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Insider

Five breakthrough players to know

6/21/2012

On LSU's star-studded roster, it's easy to find recognizable names.

You start with the "Honey Badger," Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu. You go to Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid, Odell Beckham, Jr., Spencer Ware ... you can go on and on with recognizable names.

But there are players who have yet to make their name who are on the verge of doing so this year. And this doesn't even count a "known unknown" like quarterback Zach Mettenberger, whose starting debut is so highly anticipated, he's hardly an unknown.

Here are five players who actually will try to make the transition from signing day hits to on-field stars:

1. Jarvis Landry, WR: With Rueben Randle leading a group of receivers who weren't getting a ton of passes thrown their way in 2012, Landry was relegated to making an impact mostly on special teams, where he made some bone-jarring hits.

With Randle now with the New York Giants, expect Landry to be there to pick up the slack, especially as LSU looks to throw a bit more with Mettenberger than it did with the Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee combination.

Landry was the No. 3 receiver in the nation coming out of Lutcher, La, HS, so he has an impressive resume. Plus, there has been much discussion on the chemistry he and other receivers have built with Mettenberger.

2. La'el Collins, OL: The sophomore was the nation's No. 3-rated offensive tackle coming out of Redemptorist High School (Baton Rouge, La.) in 2011. After he played sparingly and mostly late in the 2011 season, he came out of spring as the starter at left guard.

Don't expect that to be the sophomore's entire future. Les Miles may like to find a way to get Josh Dworaczyk back to his old starting spot at left guard after he missed all of 2011 with a knee injury (leading to a sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA).

But Collins working with the first team at left guard while Dworaczyk was eased back was no accident. Collins is too much of a talent to not play somewhere. Trouble is, once you plug Dworaczyk back into his spot, all the starters are returners at their position.

Don't expect that to stop Collins' ascent. He's too much of a talent to be relegated to back up duty. Look for him to to be placed at whatever offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa deems to be the weakest link in the line and expect Collins to emerge as a starter. Eventually, you can expect to see him at his natural left tackle spot.

3. Kevin Minter, LB: This is cheating because Minter became the starter last season as a sophomore.

But that was a stop-gap measure. Linebacker was the weak link in an otherwise stellar Tigers defense. Minter was solid as he overcame Karnell Hatcher for the starting job, but was likely a year away from true stardom.

This year may be the year the junior helps the linebacking corps get back to where it was when future NFL players like Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley frustrated SEC backs. Big (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) and physical, Minter has the physicality and smarts to anchor the middle of LSU's defense.

4. Anthony Johnson, DT: Johnson is to the defensive line what Collins is to the offensive line.

The nation's top-rated defensive tackle coming out of O. Perry Walker HS (New Orleans) in 2011, Johnson played a reserve role as a freshman, but looks to get on the field and make an impact someway, somehow this season.

The "Freak," as the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder with impossibly big hands and feet is often called, is too good for anything else to happen.

He won't be handed a starting role. Bennie Logan, a returning starter at one DT spot, is back and may be a first-round draft pick. Next to him, LSU could easily go to senior Josh Downs, a veteran who has been effective ever since his freshman year.

But expect Johnson to find his niche and with projected top-five NFL draft picks Montgomery and Mingo lined up outside of him, expect Johnson to wreak havoc on defenses.

Craig Loston, S: This might finally be the time for the freshman who was rated the nation's top prep safety in the 2009 class.

So far, his career has been defined by numerous injuries that have kept him from playing a larger role. Now, he's a starter, replacing Brandon Taylor. He's healthy. He has great talent around him. And at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and with good speed, he has the physical tools to fit right in the talented Tigers secondary.

If he can stay away from the wrist injuries, the concussions and all the other ailments that have set him back, this might finally be the year he lives up to the hype.