Anthony Jennings (Quarterback, So.)
2013 review: Jennings enters his sophomore season having already created a lasting memory for LSU fans. He came off the bench when Mettenberger suffered a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas and led a game-winning, 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Jennings' lone start -- the Outback Bowl win against Iowa -- wasn't as memorable, but he has considerably more on-field experience than his competition. The 2013 early enrollee finished his freshman season having completed 13 of 29 passes for 181 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Why spring is important: Jennings' performance in the comeback win against Arkansas raised expectations, but his outing against Iowa (7-for-19, 82 yards, one interception) in a rainy, nasty afternoon in Tampa left plenty to be desired. He and Mettenberger were the only quarterbacks to attempt a pass last fall, but the Tigers have no shortage of options at the position -- including early enrollee Brandon Harris, freshman Hayden Rettig and redshirt junior Rob Bolden -- so Jennings needs to take advantage of the early advantage he carries into the spring. The number of competitors did decrease earlier this week, however, when the school revealed that quarterback Stephen Rivers plans to transfer.
Best case/worst case: Jennings impressed at this time last year, claiming playing time as a freshman by accommodating himself well in the spring. The dual-threat performer hadn't done much all season when he entered the Arkansas game and promptly tossed the game-winning touchdown pass to Travin Dural. Perhaps that was a sign of great things to come, starting this season with a completely different set of offensive skill players. LSU's coaches seem to have made it clear that the job is Jennings' to lose, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities that he loses it. The worst case for Jennings would have him struggling to claim the job during spring practice, leaving open the competition into August and even September and eventually losing game snaps to the other quarterbacks on the depth chart as LSU's coaches evaluate their options.
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.
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Spotlight: Quarterback Anthony Jennings, 6-2, 211 pounds, rising sophomore
2013 summary: Jennings threw for 181 yards and a touchdown with one interception on 13 of 29 passing. He replaced starter Zach Mettenberger (ACL) in the fourth quarter of the season-finale against Arkansas, leading the Tigers on a game-winning, 99-yard touchdown drive that was capped with his 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 remaining. He then started in place of Mettenberger in the Tigers' 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, where he threw for 82 yards with an interception.
The skinny: Now that Mettenberger is gone, the Tigers are searching for their quarterback of the future, and Jennings is currently No. 1 on that list. He wasn't perfect during his time on the field in 2013, but he guided the Tigers well enough for them to pull out two close wins at the end of the season. With LSU's offense shifting to accommodate a more dual-threat quarterback, Jennings should feel comfortable running things under center this spring. While he didn't show tendencies to be a run-first quarterback during his limited time on the field last season, Jennings can make plays with his feet if needed. What he needs to focus on is his accuracy and decision-making, which will come with more reps and more time with his receivers, a group that will look totally different with the loss of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. to the NFL draft. The athletic Jennings can now call LSU his team, but it's not like he won't have competition. Even with reserve Stephen Rivers deciding to transfer, Jennings is expected to get major push from true freshman Brandon Harris, who was rated the No. 2 overall dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class by ESPN's Recruiting Nation. Harris is currently on campus, so he's already had his opportunities to push Jennings before spring ball even begins. LSU had such stability with Mettenberger at quarterback and is coming off a season in which the Tigers boasted one of the SEC's best offenses. With inexperience now littering the receiver spot, LSU needs that stability back in order to keep the offense going, and that starts with Jennings.
Who will be the top five offensive linemen in the league next season?
That's a tricky question because a lot can change between now and next fall, and offensive linemen all develop at different rates. For instance, did anybody have Auburn's Greg Robinson as the SEC's premier offensive lineman this time a year ago? Robinson exploded during the 2013 season and is now being projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper as the No. 2 overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
There's sure to be a player or two just like Robinson that really emerges next season. With that said, here's our early take on the SEC's top-5 offensive linemen going into the 2014 season. They're listed alphabetically:
La'el Collins, OT, LSU, Sr.: The Tigers breathed a sigh of relief, and with good reason, when the 6-5, 315-pound Collins decided to return for his senior season. He has everything it takes to be one of the most dominant left tackles in the college game. He was a second-team All-SEC selection last season by the coaches and started his LSU career at guard.
Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn, Sr.: A starter for the Tigers since the day he walked onto campus, the 6-3, 297-pound Dismukes is the class of a deep and talented center crop in the SEC next season. He's tough, smart and has the kind of nasty streak coaches love. Dismukes was a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches last season and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing with an average of 328.3 yards per game.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: When you start listing the top offensive tackles in college football, don't forget about Ogbuehi. He'll be moving from right tackle to left tackle to replace Jake Matthews and has already proven that he's a top run-blocker and pass-protector at both guard and tackle. The 6-5, 300-pound Ogbuehi is an exceptional athlete and came back for his senior season despite receiving a first round grade from the NFL draft advisory board.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss, So.: Even though the 6-5, 315-pound Tunsil is the youngest of this group, he might have the most pure talent. He took over the Rebels' left tackle duties last season as a true freshman and started nine games, earning second-team All-SEC honors from the AP as well as freshman All-America honors. He allowed just one sack all year from his position, and with an entire offseason and spring workouts under his belt, he should take an even bigger step in 2014.
Five more to watch:
- David Andrews, C, Georgia, Sr.
- Dillon Day, C, Mississippi State, Sr.
- Chaz Green, OT, Florida, Sr.
- Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama, Jr.
- Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina, Sr.
Here's a look at the Tigers who are scheduled to be in attendance and when their position groups will take the field for workouts in Indianapolis.
Saturday: Tight ends, offensive line, special teams
Trai Turner will be the first Tiger to take the stage. The right guard surprised some by entering the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. This is his chance to prove that decision wasn't a mistake. If Turner shows up in good shape and excels in the workouts and positional drills, perhaps he can work his way up some teams' draft boards.
Sunday: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
This is the showcase day for LSU talent, with five former Tigers set to take the field for workouts. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger would have made it six, but he is still rehabilitating an ACL tear suffered in LSU's Nov. 29 win against Arkansas.
Hill is one of the more intriguing running backs in the draft because of his physical abilities, but his off-the-field issues will probably come up, as well. Hill will be fine in the workouts. The most important part of his trip to Indy won't air on television. He must satisfy at least one team that his disciplinary issues are behind him and that he can be a reliable professional. Performing well in these job interviews is essential for a player with a checkered past.
Meanwhile, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see Blue perform well in the drills and positional workouts and elevate his draft stock. He was overshadowed by Hill at LSU, but Blue has the tools to be an NFL player and he might just emerge on some radars if he's healthy and has an impressive afternoon.
Landry can help himself with a solid time in the 40-yard dash, should he choose to run in Indy. Dependable hands are his best asset, but he will wear the possession receiver label unless he surprises scouts by flashing some top-end speed. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wrote this week that a strong combine workout might help Landry work his way into the first round. Conversely, Beckham could help his cause by catching the ball consistently and displaying some polished route-running skills. He's electric with the ball in his hands – and ESPN's Todd McShay is hyping him as one of the draft's fastest prospects – so his biggest hurdle is proving that he's more than a raw athlete.
Monday: Defensive linemen, linebackers
All three of LSU's Monday participants – defensive linemen Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson and linebacker Lamin Barrow – have something to prove to NFL scouts.
At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Barrow is not the biggest guy in the world, so most teams likely view him as a situational linebacker and special-teams performer instead of an every-down player. He's athletic and has some intangibles that will probably help him interview well, but he needs to flash some physical tools during the workouts that might help him stand out a bit more.
On the other hand, Johnson and Ferguson should excel in the workouts. After all, Johnson's nickname is “Freak” and he possesses the raw athleticism to back up the hype. The problem for both players is that scouts question their motors. They look the part, but must convince teams that they can refine their games and become more consistent performers at the pro level than they were in college.
Tuesday: Defensive backs
Craig Loston closes out LSU's long list of combine participants when he competes with the defensive backs on the final day of workouts. Loston projects as an inside-the-box safety who is best as a hitter and run stopper. He was a bit brittle in college, which might affect his draft stock, but Loston can probably help his cause in Indy by flashing some fluidity and ball skills during the defensive back drills. If teams determine he can play coverage the way he can run and hit, Loston will rise as a prospect.
So far this week we've discussed freshman safety Edward Paris Jr., receiver Quantavius Leslie and offensive guard Fehoko Fanaika. Today we move onto one of the few veterans at the rebuilding defensive tackle position.
2013 review: An ESPN 150 prospect in 2011, Johnson played a minor role as a redshirt sophomore and was affected by injuries throughout the season. He appeared in just four games -- lopsided victories over UAB, Kent State, Mississippi State and Furman -- and recorded just three tackles.
Why spring is important: Both of LSU's starting defensive tackles, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, entered the NFL draft after the season, so this feels like now-or-never time for Johnson. He faces spring competition from talented players coming off a redshirt such as Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain and the competition will only grow this summer when Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux arrive on campus.
Best case/worst case: Johnson must prove that he can stay healthy and produce or he faces the prospect of being left behind by the young upstarts who enter the mix during the spring and summer. He's been on campus for three seasons and has only appeared in five games, so Johnson has hardly established himself as a go-to player. He can start doing that this spring and could play alongside players such as Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas, who ranked among the Tigers' top line reserves a year ago. The worst case would be that he continues along the trend that marked his first few seasons on campus and fails to carve out a niche at a position that could use a veteran's presence.
But starting next week, with Texas A&M opening spring practice on Friday, it's full speed ahead to the 2014 season. Texas A&M will be the first of the SEC schools to start spring ball. With the ongoing expansion and renovation to Kyle Field, the Aggies won't have a traditional spring game and will hold their final practice of the spring on April 5.
The other 13 SEC schools will all crank up spring practice sometime in March, so we'll all get our football fix soon enough.
Below is a listing of the spring practice start dates and spring game dates for all 14 SEC schools.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU says it has granted reserve quarterback Stephen Rivers' request to transfer after he graduates this spring, allowing him to play wherever he wants next fall.
Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, has used only two seasons of eligibility after taking a redshirt year at LSU in 2011.
He spent 2012 as Zach Mettenberger's backup, seeing only limited action in four games.
He entered 2013 expecting to be Mettenberger's backup again, but fell behind Anthony Jennings in the depth chart. Jennings wound up filling in for Mettenberger and leading LSU to a comeback victory in the Tigers' regular-season finale against Arkansas. Jennings then started LSU's Outback Bowl victory over Iowa.
Never mind that the Tigers landed Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 player in 2014, and five of the top 10 Louisiana players in both 2013 and 2014. All fans wanted to focus on were the setbacks. They shouldn’t.
LSU and Miles continue to be the kings of The Pelican State and continued to prove it Wednesday with the additions of two local ESPN Junior 300 prospects. The Tigers added pledges from St. Francisville (La.) West Feliciana four-star receiver Jazz Ferguson and Mandeville (La.) Lakeshore four-star running back David Ducre.
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- New Georgia assistant coach Mike Ekeler wrote a letter thanking his many friends in the Nebraska program (among others) who helped him land a job on Mark Richt's staff.
- Matt Hayes of the Sporting News writes that conspiracy theories related to Nick Saban's alleged fears over up-tempo offenses are ridiculous.
- Auburn has several vacancies on its support staff after five analysts left for other jobs during the offseason.
- Jeremy Darveau will join Florida's staff as assistant offensive line coach.
- It appears as though Kentucky assistant Bradley Dale Peveto will return to LSU, where he was previously an assistant coach under Les Miles for four seasons.
- Ole Miss' Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche are among the Ole Miss athletes being sued for $2 million in relation to a fight at a fraternity party last year.
- Police dropped charges against Auburn signee Kalvaraz Bessent, but coach Gus Malzahn said he hasn't decided on how to proceed with Bessent.
- Malzahn said Tuesday that the proposed NCAA rules change aimed at slowing down hurry-up offenses would “change the dynamics of football.”
- Arkansas senior associate head coach Randy Shannon received a big pay bump to $400,000 annually.
- Watch the Tennessean's time lapse video as artist Michael Cooper paints over James Franklin's face on a mural near the Vanderbilt campus and replaces it with new Commodores coach Derek Mason.
- Former Texas A&M punter Shane Lechler has been picked for induction into Texas' high school football hall of fame.
- South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles is hoping to “blow people's minds” with an outstanding showing at the NFL combine.
After discussing freshman safety Edward Paris Jr. and receiver Quantavius Leslie earlier this week, today we move to a candidate to fill the only open starting spot along what should be a solid offensive line.
Fehoko Fanaika (OG, Sr.)
