“I envision of course all of us playing, all of us rotating,” Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “I see our tight ends with probably seven or eight catches a game -- at least -- just to make that big step now that we’re improving in practice and showing them we can catch and be their go-to targets. We have a great receiving corps, too, so I plan on a lot of people getting a lot of balls, but much more [at tight end] than we got last year.”
For those who expected LSU’s tight ends to receive heavy attention last fall in Year 1 under Cam Cameron -- a noted tight end enthusiast during his decade as an NFL offensive coordinator -- Smith’s projection probably seems comical.
It wasn’t that the tight end didn’t play an active part in the offense, however, it’s that senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger had two of the nation’s most productive wide receivers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and made full use of their abilities. With Beckham and Landry -- who combined for 136 catches and 2,345 yards last fall -- now chasing NFL dreams, the tight ends believe they will garner more attention from their quarterbacks.
“We had the two best receivers in the country -- that’s what I say, anyway -- and obviously we’re going to push the ball to those guys in game situations,” Stokes said. “But this year, we’re young across the board and we’re looking for playmakers. This spring, we’re starting to find them and some of those playmakers happen to be us.
“When they need us to make a play, DeSean’s made some great plays downfield and me and Dillon have made some nice plays, 10, 15 yards. We’ve had a couple of deep balls this year, too, so we’re definitely going to get more involved this year, I feel like.”
It doesn’t hurt their confidence in making such claims that Cameron has a proven track record of using the tight end. In 10 seasons as an NFL coordinator, his offenses frequently targeted players like Dennis Pitta, Todd Heap and Antonio Gates, who helped usher in a new era of athletic, pass-catching tight ends. Over that 10-year period, Cameron’s top tight end averaged 55 catches for 668 yards and six touchdowns per season.
Obviously it was exciting news to the group, then, that Cameron joined Les Miles’ coaching staff last February.
“First thing, my dad called and told me,” Smith recalled. “Right then, everybody in my family was talking about how he’s a tight end guy. That was pretty neat.”
Now it’s a matter of proving that the group deserves more of an opportunity. That has been a goal this spring, as blocking-oriented players like Stokes work on their pass-catching skills and receiving-oriented tight ends like Smith attempt to become better blockers.
If each member of the group proves he can excel in both areas, LSU’s offense becomes less predictable and more difficult to defend.
“Now when we play teams and we’re in the game, they can’t be like, ‘Oh they’re running the ball’ or ‘Oh they’re throwing the ball.’ Now we can kind of mix it up on people and they won’t know what’s going on,” Stokes said. “I feel like this year we’ve all been catching balls in the scrimmages and we’ve all been active in all aspects of the game.”
They’ll add another member to the group over the summer when signee Jacory Washington on campus. He’ll add another player in the hybrid, pass-catching role of a Smith, as Miles mentioned after a recent spring practice.
“We’ve used them in the past and I think that any time that you have a position that is used to block and he can also receive the ball, it makes a tremendous difference in your attack. And it’s another quality receiver,” Miles said. “I think both DeSean Smith and Jacory Washington will be guys that we’ll use in the fall.”
Since the tight end is involved in essentially every formation the Tigers utilize, expect to see plenty of them on the field this fall -- often two at a time. Whether the group’s reception total rises remains to be seen, but spring is always a time for optimism, and LSU’s tight ends fully believe that their time is coming.
“This year a lot of people have got big shoes to fill, so hopefully we’ll be able to see the tight ends step into that position of being the old tight ends you see in the Cam Cameron offense,” said Dickson, who led LSU’s tight ends with 109 yards on five catches last season. “There’s definitely more opportunities, as much as we use tight ends in our offense. As the season goes on and as a lot of us develop into our key roles, we’ll see what happens.”
Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.
This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.
“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”
Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.
“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."
Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.
With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.
Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.
Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.
Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.
Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.
Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.
LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.
Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.
Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.
Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.
Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.
Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
- Alec Morris is right in the thick of the race to become Alabama's next starting quarterback. But apparently the big Texan has another role: punter.
- Arkansas is back at it after spring break. And while some coaches may not love the delay in the action, Bret Bielema said he's in favor of the stretched out camp.
