quarterback wins the starting job, it’s a certainty that his playing style will differ wildly from predecessor Zach Mettenberger, who stood like a stone in the pocket. With either Jennings or Harris under center, defenses will have to respect that he can take off and make big plays with his legs.
“Oh boy, isn’t that fun to see?” Miles asked, referring to a 41-yard run that Harris made in the second quarter. “You go back in there and the defense makes a mistake and let me tell you what happened: One of those linebackers went over there to the other side with one of those backs and did not stay home. And so that quarterback came out the back side and suddenly 41 yards later, he’s run out of bounds.
“That’s something you can’t do, either, so when you line up against a quarterback with that kind of ability -- and both of our guys have it -- you’d better keep that linebacker home.”
Jennings still seems to have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long while looking to pass. Iowa sacked him four times in the Outback Bowl, and his defensive teammates got to him four times in the spring game. Harris seemed to have a better idea when to tuck it and run, which doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea for either of them, as they can both be dynamic runners when they leave the pocket.
2. Linebackers will be strong: Saturday was a great day for LSU’s linebackers. Not only did Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones both intercept Jennings' passes and take them to the house for touchdowns, but Ronnie Feist (14 tackles) and Lamar Louis (seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for a loss) were their respective teams’ leading tacklers.
Feist seemed to be everywhere, continuing what Miles said was an impressive spring from a physicality standpoint.
“When he hits you, you’re hit,” Miles said of Feist. “There’s no pretend to it.”
Senior middle linebacker D.J. Welter apparently left a major impression on his coaches this spring as well. Not only was he among the defense’s honorees in awards for leadership and for outstanding performance, but he was the lone winner of the Jimmy Taylor Award, the team’s comprehensive spring award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance.
3. Offensive playmakers still must emerge: It seemed like a foregone conclusion even before spring practice started that some of the team’s top offensive players for 2014 weren’t on campus yet. Spring didn’t do much to change that perception.
Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee -- who dealt with a sprained ankle for much of the spring -- were adequate at tailback, but freshman Leonard Fournette will inject some star power to the position once he arrives on campus. Likewise, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and the new receivers will add explosiveness at a position that was riddled with injuries throughout the spring. The receivers were nearly nonexistent in the spring game.
LSU wide receivers totaled seven catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Sounds pretty good, right? But five of the catches, 130 yards and both touchdowns came from one player: Travin Dural.
Otherwise, the group frequently dropped passes and misplayed catchable balls, proving that they need every bit of the available practice time this summer to develop chemistry with their quarterbacks. Dural looks like a star in the making, but the others have a lot to prove from a consistency standpoint.
4. Tight end talk seems legit: DeSean Smith and the Tigers’ other tight ends expressed hope this spring that they would get more opportunities to catch passes in 2014 than they did last season, when wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham got most of the looks from Mettenberger.
They said that’s how things had been going in practice, and Saturday looked to continue that trend. Smith led the way with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, but Dillon Gordon (2-32), Logan Stokes (1-26), John David Moore (1-20) and Travis Dickson (1-8) also made receptions. In all, the tight ends accounted for eight of the Tigers’ 21 catches in the final spring scrimmage, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems pleased with the weapons he has at his disposal at the position.
“Every year, with different personnel, creates a whole new set of opportunities, and I think the opportunities for our tight ends are going to be critical,” Cameron said. “I was thrilled -- for the most part -- I thought they made the most of it.”
5. Defense is on the comeback: Judging by the way the White team (which featured the starters) throttled the Purple team’s offense on Saturday, it looks like LSU’s first-team defense has the potential to rank among the SEC’s best this fall.
The Purple team accounted for 179 yards of offense on 46 plays -- 53 rushing on 27 carries and 126 passing on 6-for-19 attempts. The Purple converted for a first down just once out of 11 third downs.
After saying earlier in the week that he overthought things in his first season as a starter, defensive end Danielle Hunter seems to have cut loose now. He recorded two sacks on Saturday and was a regular presence in the Purple team’s backfield.
He was only one member of a sizable group of defensive players on both teams who flashed major potential in the scrimmage. Things seem to be looking up for defensive coordinator John Chavis’ bunch.
“If he was healthy, I think he’s right in this,” said Whitfield, who tutored Manziel and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas this year, after working with such prospects as Cam Newton and Andrew Luck in previous draft cycles. “I don’t think it’s a conversation of three, it could be a conversation of four if Zach was healthy coming down the back stretch. But I don’t think it’s going to be a shock at all if you see him go in the top couple rounds. Not at all. I think somebody’s going to get a great return on investment.”
At LSU’s pro day on Wednesday, Mettenberger gets his first major opportunity to prove that the knee he injured in the regular-season finale against Arkansas is stable. He already has proven that his arm is NFL caliber, which is why some draft projections have Mettenberger going as high as the second round after a standout senior season.
Mettenberger (3,082 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) was sixth among FBS quarterbacks with an 85.1 Total Quarterback Rating last season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he made the biggest jump of any qualified FBS quarterback after ranking 80th out of 122 qualified quarterbacks with a 47.1 Total QBR in 2012.
“I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in this draft,” Whitfield said. “I thought the year he had and the growth he had this year, especially with [LSU offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron, just getting a chance to get out there and operate in that system -- [and to] have more responsibility. He was better in the pocket. It was just a shame he did take that injury toward the end of the season, but he just looked more confident, and he wasn’t just a big guy [who] was pitching anymore.”