2013 review: Fanaika's sheer size (he's listed at 6-foot-6 and 348 pounds) generated some buzz when he arrived as ESPN's No. 2 junior college guard prospect last year, but he joined an LSU offensive line that had two solid performers at guard. Vadal Alexander and Trai Turner started all 13 games at the two guard spots, leaving Fanaika and the other reserves to play only intermittently. Fanaika played in 12 games in that capacity.
Why spring is important: The talented Turner made a debatable decision to enter the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, creating the only opening along LSU's offensive line. Fanaika is not the only candidate to slide into Turner's spot at right guard, but he should rank among the leading prospects. His road-grader style certainly fits LSU's downhill running game, but he must prove he can handle the job.
Best case/worst case: Fanaika got an early vote of confidence from senior left tackle La'el Collins, who promoted him as the top candidate to replace Turner. Ideally, the massive lineman would step into a starting role this spring and be entrenched by the time the Tigers open preseason camp in August. If he struggles to claim the job, LSU should have other promising options available. For instance, the Tigers signed ESPN's No. 1 high school guard prospect, Garrett Brumfield, earlier this month. If Fanaika is not consistent enough this spring, perhaps Brumfield and some other guards will get a longer look in August.
" Alabama said Monday after running back Dee Hart's arrest on drug possession charges that he has not been a part of the program since the bowl game.
" Ole Miss suspended linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant following their weekend arrests in Oxford.
" Several SEC players made NFL.com analyst Nolan Nawrocki's list of the most controversial players in the draft, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who Nawrocki said “carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance.”
" Athlon Sports lists the top-10 SEC linebackers of the BCS era.
" Did Georgia recruit too well at running back when it signed Sony Michel and Nick Chubb this year? Highly sought-after 2015 prospect Taj Griffin discusses that and other subjects with the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Michael Carvell.
" USC has removed a signing-day video where an off-camera voice can be heard describing a Tennessee signee as “soft and terrible.”
" Mercedes-Benz won't allow a Birmingham-area car dealership to carry Nick Saban's name, but the Alabama coach is aligned with a proposed dealership that is caught up in litigation ahead of its opening.
" Baton Rouge police arrested three suspects in connection with a weekend home invasion at former LSU athletic director Skip Bertman's residence.
" The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison takes a look at the Tigers' running back depth chart entering spring practice.
" South Carolina's Bruce Ellington followed his mother's advice and opted to enter the NFL draft early.
Yesterday's subject was safety freshman Edward Paris Jr., one of two early enrollees who arrived last month. Today we look at one of the few veterans in a rebuilding receiving corps.
2013 review: The junior-college transfer -- the No. 29 overall prospect on the ESPN JC 100 and No. 9 wideout -- arrived last summer hoping to become the big (6-foot-4) deep threat who would open the middle of the field for established receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. Leslie failed to live up to that preseason hype, however, playing in just four games and catching one pass for 11 yards in the Tigers' blowout win against UAB. Landry and Beckham, meanwhile, combined for 2,345 receiving yards before entering the NFL draft after the season.
Why spring is important: Behind Landry and Beckham, the Tigers' leading wideout was Travin Dural, who recorded just seven catches for 145 yards. With four of LSU's top five receivers (in terms of receiving yardage) leaving the roster, this spring is an enormous opportunity for returning players such as Dural and Leslie. Dural made a couple of huge touchdown catches last season, so his role seems more secure. Leslie simply hasn't proven himself yet, and with perhaps the nation's top group of receiving signees -- led by ESPN's No. 1 and 3 wideout prospects in Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn -- set to arrive this summer, now is the time for Leslie to prove he can handle an expanded role.
Best case/worst case: It's not unusual for a junior-college transfer to struggle in his first season with a four-year program before blossoming in Year 2. Perhaps that is what will happen this season with Leslie, particularly now that the most established players at his position have left the roster. He possesses a combination of size and speed which could make him an enticing pass target for whoever wins the Tigers' quarterback job, so a consistent spring could be his springboard to a productive fall. Leslie is a major wild card, considering how he was largely a non-entity in the 2013 passing game after arriving on campus to generous hype. His worst-case scenario would essentially be a repeat of last season, struggling to crack the rotation and watching as other wideouts account for the bulk of the production. It was understandable last fall considering how dynamic the Landry-Beckham combination became, but Leslie failing to emerge this season would be disappointing.
Mettenberger's Rehab Ahead Of Schedule
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35