- Reese Disumkes has already accomplished a lot in his career at Auburn. Glancing over the list of returning linemen in the SEC, he's arguably the league's best center. But this spring he's focused on improving two specific skills.
- Will Grier has wasted no time at Florida as it appears he's headed for the backup role behind Jeff Driskel. What's amazing is the former U.S. Army All-American and ESPN 300 recruit has only been on campus for a few months.
- There was a bit of false confidence among the Georgia defense last season. The result? Well you know how bad it was. Long on talent yet again, players are doing less talking this spring and more learning from new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
- Experience. Experience. Experience. Kentucky's players on defense may not have much of it, but the coaches do. The Wildcats' new special teams coordinator is the third coach with defensive coordinator experience, including head coach Mark Stoops.
- LSU defensive back Kavahra Holmes won't be back on the football field in 2014. The track star is transferring after appearing in one game last season.
- Ole Miss early enrollee C.J. Hampton says, “I know I’m not ready to step in right now.” With some time, the four-star safety could be.
- Pharoh Cooper went to South Carolina to become a defensive back. But now he's playing four roles and none of them are on defense.
On Monday, the school announced that the Tigers have agreed to a home-and-home series with UCLA starting in 2021 in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins will later travel to Tiger Stadium on Aug. 31, 2024. LSU also announced that it will in play Arizona State in back-to-back years in 2022 and 2023. LSU will travel to Tempe for a game against the Sun Devils on Sept. 10, 2022 and play in Baton Rouge on Sept. 9, 2023.
This is certainly nothing new for the Tigers, who have played at least one major nonconference opponent from one of the main BCS conferences in 11 of the past 12 years. It's become a regular deal for LSU, which is also set to play Wisconsin at Reliant Stadium in Houston with a return trip to Green Bay’s Lambeau Field for the 2016 season opener. LSU is also scheduled to play Syracuse in a home-and-home series in 2015 and 2017.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive won't have to tell LSU to toughen up its schedule now that the College Football Playoff is here.
And the Tigers aren't the only ones beefing up their future nonconference schedules. Florida is set to open the 2017 season against Michigan in Arlington, Texas, inside Jerry's World, which will mark the first time since 1991 that the Gators will have played a nonconference opponent outside the state of Florida (Syracuse). Alabama will also open the 2015 season with Wisconsin in Arlington. Ole Miss is opening the coming season with Boise State in Atlanta and Arkansas is taking its show on the road to play Texas Tech in September. Auburn is also traveling to Kansas State this fall and Georgia plays its second game with Clemson at home this year. Texas A&M is also playing Arizona State in Houston in 2015.
The SEC has been crushed for years when it comes to its nonconference schedules, but the league is starting to improve in that area as a whole. With the playoff coming, the league might have to with strength of schedule now being a factor for the playoff committee when it comes to picking the final four teams.
There's still talk of the league moving to nine conference games, but Slive has made it clear that he'd like 10 quality games every year. That means that teams will start playing at least one more tougher nonconference opponent each year going forward. It's certainly a good thing for fans of the game, and we all know the end goal for this league is to sneak two teams into the four-team playoff as much as possible. This is the way to do it.
That year would be Miles’ 17th as the Tigers’ coach -- only Charles McClendon’s 18 would outrank him in program annals -- and that visit to the legendary Rose Bowl stadium would add to the list of lengthy road trips Miles’ LSU teams would have made under his watch.
On Monday, LSU announced home-and-home series with both UCLA (away in 2021 and home in 2024) and Arizona State (away in 2022 and home in 2023), extending LSU’s comfy relationship with the Pac-12 and continuing the program’s recent trend of venturing far from Tiger Stadium to face nonconference opposition.
In the first 120 years of LSU football, it was unusual for the Tigers to travel 1,000 miles or more for a regular-season road game. After a highly unofficial examination of the year-by-year schedule in LSU’s media guide, it appears that the Tigers made only eight regular-season trips of 1,000-plus miles between 1893 and 2002 -- the longest being a 1,603-mile jaunt between Baton Rouge and Los Angeles in 1984 to face USC at the Memorial Coliseum.
Since 2003, LSU has made trips to Washington (covering a program-record 2,031 miles in 2009), Arizona State (1,235 miles in 2005) and Arizona (1,175 miles in 2003). And the program has already announced long trips to play Wisconsin at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field in 2016 (987 miles), a home-and-home series against Syracuse in 2015 and 2017 (1,199 miles), plus the newly announced visits to Pasadena (1,594 miles) and Tempe.
Long road trips, particularly to face BCS-conference opposition, can be a hassle, but LSU has fared exceptionally well in those scenarios over the last decade. The Tigers are 7-0 against Pac-12 opponents since 2003, with three of those wins (Arizona, Arizona State, Washington) coming on the road and one at a neutral site (against Oregon in Dallas in 2011).
The Tigers faced at least one BCS-conference opponent in every regular season except one (2008) dating back to 2002 and have won 12 in a row since falling at Virginia Tech in 2002. Included on LSU’s hit list over that period are wins over TCU, Washington (twice), West Virginia (twice), Arizona (twice), Arizona State, North Carolina, Oregon, Oregon State and Virginia Tech.
In other words, LSU’s recent interest in spreading its purple and gold colors across the country has paid off thus far, and it appears that trend will only continue as we enter the college football playoff era, where strength of schedule will be an important factor for contending teams.
LSU’s 1,000-MILE CLUB
There are only a handful of times where LSU’s football team has traveled 1,000 miles or more for a nonconference road contest. That list has expanded significantly in the last decade and should continue to grow.
1922 Rutgers (L) /1,194
1931 Army (L)/1,219
1935 Manhattan (W)/1,195
1939 Holy Cross (W)/1,345
1942 Fordham (W)/1,194
1947 Boston College (W)/1,375
1979 Colorado (W)/1,034
1984 USC (W)/1,603
2003 Arizona (W)/1,175
2005 Arizona State (W)/1,235
2009 Washington (W)/2,031
2015 or 2017 Syracuse/1,199
2022 Arizona State/1,235
The Tigers and Bruins will meet at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 4, 2021. UCLA will make the return trip to Tiger Stadium on Aug. 31, 2024.
"In LSU, a perennial SEC power, we are pleased to add yet another marquee opponent to our future schedule," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "With such upcoming non-conference games taking us around the country to places like Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, we're able to nationally showcase UCLA football while strengthening our resume come playoff season."
UCLA's last game against an SEC school was a 19-15 win over Tennessee in 2009 in Knoxville. LSU's last game against a Pac-12 school was a 41-3 win at home over Washington in 2012.
In addition, the Tigers will renew their series with Arizona State in 2022 and 2023. The Tigers will make the trip to Tempe on Sept. 10, 2022 and the Sun Devils will go to Baton Rouge on Sept. 9, 2023.
The two schools were supposed to meet in 2005 and 2006, but Hurricane Katrina derailed the original scheduling. Instead of ASU going to Baton Rouge, the Sun Devils hosted the Tigers in 2005, a game LSU won 35-31 on a late touchdown from JaMarcus Russell to Early Doucet. That game generated more than $1 million in Katrina relief. This new series replaces the original home-and-home that was disrupted by the hurricane.
- Spring break is over at Alabama. The Crimson Tide get back to work today on rebuilding a team with its fair share of question marks.
- Arkansas was spoiled to have someone like Kiero Small at fullback last season. Now Bret Bielema and his staff are turning toward Kody Walker to see if he can handle the position.
- Angelo Blackson had the look of a difference maker heading into last season, but his play dwindled as the year went along. Now facing his final year of eligibility, he's looking to work his way back into the rotation on the defensive line for Auburn.
- Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is more than pleased to have Jeff Driskel at quarterback. In fact, the coach said it was the "luck of the draw" to get him under center.
- Reggie Davis is all in on football, not track this spring. The speedy Georgia wideout could make a difference in more areas than one.
- A "hard-hitting" scrimmage has LSU ready for next week's spring game. Les Miles didn't release the quarterbacks' stats, but there were four touchdown passes thrown.
- Find out what Dan Mullen and quarterback Dak Prescott had to say about Mississippi State's first scrimmage of the spring. Check out some stats while you're there.
