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Insider

Countdown to camp: Three to lead

7/16/2012

GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

When you have more than half your starters back on a team littered with household names, it would be accurate to portray a team like LSU as an experienced team.

Just don't call it a senior team.

Although the Tigers return 13 of their primary starters on offense and defense, 15 overall when counting specialists, LSU won't have much of a senior day this season. Only 10 scholarship seniors (and one walk-on) dot the LSU roster. Of those, only five have started the majority of games in a season.

That's understandable. LSU is a pro factory where ambitious players go to have their dreams realized and if they are ready early -- like juniors Michael Brockers and Rueben Randle a season ago -- they'll depart for the NFL. If things fall off the rails and they aren't getting the playing time they want, they might leave (see the trio of departed defensive backs Ronnie Vinson, David Jenkins and Sam Gibson, who transferred during the off-season).

So it's not shocking to see such a small senior class. And it doesn't mean there won't be senior leadership. Here are three who might serve as leaders:

1. Alex Hurst, RT: The offensive line is where LSU has the most experience. Centers P.J. Lonergan and offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk have 26 career starts apiece, the most on the team.

But Hurst, a returning all-SEC performer, is probably the best of the bunch and is one of the team's leaders.

The 340-pounder has made it routine to be singled out for his work ethic and leadership. He's won the LSU Alvin Roy Fourth Quarter Award for his offseason workouts three straight years and, in the spring, won the team's Eric Andolsek Leadership Award.

Hurst combines the playing ability younger players respect with the work ethic younger players will want to emulate. Teamed with similarly solid seniors Lonergan and Dworaczyk, Hurst will lead an offensive line that collectively will be the elder voice of the team.

2. Josh Downs, DT: If you named the likely starting 11 on defense, not one senior will emerge.

Unless, that is, you remembered the senior defensive tackle who was still running with the first unit at the end of spring, holding his own against big-named younger challengers like Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.

Downs plays with the motor and effort young players will want to copy. It might be enough to make him the sole starting senior on defense at the end of August.

3. Russell Shepard, WR: Yes, we are all still waiting for Shepard's talent to turn into production.

But as the lone senior among Tigers' wide receivers, there's a golden opportunity for the charismatic Shepard to provide leadership. LSU will throw it more this season with new quarterback Zach Mettenberger. With Randle gone to the NFL, there will be a lot of unproven guys looking to be become big parts of that passing game.

If that unit is to live up to its potential, it might need Shepard to be a glue guy who provides leadership whether or not it translates to big statistics.