Mettenberger is just one member of a large group of LSU prospects who will work out in front of NFL scouts, coaches and player personnel executives on Wednesday. Among those expected to participate are running backs Jeremy Hill, J.C. Copeland and Alfred Blue, receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone, defensive linemen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, linebacker Lamin Barrow, safety Craig Loston and offensive lineman Trai Turner.
ESPN Scouts Inc. rates seven of them among the draft’s top 150 prospects: Beckham (No. 21), Landry (47), Hill (69), Turner (109), Loston (110), Ferguson (120) and Johnson (139).
Let’s take a closer look at three of them -- Mettenberger, Beckham and Hill -- with a statistical assist from ESPN Stats and Info.
In his first season working with Cameron, Mettenberger greatly improved as a downfield passer. He raised his completion percentage on throws of 15 yards or longer 14 points, to 53.4 percent, in 2013. Among ESPN’s top-10 quarterback prospects in this draft, only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (53.7 percent) completed a higher percentage of long balls. Of the 10, Mettenberger had by far the highest percentage of total completions (67.7) travel at least 10 yards. Bridgewater was next at 57.1.
He was also outstanding against the blitz and on third down -- assets that should help convince a team looking for a pro-style pocket passer to keep him in mind. Mettenberger (57-for-85, 883 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions against blitzing defenses) had the second-highest completion percentage (67.1) against the blitz of any of the top-10 quarterbacks. And on third down, his 53.7 conversion percentage was the best of the bunch. Mettenberger went 58-for-89 with nine touchdowns and one interception on third down, and his 65.2 completion percentage in those situations was third among the top-10 quarterbacks.
Because of the declining value attached to running backs in the NFL, it seems entirely likely that no running backs will go in the first round of this draft. Last year, the first running back went at No. 37 -- the latest the first running back was picked in the common draft era.
Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde is generally considered the top running back prospect in this draft, although Hill’s physical ability makes him an enticing target.
Hill faced eight or more defenders in a stacked box on nearly half of his carries last season (96 of 203), and yet, he still averaged an AQ-best 8 yards per rush in those situations and scored 15 touchdowns.
He was also a phenomenal between-the-tackles runner, picking up 7.9 yards per carry on runs up the middle, with about one in every five (24 of 118) going for at least 10 yards. On runs outside the tackles, Hill had 16 of 85 attempts go for at least 10 yards.
Beckham is one of the draft’s most explosive playmakers, which is why ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him going 18th overall to the New York Jets in his most recent mock draft. He and Landry are both among the 15 wideouts who rank among Scouts Inc.’s Top 100 players -- the most receivers in the top 100 since 2005.
Beckham (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight touchdowns, 178.1 all-purpose ypg last season) had an AQ-high 26 receptions on passes thrown at least 15 yards last season. He had at least two catches that covered such a distance in seven of 13 games in 2013, which certainly speaks to the big-play ability that has him so high on Kiper’s mock draft board.
Looking ahead, we're asking you (the fans) to tell us who in the SEC will carry the banner in the offensive line this fall. So go vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll break down the results later this week.
We've come up with five choices, including Auburn. The Tigers lost star left tackle Greg Robinson, who's being projected as a top-5 pick in May's NFL draft. But they're still plenty salty up front, led by All-SEC center Reese Dismukes.
The other four choices -- Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M -- also have a chance to be really good. And that's not to say that one of the other nine teams in the league could end up with the SEC's top offensive line by November. After all, how many people were touting Auburn as the best offensive line in the league this time a year ago?
Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all return four starters. Alabama returns three.
Of note, the SEC returns an extremely talented crop of centers. The tackle position is equally loaded with LSU's La'el Collins, Florida's Chaz Green, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, South Carolina's Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell, and Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil.
- Ole Miss is feeling good after wrapping up its spring with the Grove Bowl on Saturday.
- LSU's quarterback situation is more murky after Saturday's spring game. Linebacker Deion Jones and tight end DeSean Smith had standout performances. In other news about the Tigers, the SEC Network has added former LSU defensive linemen Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland as studio analysts.
- Texas A&M sophomore receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was arrested early on Sunday morning for disorderly conduct.
- In Missouri's first full scrimmage on Saturday, running backs Russell Hansbrough (shoulder) and Marcus Murphy (ankle) were hurt, opening the door for Morgan Steward to put on a show.
- Nick Saban was pleased with Alabama's first scrimmage on Saturday. The Tide have reached the halfway point of their spring session. Five story lines have taken center stage while players have emerged as well.
- South Carolina RB Mike Davis says he measures himself against the SEC's top backs. Tight end Rory Anderson will miss the rest of spring ball after tearing his triceps in Saturday's scrimmage.
- Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott starred in Saturday's scrimmage.
- Auburn is still sorting out its offensive line, as Avery Young moves from right tackle to right guard and Patrick Miller rotates at left and right tackle.
- Georgia's offense outshined the defense in Saturday's scrimmage. Running back Todd Gurley was the standout of the day.
- Quarterback Brandon Allen was sharp in Arkansas' first scrimmage inside Razorback Stadium on Saturday.
- Tennessee quarterbacks have been inconsistent this spring with no leader emerging from the pack. The Vols defense stepped up in Saturday's scrimmage.
- Florida punter Johnny Townsend will miss the rest of spring after surgery on his wrist.
- A mural of Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason's face will be redone after complaints and a petition started by the school's NAACP chapter.
Kevin Toliver II Climbs New ESPN 300
TBD Temple Vanderbilt TBD Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss
TBD Arkansas Auburn TBD Idaho Florida TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Tennessee-Martin Kentucky TBD South Dakota State Missouri TBD Southern Miss Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin