The 2014 season marked only the third time since 2000 that the SEC champion didn't have at least one defensive lineman who earned first- or second-team All-SEC honors from the league's coaches.

It's a reminder that you better have difference-makers up front defensively if you're going to win a championship in this league.

The game has changed, for sure. Teams are scoring more points, and offenses are playing faster than ever before. The defensive numbers have suffered as a result, even in the SEC where defense was once king.

That doesn't diminish the importance of having dominant defensive linemen and dynamic finishers off the edge who can rush the quarterback. The SEC has had more of those players historically than any other conference, and it's the chief reason the SEC has won eight of the past 12 national championships.

So if you're looking for a position that will define the SEC in 2015, look no further than defensive line and pass-rusher.

[+] EnlargeMyles Garrett
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTexas A&M freshman Myles Garrett finished second in the SEC with 11.5 sacks.
Alabama's Nick Saban has been a head coach in both the SEC and Big Ten and scouted players from all conferences while coaching the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

In his mind, one of the things that separates the SEC from other leagues is the "quality of the pass-rushers and the athleticism of the up-front people on defense."

In the past three drafts, 13 defensive linemen/pass-rushers from the SEC have been selected in the top two rounds. Florida's Dante Fowler and Missouri's Shane Ray are projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. to go in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.

More are on the way, too, especially when you look at the collection of defensive line talent that has already proven itself in the SEC and some of the young guns set to arrive this summer.

Two of the returning sack leaders in the SEC were both true freshmen a year ago.

Texas A&M's Myles Garrett was second in the league to Ray with 11.5 sacks as a freshman, and freshman Tennessee's Derek Barnett was just a few spots behind with 10 sacks. The amazing thing is that neither player was an early enrollee last year. They both reported in the summer without the benefit of spring practice and immediately started putting up huge numbers.

Already, first-year Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis is a believer, and he has been around his share of big-time defensive linemen.

"In our system, we want to be good at defensive end, and it didn't take us long to figure out that we have some pretty good talent there," Chavis said.

The Vols were thrilled to get Barnett a year ago and knew he was an excellent prospect, but coach Butch Jones had no idea the 6-foot-3, 267-pound Barnett would have the impact he did as a freshman. His 18 tackles for loss in SEC games led all players, and nobody else in the league had more than 12.

"He just took off and kept getting better," Jones said. "The best thing about him is that he's nowhere near as good as he's going to be."

Barnett is recovering from shoulder surgery and won't participate in spring drills. The same goes for senior Curt Maggitt, who finished with 11 sacks last season and gives the Vols the best returning sack tandem in the league. The 6-3, 251-pound Maggitt splits his time between outside linebacker and defensive end, but is at his best as an edge rusher.

Speaking of pass-rushers, Auburn's Carl Lawson appears to be fully recovered after missing last season with a torn ACL. He was a Freshman All-American two years ago and is the kind of disrupter up front that first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp needs if he's going to retool a defense that produced just 10 sacks in eight SEC games last season.

If you're looking for the SEC team with the deepest defensive line, that would be Alabama. A'Shawn Robinson can play nose or end in the Tide's 3-4 set and played his best football down the stretch a year ago. His junior season should be his best yet.

Junior end Jonathan Allen is another one on that Alabama defensive front with star potential. He had 11.5 tackles for loss last season, including 5.5 sacks, and may be ready to explode in 2015.

The same goes for Ole Miss tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who didn't have great numbers a year ago. But he's such a physical and athletic presence inside that his numbers don't begin to tell you what kind of player he is. Just turn on the tape and watch him collapse the pocket.

Prior to last season, an NFL scout suggested that no defensive lineman in the SEC had a better combination of size and talent than Mississippi State tackle Chris Jones, who says he's still an end at heart. The 6-5, 308-pound Jones might want to take a cue from Nkemdiche and fully embrace the move to tackle, because if he does, it's scary how good he can be.

Is it possible to assess the Year of the Defensive Lineman in the SEC without mentioning LSU? The Tigers have had eight defensive linemen drafted over the past four years, and that number will grow when Danielle Hunter hears his name called two months from now.

Next up in that pipeline is sophomore tackle Davon Godchaux, who led all LSU interior linemen with 42 total tackles last season as a true freshman. Godchaux didn't play his senior season of high school after injuring his knee. He has already grabbed first-year coordinator Kevin Steele's attention.

Georgia, which runs a 3-4 system under Jeremy Pruitt, is loaded with talent at outside linebacker. Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd are the veterans, but don't be surprised if sophomore Lorenzo Carter develops into the most feared pass-rusher on the team. He had 4.5 sacks as a true freshman.

And speaking of young guys, several incoming true freshmen are poised to make immediate impacts in 2015.

Among them: Byron Cowart at Auburn, Terry Beckner Jr. at Missouri, Trenton Thompson at Georgia, Daylon Mack at Texas A&M, CeCe Jefferson at Florida and Kahlil McKenzie at Tennessee.

There are sure to be more, too.

This is still a line-of-scrimmage league, and the talent on the defensive front in 2015 will be hard to miss.
At LSU, quarterbacks are on everyone's mind.

Will either improve?

Will someone take some sort of lead?

[+] EnlargeLSU's Travin Dural
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTravin Dural says the rather young LSU receiving corps has some big ground to cover this spring in preparation for the 2015 season.
Will there be a substantial starter coming out of spring, or will this bleed into fall camp ... or even the season?

And while it's easy to stay planted on the quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, they can't run this offense alone. Whichever one glides past the other to take over full-time duties under center will need others around him to take some of the burden off his shoulders. Sure, he needs to be better than anything an LSU quarterback put on the field last season, but no one player can win every game for a team.

That's where LSU's wide receivers hope to come through. The Tigers are equipped with one of the nation's rising stars in running back Leonard Fournette, but he can only do so much for LSU's future starting quarterback. The wide receivers will have to step up and create opportunities for LSU's quarterback and make plays.

The good thing for the Tigers is that those receivers know it. Led by home-run threat Travin Dural and potential rising star Malachi Dupre, LSU's wide receivers want to take some of the pressure off their quarterbacks. However, there's plenty of improvement that must occur first, as Dural was the only receiver to record 20-plus catches last season (37).

"We didn't even reach our full potential last year," Dural said of LSU's receivers. "A lot of guys were just getting their feet wet."

Dural, a rising junior, was LSU's top receiving threat in 2014 and ranked sixth in the SEC with 758 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but a host of youngsters will have to do their part, too. The sophomore trio of Dupre, John Diarse and Trey Quinn appear to have all the potential to make things easier in the passing game, but they'll have to be a lot better than registering in the teens in catches, like last season.

Now, some of those low receiving numbers has to do with the unacceptable quarterback play. Neither Jennings, who started 12 of LSU's 13 games last season, nor Harris, who didn't come close to living up to his high school hype, completed more than 56 percent of their passes. Both were consistently inefficient throwing the ball or commanding the offense, and when there isn't a lot of confidence throwing the ball, receivers are going to suffer.

But LSU's wideouts aren't using that as an excuse. They know it's their job to create space and get open, no matter who's throwing the ball. Under new receivers coach Tony Ball, this group is focusing on itself in order to help its quarterbacks. Ball is asking his guys to soak up his new terminology and techniques one day at a time by "putting one tool in the took box" each day, Dupre said. That mantra has helped players transition much easier to Ball's teaching, and the lack of an overwhelming learning curve has bolstered the confidence of this group.

"I feel like the potential is there for the sky to be the limit [for the wide receivers]," said Dupre, who arrived at LSU in 2014 as the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, but caught just 14 passes last season. "Coach Ball has done a great job through the first few practices of tapping into that. Our goal is to be great as a group, so if we get it together we can have an impact to make our offense go to where we need to be to win the national championship, for sure."

A national championship is a bit of a stretch at this point, but you have to respect the confidence. The feeling -- or more hope -- is that creating some sort of healthy passing game will do wonders across the board because it will make Fournette even better. It will also take some pressure off of a defense that lost some key parts and its defensive coordinator.

To do that, Dupre and Dural both agreed the receivers must make things easier for both quarterbacks this spring. That means better, crisper routes, being more physical with defenders, and also being more vocally supportive with the QBs.

"I wouldn't say it's pressure," Dural said, "I would say as a whole every receiver will have to grow and get better to help our quarterbacks.

"It's very important to be able to pass the ball. You can't always run the ball. It's been real successful for us without being able to pass the ball, but with a passing game, the running game will be 10 times better."

LSU has survived in the past without a flashy passing game, but the Tigers understand that any sort of run through the SEC now will only come if some offensive balance can be reached. That's on the passing game, and the receivers are making sure they do their part in 2015.

"We really have nothing to do with the quarterbacks' improvement, but our biggest thing is to create space and make it easier for them to get us the ball," Dupre said. "...We ran the ball pretty well, and I feel like if we get the passing situation together, we'll be unstoppable."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are well aware of the general narrative about LSU’s prospects this season. The Tigers’ two quarterback contenders don’t even think it’s unfair.

In fact, both players seem to agree with the notion that the Tigers can contend for a playoff spot and a national championship if -- and this is a big if -- they get more consistent play at quarterback.

“It’s not going to be an ‘if,’ ” Jennings said after Tuesday’s practice, the Tigers’ second workout of the spring. “We are going to be consistent. There’s no other way that we can get around it.”

[+] EnlargeLSU's Brandon Harris
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrandon Harris (pictured) and Anthony Jennings both struggled at quarterback for LSU last season.
The implication obviously fired up Jennings, the incumbent who drew plenty of criticism a season ago while completing just 48.9 percent of his passes as LSU stumbled to an 8-5 record. He looks around at the three starters returning on the offensive line, the talented-but-youthful receiving corps and a developing superstar in the backfield in Leonard Fournette and realizes that LSU has the pieces to be explosive on offense.

If ...

“[The criticism is] definitely reasonable,” Jennings said. “You look at the guys that were in the national championship. Those guys were elite quarterbacks. That’s what we have to have. Jameis Winston: elite. Lost one game in college. Marcus Mariota: Heisman Trophy. Cardale Jones: I mean, he was elite. The time that he had in the game, he was elite. So elite quarterback play is obviously a big piece in getting to those games.”

But while those guys were helping Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State grab playoff spots, what was happening at LSU?

“I would call us one of the weak points of this past year,” Harris said. “I don’t think we need to go out and get a quarterback or anything like that. I think we have quarterbacks this year in place, and I’m looking forward to using that as a challenge to show people this coming season.”

Harris struggled mightily in the lone start of his freshman season against Auburn, a game where LSU failed to convert a single third down. He carried lofty expectations into last season after enrolling early in 2014 and outplaying Jennings in LSU’s spring game.

But he can admit now that he still needed time to develop.

“Looking back, I would say I wasn’t ready,” Harris said.

Now entering his second spring, Harris believes he knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need a teammate to help him call the occasional play in the huddle, and he’s getting on the same page with the skill players around him. Perhaps he’s better prepared to truly challenge Jennings for playing time.

“Time is the biggest thing and now we’ve improved with the timing and everything like that,” Harris said. “So I’ve just improved from learning mentally, realizing our coaches are there for a reason and overutilizing them. And obviously your technique can always get better and that will help you with being more accurate.”

Throwing accurately is likely the biggest obstacle standing between 2014’s underwhelming passing game -- LSU tied for 119th nationally by completing 50 percent of its passes -- and the one that Harris believes will be more consistent and explosive this fall.

Jennings said he needs to improve his completion percentage by at least 10 percent because, “60 percent passing, I think, in this offense will win a national championship.”

Knowledge of the system helps, as does last season’s on-field experience -- even if it was often rocky for the two quarterbacks.

But they’ve spent an offseason listening to questions about whether they are good enough to help a talented LSU team fulfill its potential. They can either allow those doubts to drag them down or spur them to productivity that LSU’s offense lacked last fall.

“I’ve been listening to this stuff since the last game of the season, during the season. It’s fueling my fire,” Jennings said. “It’s definitely valuable. Even if they weren’t saying that, I’m still going to come in here and get better each day. We lost five games. That’s not good enough. Losing one game is not good enough here. So those losses, they fuel me to get better each and every day here.”
One thing's for sure in the SEC: It is definitely not the Year of the Quarterback, but it will be the Year of Finding the Quarterback.

At least five teams -- Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina -- will be breaking in new quarterbacks, while three others -- Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt -- could potentially have new signal-callers under center thanks to intriguing quarterback battles. Then, you have Arkansas and Missouri, which must have better play at quarterback if those teams are going to make championship runs in 2015.

Ten SEC teams have some sort of serious quarterback question, but there's good news for most: There are quality running backs to help carry the load. Those backfield bulls are back to help push when quarterbacks can't. There are safety nets all around the league that could help quarterbacks needing a boost this fall.

For instance, look at Georgia. The Bulldogs return a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball, but for the second straight year will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The difference in 2015 is that the Dawgs are dealing with both youth and inexperience. But whichever quarterback makes the final cut will have the pleasure of handing the off to Heisman Trophy candidate Nick Chubb, who might have been the SEC's best running back last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns with only eight starts.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesDerrick Henry should alleviate the pressure on whichever new quarterback Alabama has under center next fall.
And he has friends. Fellow sophomore Sony Michel is back with his 410 yards and five touchdowns, while the hope is that veteran Keith Marshall will bounce back from another tough knee injury.

Turn your attention a little southwest of Athens, and you'll find an Alabama team wondering if Jake Coker can finally take over this team or if some youngster will be thrown in the fire. The good thing about that fire is that rising junior Derrick Henry is there to fan the flames. Despite being second in carries last year (172) Henry led Alabama with 990 rushing yards and had 11 touchdowns. Like Chubb, Henry is a freight train with his 6-foot-3, 241-pound frame and track star speed. Couple that with the eventual return of home-run threat Kenyan Drake (leg) and some talented youngsters, like freshman Bo Scarbrough, and Alabama's next quarterback has quite the stable to work with and relieve some of the pressure.

Auburn is an interesting case because Nick Marshall is gone, but the more pass-savvy Jeremy Johnson is the runaway favorite at quarterback. Still, he's a new starter, and the Tigers lost SEC-leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne (1,608 yards). Sophomore Roc Thomas has loads of potential, and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson could be a star in the making. Auburn has owned the SEC's top rusher in each of Gus Malzahn's first two years as the Tigers' head coach so don't be shocked by another dominant running game.

For Arkansas and Missouri, it's about making sure their returning starting quarterbacks are, well, better. Brandon Allen (Arkansas) and Maty Mauk (Missouri) struggled mightily at times last year and were wildly inconsistent, as neither completed better than 56 percent of his passes and both failed to average even 190 yards per game. That's not even close to good enough if either one of these teams is going to make a run in 2015.

Arkansas returns the SEC's best rushing duo in Jonathan Williams (1,190) and Alex Collins (1,100), which definitely has to have Allen smiling. Mizzou will have quite a few new faces around Mauk, but Russell Hansbrough was one of the SEC's best running backs, registering 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers should go up with Marcus Murphy gone and with the likelihood that the Tigers will probably be a more run-oriented team early this fall.

Two other teams to keep an eye on are LSU and South Carolina. The Tigers have a very intriguing QB battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, and while LSU has to be exceedingly better at quarterback, having an older, wiser Leonard Fournette handling the rock will certainly help. Fournette didn't exactly explode onto the scene as quickly as everyone envisioned last year, but he finished with 1,034 yards and will return as a Heisman favorite. There's isn't a lot of experience behind him, but Fournette is built to be both an every-down rusher and a slasher.

South Carolina lost starting quarterback Dylan Thompson and starting running back Mike Davis, but Brandon Wilds has 1,277 career rushing yards and should be Mr. Reliable for South Carolina's new starting quarterback, which will likely by redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch. Wilds isn't elite, but he's tough and a grinder.

Even Vanderblit, which has a log-jam battle at quarterback, has a solid running back in sophomore Ralph Webb, who ran for 907 yards last year, but has to improve on his four touchdowns and 4.3 yards per carry.

On paper, the SEC has enough wealth at running back to counter the newbies and uncertainty at quarterback. These guys aren't total cures, but their play will go a long way toward shoring up those uncertain passing games.

SEC morning links

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
It was 70 degrees in Atlanta on Tuesday. Happy days certainly are here again!
Not a tweet of the day, but colleague David Ching's Instagram video of LSU's receivers showing off their fancy footwork is impressive:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- This was only the first step, but redshirt freshmen Garrett Brumfield and William Clapp joined veterans Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic on LSU's first-team offensive line when the Tigers opened spring practice on Saturday.

The long-term question is whether the two rookies can hold onto the jobs. As LSU coach Les Miles mentioned after practice, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will have plenty of options this fall -- including an all-star collection of linemen who signed with the Tigers in February.

"Old Brumfield, it looks like to me that he's kind of getting ready to play and do the things that he needs to do. Will Clapp is really in the same position, ready to play," Miles said. "So if you put Vadal Alexander at tackle and you put our boy Pocic at center, you put Hawkins at left tackle, I think that's a pretty good fivesome no matter who else you play. So it looks pretty good to me.

"And then I think these guys coming in will provide us with some real, not only depth, but guys that are talented enough to put themselves in position to play."

The five offensive linemen that LSU signed this year -- ESPN 300 prospects Maea Teuhema, Chidi Valentine-Okeke and Toby Weathersby, plus tackles Adrian Magee and George Brown -- were among the highlights in a recruiting class that ranked 10th nationally.

None of those players will arrive until the summer, however, so Miles hesitated to say that the Tigers' line depth will be ideal this spring.

"I don't know that I'm deep as I want to be just yet," Miles said. "I think when these guys show up here I think this freshman class when they show up, I think the depth will be much more consistent with the question. Right now, I'm looking forward to getting them on campus."

But for now, Grimes has plenty of questions to answer among the players at his disposal this spring.

For starters, are Hawkins and Alexander -- last season's starting right tackle and left guard -- LSU's best options at left and right tackle, respectively? And will anyone, perhaps Andy Dodd, perform consistently enough at center that Grimes could play Pocic elsewhere if necessary?

Pocic is evidently LSU's clear-cut No. 1 center if Miles' post-practice comments about him are any indication.

"When you look at a center, it's so imperative that that snap thing is not something that you just take for granted. And if a guy's a 10 percent better snapper than the other guy, whoever the other guy is, that's a huge thing," Miles said. "I mean, imagine 10 percent of the snaps going awry and you know they're going to go awry as opposed to playing a guy that's probably 99 percent, really, really quality snapper.

"So here he is going to be a dominant player, he's going to be a dominant player wherever you play him and he's also going to give you a great execution at the center spot. So it's hard for me to not look at him there."

A consistent theme within Grimes' group is versatility. Alexander was a freshman All-American at right tackle in 2012 before shifting to left guard the following season. Hawkins is capable of manning either tackle spot. And Pocic can handle any position on the line. The same can be said of multiple reserves who have multi-positional skills, including sophomore K.J. Malone, who backed up All-SEC left tackle La'el Collins and Hawkins at the tackle spots last fall.

"I like K.J. Malone. I think K.J. Malone's going to be a starter at some place," Miles said. "I think he'll be a starter at left guard or a starter at right tackle or a starter at left tackle if needed. But I think he's going to be a very good player for us."

The good news for Grimes is that he's only one practice into the spring -- and 179 days away from the Tigers' Sept. 5 opener against McNeese State.

This could have been a time of major uncertainty for Grimes if Alexander and Hawkins opted to chase NFL dreams after the 2014 season. The Tigers would have just one returning starter and barely any returning players with notable on-field experience. Instead, their return puts LSU's second-year line coach in a convenient position: able to experiment with multiple personnel groupings this spring, knowing that he already has the core of a strong offensive line at his disposal.

Perhaps he will settle on a satisfactory starting lineup by the end of spring practice. Maybe it will be that fivesome who lined up together first on Saturday, with redshirt freshman guards Clapp and Brumfield sandwiched between the returning starters. But expect Grimes to weigh lots of different options over the next few weeks, knowing that he has plenty of time to do so before the freshmen arrive and give him an even greater array of alternatives.

Roundtable: Most intriguing QB battles in SEC

March, 10, 2015
Mar 10
Competition is the running theme in every spring practice, but it will be especially so for SEC quarterbacks over the next several weeks.

Today our SEC writers take a look at some of the most intriguing quarterback battles that will take place within the conference this spring and beyond.

Alex Scarborough: Georgia

Call me crazy, but who wins the job is irrelevant. What matters is that either Jacob Park or Brice Ramsey secures the position early and sets the tone for the rest of the season, because the last thing Georgia needs is a QB controversy. There’s so much going for the offense already. There’s Nick Chubb, the only running back in college football that could make you forget Todd Gurley. There’s Malcolm Mitchell, a top talent at receiver if he can stay healthy. And there’s the O-line, which could be the best in the SEC with four starters back. So whoever starts under center will have plenty to work with. Now it’s only a matter of settling on the best option.

Chris Low: Texas A&M

There's not much drama this spring in the Texas A&M quarterback camp. It's sophomore Kyle Allen and ... well, that's it. Kenny Hill transferred after being all the rage in Aggieland to start last season, but Allen was the one who finished the season at quarterback, going 3-2 as the starter. He's got a big arm and showed uncanny presence in the pocket for a true freshman. But it would be premature to pencil in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Allen as Texas A&M's starter in 2015. Kyler Murray is slated to be on campus this summer, and he arrives as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country -- assuming he doesn't opt for pro baseball. There's some thought that Murray could be a first-round selection in June's baseball draft. If so, he's got another big decision to make after picking Texas A&M over Texas in a fierce recruiting battle. Stay tuned because the real drama surrounding the Aggies' quarterback job will heat up this summer.

David Ching: Ole Miss

Ole Miss is intriguing not so much because of the on-field competition, but because of Chad Kelly's presence in the position battle. I suppose it’s the tabloid element of the story that interests me. Prior to his arrest following a bar fight late last year, Kelly was already viewed as a wild card because of his unceremonious exit from Clemson. Hugh Freeze stood by the junior college transfer -- Kelly led East Mississippi Community College to the NJCAA title last year, passing for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions -- saying Kelly deserves a second chance. But can Kelly keep his act together and also outperform Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade? It will be fascinating to watch it play out.

Edward Aschoff: LSU

The Tigers are in desperate need of competent play at quarterback, and just about everyone will be keeping a close eye on Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris. No one has any clue which way this one will go. You have Jennings, who basically limped his way through 2014, and Harris, who arrived as a star recruit but couldn’t stay on the field. Both have shown flashes -- maybe Harris a bit more -- but both were wildly inconsistent and have a long way to go with their development. However, if one can stand out and transform into a legitimate passing threat, LSU’s offense -- and entire team -- could be dangerous in 2015.

Greg Ostendorf: Florida

Don’t underestimate this battle. This could be a career-defining decision for Jim McElwain in just his first year at Florida. Fans are tired of subpar quarterback play, and that’s part of the reason McElwain was hired in the first place. On one side, Treon Harris came in and gave the Gators a spark last season. He’s a true dual-threat guy who has more game experience. On the other side, there’s Will Grier, the former ESPN 300 signal-caller who better fits what McElwain wants to do on offense. Both will be given an equal shot at the job, and I don’t expect a starter to be named until the fall. But what makes it so intriguing and why I think it’s the most intriguing battle in the SEC is McElwain. He has a proven track record with quarterbacks, and both Harris and Grier will benefit from his arrival. Who will benefit the most?

Sam Khan Jr.: Alabama

Alabama’s quarterback battle fascinates me in large part because of how it played out a season ago. Jake Coker transferred into the program during the offseason and before he even stepped foot on campus, there seemed to be widespread speculation that he was the successor to AJ McCarron. Then an interesting thing happened -- the battle played out, Blake Sims eventually won the job and had an impressive season. Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin were methodical in that process, so I expect that to be the case again. Coker’s certainly the favorite again this year and has the experience edge, being a senior and the only one out of the group that includes himself, Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Alec Morris to have thrown a collegiate pass. That said, he has thrown only 10 more passes against SEC competition than his competitors, so while he has an experience edge, it’s not an overwhelming one.

Roundtable: Who wins SEC QB battles?

March, 10, 2015
Mar 10
There is a lot of uncertainty at the most important position in the SEC. At least half of the quarterback jobs are at least somewhat up for grabs heading into 2015, and how those battles are resolved will go a long way toward determining the success of the league.

We'll break down seven of those battles and predict who will come out on top.


Edward Aschoff: This is Jake Coker's last chance to prove he’s up to playing at Bama, and with a year to sit and learn under his belt, he’ll be more prepared to tackle Lane Kiffin’s offense. He’ll go from unprepared to the man this spring. Honestly, we can’t take much from what he did in very limited duty last season, so we’re having to go off hype still -- which is true about all of Bama’s quarterbacks. However, he is the only QB with a collegiate pass attempt on the roster. We’ve heard about Coker’s arm talent, and he’ll finally show it off in 2015.

Alex Scarborough: There are no frontrunners. There are no favorites. Not this time, at least. Because if we learned anything from last year's QB battle, it's that nothing can be taken for granted. So rather than going all in on Jake Coker again, I'm taking the field. And it's not that Coker isn't talented enough, because he is. But I'm not sure he's got the "it" factor. I'm not sure he can read the field and sense the pressure well enough to thwart SEC defenses. Besides, there are a number of other contenders to choose from, three of whom were top QB prospects coming out of high school.


Edward Aschoff: This is one of the league’s most intriguing battles, and I’m going with Will Grier. The redshirt freshman had to get bigger and wiser than he was as a frosh but will be front and center this spring along with Treon Harris. All we know about Grier is he had a fantastic high school career, but there are some who think he’s more suited than Harris to run Jim McElwain’s offense. Grier has a big arm, is athletic enough to make plays with his feet, and will be the more polished passer and playmaker this spring.

Sam Khan Jr.: Having experience is beneficial. Treon Harris has that with nine games and six starts under his belt. Getting thrown into the fire midseason is tough for any backup quarterback, much less a true freshman in the SEC. The grit Harris showed while stepping in for Jeff Driskel was admirable. Yes, he was far from perfect, and the stat sheet wasn’t always pretty, but he showed promise. His dual-threat ability is useful for an offense trying to find its footing.


Edward Aschoff: This one should be fun to watch for a team that could be a quarterback away from winning more than just the SEC East. Jacob Park was a big-time prospect last year, and with a year to sit and learn -- coupled with his athleticism -- I smell an upset. Brice Ramsey is talented and more experienced, but Park’s footwork and playmaking ability will give him a couple of advantages going forward. Park not only gives the Bulldogs another running option, but he has good poise both under center and in the shotgun and adds an impressive arm.

Chris Low: Mark Richt is on record as saying there will be an open competition at quarterback, and while the Bulldogs might not have their answer overnight, Brice Ramsey will separate himself as the clear No. 1. A redshirt sophomore, Ramsey has the edge in experience, having played in eight games last season. We've seen enough of Ramsey to know he has incredible arm strength and the confidence in that arm to use the entire field. He was up and down at times last season, but that's to be expected from a first-year backup. Ramsey fits the Dawgs' preferred mold of a pro-style passer and should be especially effective in the play-action game with defenses being so leery of Nick Chubb.


David Ching: Honestly, I have no idea who will win this competition. I was sure it would eventually be Brandon Harris last fall and was incorrect. Harris is the more intriguing player because we haven’t seen enough of him. Anthony Jennings started 12 of 13 games last season, so we have a better idea of his capabilities and shortcomings. He’s sharp, mature, and seems like the kind of guy you want in your huddle, but Jennings is not as talented as his competitor. LSU’s offense would be more dangerous with Harris under center -- assuming he proves he is mature enough for that responsibility.

Greg Ostendorf: LSU fans are hoping and praying Harris starts next season, but what has he proven? He had a couple good games early against Sam Houston State and New Mexico State last season, but when he got his chance to start an SEC game on the road, he was dreadful. Jennings isn’t spectacular. He probably never will be. But he’s played in big games, made big throws and knows this offense better than any other quarterback on the roster. Les Miles has a tendency to go with experience, and there's no reason that will change this fall.

Ole Miss

Greg Ostendorf: This is Chad Kelly’s job to lose. He followed a similar path as the recently departed Bo Wallace, coming over from East Mississippi Community College after running into trouble at his first stop. And just like Wallace, he has the talent to win the job from Day 1. The only thing standing in his way is him. If he can stay out of trouble, there’s no reason he won’t be starting come September. Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, threw for 3,906 yards and 47 touchdowns last year.

Alex Scarborough: It's not that I don't trust Chad Kelly. I could bury that gut feeling if I had to. The problem is his coach seems to hold the same concern. Just take Hugh Freeze's comments on signing day: “I’m sure hoping and pray like heck that he doesn’t embarrass our team, our university and myself. But that is a possibility.” That, my friends, is the opposite of a ringing endorsement. Besides, I'm not sold on his ability. Sure, he lit up junior college, but that's not enough to make a career. He has a grand total of 17 career pass attempts at the FBS level. Give me DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. They might not have the hype, but they might have the substance.

South Carolina

David Ching: He’s hardly a lock, but Connor Mitch looks like the early favorite. The former ESPN 300 prospect was Dylan Thompson’s backup last season but threw just six passes. Steve Spurrier was adamant that Thompson had to stay healthy for the offense to be successful, so he was clearly not sold on his alternatives. That means Mitch will have to fight for this job, but he seems like the best option over competitors Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia and freshman Lorenzo Nunez, who won’t arrive until the summer.

Chris Low: Spurrier has never been predictable when it choosing his trigger man. That's why incoming freshman Lorenzo Nunez has a real chance to be the starter in 2015. He won't be on campus until this summer and needs to develop as a passer, but Spurrier loves Nunez's athletic ability and believes a quarterback who can run and extend the play is a huge advantage. The Gamecocks sold Nunez on being the next Connor Shaw. If Nunez can come in and learn the playbook pretty quickly, he'll be front and center in the South Carolina quarterback battle.


Edward Aschoff: It’s anyone’s guess who will come win this race, but I’m going with Johnny McCrary. He started the final five games of the season. Vandy won two of its last six games with McCrary playing. He led the team with 985 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns, but also threw eight interceptions. He was far from perfect and has a long way to go, but if he can develop as a passer, his ability to make plays with his legs will help give him an advantage.

Alex Scarborough: Ah, a rare QB race with no true favorite. It's sort of refreshing. But at the same time, it's troubling. Because at the end of the day, six quarterbacks took snaps for Vanderbilt in 2014 and none of them had anything remotely described as success. So with such dire circumstances, I'll do what I'd advise against nine times out of 10: Take the newbie. Give me Kyle Shurmur, the No. 7 pocket passer in the 2015 class. He looks the part, too, with ideal size and a strong arm. There will be some growing pains, of course, but for a program that's building for the future, why not let him learn on the job?
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles seemed downright giddy after LSU completed its first spring practice on Saturday.

“I really enjoyed today’s practice,” Miles said. “I don’t know that I’ve been around a practice to start a spring as productive.”

Perhaps that was a sign of things to come. Miles’ Tigers are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 8-5 season, so they could use a productive spring as they attempt to get back in the thick of the SEC West race this fall.

And it was a fairly newsy first day, with Miles addressing numerous position battles/changes, personnel questions and new players after practice. Here are some of the highlights as Miles set the tone for the spring:

Quarterback battle: The most compelling story of spring practice will likely be the competition between quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, and Miles explained his goal for the position this spring.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThe passing game will be under the microscope during spring practice, coach Les Miles said.
In short, the passing game will receive plenty of fine-tuning.

“We talked about the need and want to throw the football better,” Miles said. “We need not only the quarterbacks to come on, but the receiving corps to come on. I think we’re going to devote a lot of time to it. We’re going to throw the ball, in terms of snaps and percentages of our practices, very significantly, so it’ll be fun. I think we’ll accomplish that.”

Between them, Jennings (48.9 percent) and Harris (55.6) completed just 50 percent of their passes last season. LSU’s completion percentage tied for 119th out of 125 FBS programs in 2014.

O-line shuffle, position changes: We’ll address LSU’s revamped offensive line in greater detail this week, but here are the basics: redshirt freshman guards William Clapp and Garrett Brumfield got the first shot to work alongside returning starters Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic.

After playing right tackle for the last two seasons, Hawkins is taking over All-SEC standout La’el Collins’ spot at left tackle. Alexander is shifting from left guard to right tackle and Pocic is at center, where he started part-time last fall.

The second-team line during an early drill that was open to the media was Jevonte Domond at left tackle, Alex Cheramie at left guard, Andy Dodd at center, Josh Boutte at right guard and K.J. Malone at right tackle.

Miles predicted that Malone will eventually claim a starting job at either guard or tackle.

Beyond the offensive line juggling, LSU has several other players in new positions this spring.

For starters, sophomore Devin Voorhies shifted to linebacker after starting his career at safety. Reporters asked Miles after practice about defensive end M.J. Patterson also moving to linebacker after spotting him working at the position on Saturday, but Miles said he was not ready to identify Patterson as a linebacker yet.

Redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch is making a position switch of his own -- and it’s a unique one. After starting his career at wide receiver, Upchurch is now a fullback.

“He weighed 248 or 252 at the last coaches’ workout that we did in the morning and I just felt like his skills were better there,” Miles said. “He jumped in there and he compares really favorably there.”

Valentine’s status: Travonte Valentine did not practice Saturday, and Miles said not to expect that to change soon. Valentine has not fulfilled the academic obligations that his staff set for the redshirt freshman defensive tackle, he said.

“Valentine’s not a guy that we’re counting on at this point,” Miles said.

Academic questions prompted the SEC to sideline Valentine last season, even after he was cleared to enroll at LSU. He practiced with the team throughout the fall, but did not appear in a game.

Miles said Valentine’s absence Saturday was not related to last season’s issues with the conference, only that he had not met internal academic requirements.

Early enrollees: LSU fans will be excited when they see practice photos of freshman fullback David Ducre, whose physique looks more like that of an upperclassman than a kid who should still be in high school.

But Miles cautioned them to pump the breaks a bit on that enthusiasm, as Ducre has a lot to learn. Sophomore John David Moore is miles ahead right now when it comes to blocking, pass protection and the assortment of assignments that LSU fullbacks carry out as vital cogs in the Tigers’ offense, Miles said.

Cornerback Kevin Toliver, meanwhile, will be in the thick of the competition for a starting spot opposite Tre'Davious White. Sophomore Ed Paris got a long look on Saturday, but the Tigers have several alternatives at the position.

“[Paris] played a lot of snaps today, but I think there’ll be a bunch of guys that you look at there,” Miles said. “Certainly Kevin Toliver’s a very talented guy that you have to develop, look at, kind of make a decision on as you go.”

Another proven option is junior Dwayne Thomas, who practiced Saturday in a green non-contact jersey, since he is returning from knee surgery that forced him to miss half of last season. Miles raved about Thomas’ playmaking skills after Saturday’s news conference and said the Tigers missed him greatly down the stretch last fall.

Two other early enrollees, quarterback Justin McMillan and tight end Hanner Shipley, practiced with the Tigers for the first time Saturday, as well. Miles said McMillan has impressed him.

“I like his arm. I just think he’s a very comfortably built decision maker at quarterback,” Miles said. “So it’ll be … obviously he’s a true freshman and I’d like to just bring those guys along, but never say never [about McMillan playing].”
BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU opened spring practice on Saturday, marking the official debuts of three new members of Les Miles’ coaching staff.

Among the rookies: former Ole Miss and USC head coach Ed Orgeron, whose energetic methods seemed to have his new players pumped up on Day 1.

Watch Coach O attack the tackling dummies in a pass-rush drill in this video posted Saturday by LSU’s coordinator of offensive operations, Emily Dixon.

Opening spring camp: LSU Tigers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All eyes on: The Tigers return a pile of talent from last season’s young 8-5 team, led by star running back Leonard Fournette, but plenty of questions remain for Miles’ club. Steele’s impact will be a source of interest, but the likelihood of improvement probably rests on the job Cam Cameron does developing his quarterbacks. This is a team with enough talent to contend in the SEC West -- and maybe even for a College Football Playoff spot if everything goes smoothly. It starts with developing a more consistent passing game and a competent player under center who will prevent defenses from stacking the box to defend Fournette.

SEC morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
Around the SEC
Tweet of the day


National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert discusses top performers from Opening Regionals in Miami and Orlando.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Tony Ball has witnessed close to zero live game reps from the players he inherited at LSU, but the Tigers’ new receivers coach is already familiar with their work.

Just a few days before Ball opens his first spring practice with the Tigers, he has spent plenty of time watching game and practice film to evaluate who he will officially start working with on Saturday.

"I’ve done my homework on them and we’ve gone through the coaches’ early morning workouts, and I’ve gotten a chance to see them compete and see their athleticism and their ability to focus and pay attention to the little things," Ball said Wednesday evening. "I feel like I have a real good sense of each individual guy."

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
Gerald Herbert/Associated PressNew LSU receivers coach Tony Ball believes he can help Malachi Dupre and others reach their potential.
Whatever Ball builds this season will be centered around four returning wideouts -- Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, and Trey Quinn -- but the Tigers’ new receivers coach will also be entrusted with improving the depth. That is where he would do well to find a use for players like sophomores Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, D.J. Chark, and redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch.

Ball said an important part of his job as a new coach is letting players like that -- a foursome that combined for zero catches in 2014 -- know that he believes they can be productive receivers.

"Those that probably didn’t play as much, for whatever the reason, they’ve got to feel energized," Ball said. "And I think that I’ve given them the sense that I believe in them. And I think more than anything, that’s what energizes you. They get a sense that, 'Hey, this guy believes in me,' because I do. I think they’re very talented.

"We’ve got very talented young players. Those guys that haven’t had a bunch of reps, for whatever reason, they’re talented. So we’ve got to find a way as a staff to get them to perform at a high level."

That is a theme of this season for Ball. It’s not necessarily a knock against departed receivers coach Adam Henry, who worked with an incredibly inexperienced batch of receivers last season, that LSU’s wideouts were an up-and-down group in 2014.

Take Quinn, for example. ESPN’s No. 3 receiver prospect last year, Quinn was a standout during summer workouts and started the opener against Wisconsin, but he disappeared down the stretch, catching just three passes in the Tigers’ final six games.

Ball believes the sophomore can do better, and his job is to get his new player to agree with him.

"I love his skill set," Ball said. "Obviously he kind of dropped off a little bit last year and we’ve got to help him get his confidence back, because he has the ability to make a lot of plays."

Quinn represents one example of a general trend that existed within LSU’s receivers last season. Certainly part of the group’s issue was inconsistent quarterback play, but they didn’t do Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris many favors, either.

LSU’s wideouts were also learning on the job in 2014, and the results weren’t always positive. But the group got its first significant taste of SEC competition last fall, and now it’s Ball’s job to help them take the next step. He helped A.J. Green do that as an assistant at his previous stop, Georgia, and he hopes to help players with similar pedigrees -- like Dupre, who was ESPN’s No. 1 wideout prospect in 2014 -- advance in similar fashion at LSU.

It starts with learning about their personalities and capabilities, Ball said.

"No. 1, knowing who they are, knowing what their abilities are, knowing how they play the game right now, and then assessing how they play, having the ability to assess them and knowing how they work out and how they focus and how they work," Ball said. "That will certainly help.

"So now, the first challenge is teaching them how to prepare, how to train, how to ready ourselves, how we should focus, how we should think even before we get on the field -- just getting into the mental aspect of it," he continued. "And then once you get on the field and know what’s expected and they’ve got the right mindset, it really makes it easy on the field."

Top spring storylines at LSU

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
BATON ROUGE, La. -- For most LSU fans, there is only one spring storyline that matters: the quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

Indeed, the competition between junior Jennings (1,611 passing yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs in 2014) and sophomore Harris (452 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) might determine whether the Tigers re-emerge as legitimate contenders in the SEC West or remain in the middle of the pack like last season’s 8-5 club.

But there are plenty of spring stories to follow at LSU beyond Jennings-Harris. Here are five more that deserve some attention.

What will Kevin Steele’s defense look like? The public likely won’t gain a full understanding of Steele’s defensive modifications until the regular season starts in September, as LSU’s spring practices are open only for short periods of time and the Tigers will probably play it close to the vest in their spring game.

[+] EnlargeKevin Steele
AP Photo/Hilary ScheinukHow new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, left, changes up LSU's schemes will be one of the top storylines to follow in Baton Rouge.
But Steele seems likely to change things around a bit, perhaps incorporating some 3-4 looks into the scheme over time. The Tigers have personnel that is best suited for the 4-3 base scheme and multiple-DB packages that John Chavis coached over the previous six seasons, but the roster is more than versatile enough to try some new things. Steele’s impact will be one of the most intriguing storylines not just this spring, but throughout the 2015 season at LSU.

How will the secondary take shape? The Tigers have a ton of good options at defensive back, so this is hardly a nightmare for Corey Raymond’s crew. It’s a matter of figuring out which pieces fit best at which positions.

The biggest position of interest is the cornerback spot opposite two-year starter Tre'Davious White. With the departures of Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson, the Tigers lack a proven second option -- assuming that senior Jalen Mills remains at safety. Mills started for two seasons at corner and could move back, but will that be necessary? LSU has numerous options to fill the spot -- including heavily recruited early enrollee Kevin Toliver, sophomore Ed Paris and junior Dwayne Thomas, who is coming off season-ending knee surgery. And other alternatives will arrive this summer in signees Donte Jackson and Xavier Lewis.

Safety is also an interesting position, particularly if Mills works at corner. Sophomore Jamal Adams seems likely to grab a starting spot, but who else claims the top spots in the rotation out of Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thompson, John Battle and Devin Voorhies? Raymond will have his work cut out in distributing the PT to so many capable players.

Will Cam Cameron open up the offense? This is a corollary to the decision on the starting quarterback. LSU’s passing game was woefully unproductive last season, mostly because of underwhelming play at quarterback. How much will offensive coordinator Cameron be able to open up his playbook in 2015 after playing it so conservatively a season ago?

With Leonard Fournette in the backfield, LSU still figures to be a run-heavy offense. But the Tigers might not be able to beat the high-scoring teams on the schedule without getting the ball downfield more effectively. Cameron understands this reality.

Either way, expect him to throw more wrinkles at opposing defenses than he did for most of the 2014 season. Perhaps the regular-season finale against Texas A&M was a template. Cameron mixed things up against the Aggies and a stagnant offense came to life with 491 yards of total offense. Between that game and the bowl loss against Notre Dame, Cameron handed the ball to speedy receiver Travin Dural -- mostly on jet sweeps -- a total of eight times for 110 yards.

Getting more out of the quarterbacks would greatly help Cameron make better use of his skill talent, but it seems likely that he will be more ambitious this season regardless, out of necessity.

What impact will the new assistant coaches have on their positions? We’ve already discussed Steele and how he might juggle different defensive looks. Any shuffling would likely impact how he uses the players at his new position group, linebacker, as well. When the Tigers open spring practice on Saturday, it will be interesting to see where Steele has the various linebackers lining up.

LSU’s other new assistants, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and receivers coach Tony Ball, both have young groups to develop. They both have obvious candidates for playing time (tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture for Orgeron and wideouts Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse and Trey Quinn for Ball), but building depth will be an objective for both coaches.

The Tigers have a boatload of unproven youngsters at both position groups, and LSU would benefit greatly if the new assistants could get some production out of them starting this spring.

Who grabs the last two starting spots on the offensive line? The positions for LSU’s three returning starters on the offensive line -- Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic -- aren’t set in stone, but it’s almost a certainty that all three will start somewhere.

Jeff Grimes’ job this spring will be figuring out where they fit best and which players to slide into the other two openings along his offensive line. Grimes lost two senior starters (left tackle La’el Collins and center Elliott Porter) and two top reserves (seniors Evan Washington and Fehoko Fanaika) from last season, so the Tigers will be young in spots.

Most likely that will be on the interior line, although Alexander could play either guard or tackle and Pocic is capable of playing every position on the line. Guard/tackle Josh Boutte, center Andy Dodd, center/guard William Clapp, tackle K.J. Malone and guard Garrett Brumfield are all players who might get some consideration from Grimes this spring.


LSU's Jalen Collins talks NFL
LSU's Defensive Back, Jalen Collins speaks with ESPN's Greg McElroy about recovery and road to NFL.