- Besides the turnovers, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace says the offense took advantage of the defense and "kicked their butt all day" during the scrimmage.
The Pro Impact team, led by LSU commit and the No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300 Kevin Toliver II and defensive back Derwin James Jr., a Florida State commit, upset River City, which featured FSU quarterback commit De’Andre Johnson and South Carolina commit Sherrod Pittman, 23-14.
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He had been an all-state safety and certainly has athletic genes -- both of his parents were college athletes -- but the speed of the players around him, the increased complexity of the playbook and the intricacies of playing safety in college initially made life rough for Thompson.
He eventually made the transition in fine fashion. Thompson played in all 13 games in 2012 as a true freshman, mostly covering kicks on special teams, and had claimed a starting spot by the midway point of his second season.
He had started five of the last six games in 2013 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Texas A&M -- an ailment that has kept him out of the Tigers’ spring practice while he recovers from offseason surgery.
Now Thompson and his fellow veterans must help a new class of freshman safeties overcome the natural frustration and self-doubt that almost always accompanies their first taste of life in the SEC. That group, which includes ESPN’s No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect for 2014, Jamal Adams, along with Devin Voorhies and John Battle, is one of the nation’s top collection of safety signees and will almost certainly compete for playing time in 2014.
Les Miles confirmed as much after Saturday’s scrimmage, when a reporter asked whether any safeties had earned a starting spot yet.
“I don’t think that decision will be made until the freshman class comes in. We’ll be in two-a-days and kind of decide who the best guys are,” Miles said.
Competition suits Thompson fine, and LSU’s coaching staff will have plenty of options since Jalen Mills, Ronald Martin and Rickey Jefferson also started at safety at least once last fall.
“It’ll be interesting to see the young guys come in, make a name for themselves,” Thompson said. “It’ll be fine. We’ll all get together and work out, do some drills together and get into fall camp, teach the young guys how to do it and they’ll be good from there.”
Martin intercepted two passes in Saturday’s scrimmage and Jefferson had one, causing Miles to remark afterward that he thinks the safeties are playing better. If that’s the case, that would be a good sign -- since safety was a fairly inconsistent position for the Tigers in 2013. Senior Craig Loston was an old hand at safety by then, but Martin was the only other experienced starter -- and he had started just once prior to last fall.
It was a rocky learning experience for all involved, which was part of the reason that Mills finally shifted from cornerback to fill in at safety against Arkansas and then start there in the Outback Bowl against Iowa.
“It was a curve, just trying to be more of a vocal leader and stepping up in a position, trying to be a first-time starter and getting to know the defense more from changing positions,” Martin said. “Because when I first got here, I was playing strong and I mixed in free safety. So it’s all about knowing the defense.”
That last part will probably be the biggest hurdle for the newcomers once they arrive this summer. Adams is LSU’s highest-rated safety signee in the ESPN prospect rankings since Loston (the No. 1 safety in 2009), so clearly he has the physical tools to excel in college. It might be only a matter of time until he cashes in on that star potential, but it’s no simple task catching on to the job that awaits him at LSU.
“One thing is the speed of the game, but the next is really just knowing your plays, knowing how to mix in different calls and stuff like that because you’re the quarterback of the defense at safety,” Thompson said. “I’m making calls every play, so I have to know what’s going on, where people are lining up at and give them different calls and stuff.”
The veterans plan to help teach the newcomers from the moment they arrive on campus. Once they learn the intricacies of the position, that’s when the competition will truly begin -- and there will be plenty of that.
“That’s what football is all about,” Mills said. “It’s about that competitive area, the competitive nature. You have to be competitive whether it’s on the field, off the field, in practice, wherever you are.”
RB Jones wants to travel
The battle for Ronald Jones II, one of the state’s top running back recruits out of McKinney North, rages on as he should be hitting the road in the next few months.
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Quantavius Leslie -- who joined the Tigers as a hyped junior college transfer last year only to record just one reception during the season -- led LSU’s offense with four catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage at Tiger Stadium.
“This was important for him to get on and understand the system and figure out what you have to do and how you run the route,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And then it was read correctly, the quarterback made nice throws and he did the things that he can do. He made some really nice grabs.”
The scrimmage was closed to the media and Miles didn’t divulge the stats that would surely generate the most interest, the passing numbers of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. But Miles noted that both quarterbacks worked with the first- and second-team offenses and faced live contact once they ran from the pocket.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive situation,” he said.
“I think both quarterbacks showed skill. I think there’s some opportunities to change things and improve and I think that’s what both quarterbacks are working to do. It’s going to be interesting.”
Among the statistics that Miles shared:
- The Tigers passed for 295 yards and rushed for 231 in a scrimmage that covered 120-plus plays.
- Kenny Hilliard was the leading rusher with 57 yards. Terrence Magee, who sprained an ankle in last week’s scrimmage, did not carry the ball. Miles said he should return to practice next week.
- In addition to Leslie’s 135 yards, Travin Dural had four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown, John Diarse had two catches for 14 yards and tight end DeSean Smith had one catch for 17 yards. “I honestly think the ball was thrown pretty much where it was supposed to,” Miles said. “I think there was really some great plays made. It’ll be interesting to see how the film looks.”
- Safety Ronald Martin intercepted two passes and Rickey Jefferson had one on what was a productive day for the secondary. “We kind of feel like our safety position is going to be manned well,” Miles said. “I think they’re playing better. I think there may have been some coverage mistakes in this go. We’ll have to see who that was. I think our safeties are improved. I think our corner play was really good today. I think [Tre’Davious] White and Rashard Robinson both played extremely hard.”
- Linebacker Kendell Beckwith had six tackles, two tackles for a loss and “made a nice play down on the goal line,” Miles said.
Overall, Miles seemed to feel the scrimmage was most productive because of the physicality displayed -- particularly along the line of scrimmage.
“It was a very, very quality scrimmage. We’re improved,” Miles said. “We’re not ready to play a game yet, but we are much improved and I think the offensive and defensive line really kind of teed off and worked in a very competitive manner. You get what you earn and it looked that way today.”
- You might have heard a little something about Johnny Manziel's pro day workout in front of the entire NFL and a national cable TV audience. The consensus was that it went really well for Johnny Football. Afterward, Manziel had dinner with the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 overall pick. He also is expected to meet with the Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers -- all picking in the top seven. Whatever happens, it's clear that Manziel has crossed over into the rare air of a pop-culture icon. His performance predictably sent Twitter into a tizzy.
- Vanderbilt associate athletic director Rod Williamson said VU has been and will continue to monitor the Northwestern football unionization case. The NLRB ruling applies only to private schools. Coach Derek Mason thinks it means changes are coming for college football, but he'd rather not speculate on what they might be.
- One South Carolina Gamecock already sees himself as a school employee, and coach Steve Spurrier says he "can see their point, a little bit." Spurrier is a longtime proponent of increasing player stipends.
- There is no law in the state of Tennessee allowing public university employees to unionize ... for now.
- Kentucky opens spring practice on Friday, and the Cats expect a boost from their redshirt players.
- Six of Athlon's top 15 wide receivers on the rise for 2014 hail from the SEC, with Auburn's Sammie Coates high on the list. The Tigers have one less receiver, as Trovon Reed moves to cornerback this spring.
- Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper gushed over how quickly QB Jeff Driskel is learning the new offense.
- LSU coach Les Miles has no qualms about recruiting middle schoolers.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel likes his QB competition, saying of Maty Mauk: "He's the starter right now."
- Vandy's Mason anticipates a "baptism by fire" in his first season in the SEC. The Nashville Predators will take it a little easier on Mason when they officially welcome him at their game on Sunday.
- With the departure of C.J. Mosley, Alabama has a huge void at linebacker. Junior Denzel Devall is excited about the Tide's new identity. Another linebacker, Josh Dickerson, made waves during his spring break when he dunked on his grandmother.
- Are Georgia's linebackers, with all four starters returning, the best in the SEC?
- Hey, remember ol' Ed Orgeron, the former Rebels coach? He resurfaced this week as the featured speaker at Mississippi State's coaching clinic.
- South Carolina safety Brison Williams is preparing to move to cornerback where the Gamecocks are thin.
- Ole Miss WR Quincy Adeboyejo is moving inside to slot receiver.
On some level, every big-time college football coaching staff deals with the dilemma that Miles currently faces, but a spate of NFL early entries in recent seasons has made predicting the future an even more vital element in LSU’s success. Specifically, Miles and his staff must lead an incomplete 2014 squad through 15 spring practices while also attempting to project whether players who aren’t yet on campus will be ready to play key roles this fall.
“I think the skill players on offense are going to be musts and I think the skill players on defense, with the safeties stepping in there and being able to play -- I just think the recruiting class will hit us just where we need to be hit.”
At some positions, LSU’s needs are great. At others, it’s simply that the caliber of athlete is high enough that Miles’ staff knows to include him in its 2014 plans. In some cases, both scenarios are in play.
Take receiver and running back, for example.
When 2014 signees Malachi Dupre -- the nation’s No. 1 receiver prospect -- and tailback Darrel Williams showed up to observe the Tigers’ first spring practice, Miles joked afterward that he wished the two players could have participated in the team’s workout.
The Tigers are short on proven performers at receiver -- and thanks to several recent injuries at the position, they’ve been short on warm bodies to even run through drills -- and have only two scholarship tailbacks available this spring.
Those depth shortages are a direct result of several NFL draft early entries in the last couple of seasons. LSU lost two tailbacks to the draft after the 2012 season and two more this year when Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue both turned pro. It's a similar story at wideout, where the only two accomplished players on the roster, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, opted to skip their senior seasons.
Miles’ staff addressed those issues in phenomenal fashion on signing day, adding Williams and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, at tailback, plus arguably the top collection of receivers that any program signed in 2014 -- a group that also includes No. 3 wideout Trey Quinn and two more ESPN 300 recruits in D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch.
The problem is that no member of that group is on campus yet, forcing LSU’s coaches to both evaluate what they have at present and how the signees’ summer arrival will affect the group dynamic.
“I just think that some of those guys are going to get first-[team] snaps,” Miles said of the receiver signees. “They’re going to be advantages for us and we’ve got to use them well.”
As Miles mentioned, a high-quality group of safety signees could dent the depth chart in similar fashion. The Tigers have a few returning veterans and have moved Jalen Mills over from cornerback to shore up their needs at safety, but signees such as No. 2 safety Jamal Adams, ESPN 300 prospect Devin Voorhies and John Battle could shake up the competition in August.
It’s not that those players’ absences have made this spring useless for LSU. But Miles and his staff must function this spring with the knowledge that they’re coaching an incomplete roster.
That’s not much different from Alabama or Texas A&M or Auburn, which also lost players to the draft and have key signees who haven't arrived, but the situation is more extreme in Baton Rouge. If Miles balances the magician part of his job correctly, perhaps he can pull a rabbit out of his famous hat by the end of August, when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin in Houston.
“Here’s what you get out of 15 practices in the spring of the year: You practice the team that you have with you and you advance them and get them taught and get them improved. You teach technique and whatever you can get to, you get to with that team,” Miles said recently.
“Before the next team, that next part of your team, shows up, you anticipate where your direction goes. You anticipate that, ‘That guy goes here and that guy goes here’ and you fit it. Then in the first game, you hope that you prepared them well enough to win and play well in the first game. If you win and play well in the first game, you’re all on track.”
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," commissioner Mike Slive said in a written statement.
Former South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles came out against the idea of college football players unions.
Elsewhere in the South, spring practice and NFL scouting continued as if the earth had not spun off its axis.
- Johnny Football's pro day workout, the "Manziel Misson", this morning at Texas A&M will draw the full media circus and then some. Former President George H.W. Bush is expected to attend. Here are five things Manziel needs to do if he wants to impress the 41st president and the legion of NFL decision-makers who will be watching.
- Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy's TV presence will make him one of the SEC Network's most eagerly anticipated faces and voices, but can he be objective about the Crimson Tide?
- Sammie Coates learned many lessons on his way to becoming Auburn's No. 1 wide receiver. Several other Tigers wideouts are also emerging this spring.
- Thanks to some terrific recruiting, LSU has high hopes for its defensive tackles even after losing two starters.
- Defense still rules the roost at Florida, while head coach Will Muschamp stopped just short of calling Jeff Driskel his starter at QB.
- Missouri's banner year on the gridiron helped the school's athletic department generate a surplus of $4 million during the last fiscal year.
- The Ole Miss Rebels' competition to see who will back up QB Bo Wallace is down to Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade.
- After an up-and-down first season, CB Brendan Langley is back in the starting lineup for now. Here are some early observations of Georgia's defense.
- A little cold weather in Nashville, Tenn., didn't deter the Commodores from getting in some work outdoors.
- Mississippi State WR De’Runnya Wilson is looking to be Dak Prescott's No. 1 target.
- Kentucky redshirt freshman OL Jordan Watson has quit football.
- Tennessee still has a question mark at kicker.
This time last year, he had just opened his first spring in Baton Rouge, so the main objective was teaching a mostly-veteran group of offensive players his way of executing on offense. Now that they've been together for a year, more players are familiar with Cameron’s system, but they will rely on an entirely new set of skill players.
“At the beginning, he threw a lot out at us. Now we’re trying to perfect those plays,” Jennings said after Tuesday’s practice. “So I don’t think he’s put in a lot -- as much as I think last year [when] he put in a lot of things because he had a veteran quarterback. So now he’s put in a lot of things early and trying to make us perfect those things we’re doing.”
That in itself has been a work in progress. Although LSU’s offensive players insist that they’re improving with each practice together, the Tigers understandably have plenty of work to do before they can match the efficiency of departed leaders like quarterback Zach Mettenberger, receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and tailback Jeremy Hill.
And it hasn’t helped that both the receivers and running backs have dealt with injury and depth issues during the spring, with several months to go until a touted group of 2014 signees at those positions arrives.
At times, the results have been ugly -- like in a practice last week, when the quarterbacks and receivers struggled to connect in a simple passing drill where they were working on slant routes. Because of the array of inaccurate and dropped passes, a frustrated Cameron made them repeat the routes again and again.
“Until we can throw a slant, we aren't going to throw another route, I promise you,” Cameron yelled. “We’ll be the simplest -- I’ll tell you what, we’ll run 1950s football until we can do this. We’ll run one route the whole year.”
Obviously a transition from one of the most prolific foursomes in LSU history to a group of largely inexperienced players wasn't going to occur seamlessly. But you’d never know it from the way Cameron has approached the spring, according to senior center Elliott Porter.
Asked whether Cameron has slowed things down for the new quarterbacks, Porter’s response was emphatic.
“No! That’s not right,” Porter chuckled. “It’s Coach Cam. Coach Cam believes in going full speed. If we get it, we’re going to get it. That’s it. That’s how we do things around here. If you couldn't do it, you wouldn’t be here. That’s what you have to look at. We’re not slowing down for no one and we’re going to keep moving and keep doing it. You’re smart enough to get it.”
After all, Porter pointed out, there will be times in the fall where the Tigers must adjust on the fly while preparing for an upcoming opponent’s defensive scheme. They won’t have time to take things slowly for youngsters then, either.
“It’s college football, baby,” Porter said. “I believe Coach Cam and [offensive line coach Jeff] Grimes and Coach [Les] Miles are the best ones to prepare you for the NFL. That’s the type of pace you go by. You just don’t know, in a game week, if you change something whole about your offense, we have two days to change it. Maybe one. You really have to be able to adjust and adjust fast.”
Nonetheless, quarterback guru Cameron has the luxury of drilling the small details of the position with his youngsters this spring, since the opener against Wisconsin is still five months away.
As Jennings noted, Cameron probably hasn’t operated as briskly as he might have otherwise with more experienced quarterbacks, but LSU veterans are still observing the methodical progress the youngsters are making under Cameron’s tutelage.
“I feel like he’s getting the quarterbacks really prepared for the fall. … That’s what has kind of been going on, but the guys have been picking it up real good at practice,” senior tailback Kenny Hilliard said. “Hopefully they just continue to get better and learn from Coach Cam and just carry that on to the fall.”
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