BATON ROUGE, La. -- There are some unknown variables when trying to figure out where true freshmen might play a big role on a team.
Take LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander. The 2012 signee became a true freshman starter at right tackle halfway through the season, something nobody saw coming. But when left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury, it opened the door for Alexander to move into the lineup, and he took the job and ran with it after another veteran starting tackle, Alex Hurst, left the team.
Similarly, with a veteran stable of running backs returning, few saw true freshman Jeremy Hill emerging as a primary running back for LSU this year. Yet, it took only one injury -- to original starter Alfred Blue -- to get Hill the break he needed to start getting carries and eventually become the starter and the Tigers' leading rusher.
It's safe to assume, however, that the signing class of 2013 offensive players will have an on-field role next season. We know that could be the case on defense. Now let's look at where it's most likely to happen on offense.
Departing senior: Starter Chase Clement
Sophomore likely to leave early: Nic Jacobs
Possible freshman impact: LSU appears to be a bit depleted at the position with Clement graduating and another senior, Tyler Edwards, having missed the year for academic reasons. Signs are pointing to Jacobs, who did not participate in the team's last five games, not coming back after he appeared to be the heir apparent at the position. This obviously bodes well for Stokes to play immediately, but don't be surprised if Smith, a superior pass-catcher, doesn't find a quick niche in the offense. LSU has also flirted with former Alabama commit Josh McNeil, but there are serious academic questions with him.
Departing senior: Russell Shepard
Possible freshman impact: LSU has most of its receivers back, but the commitment of the 6-foot-4 Leslie, plus the flirtation with another juco wide receiver, Courtney Gardner, shows that the Tigers are still looking for a big, downfield target. Johnson, at 6-2, played in prep school this year and is mature and perhaps a bit more polished having spent a season past high school. Diarse, while not extremely tall, catches the ball well and is big and physical.
Possible freshman impact: LSU looks like it has plenty of numbers back. But it had numbers this year, too, and Alexander still wound up starting at right tackle. It doesn't look like the Tigers will have an immediate need for the freshmen to be ready to play significant snaps, but three things should be pointed out: 1. LSU, like most teams, always seems to have at least one significant OL injury over the course of a season that could open things up for freshmen. 2. Faulk will be coming back from an ACL injury, and it's yet to be seen where he'll be in his recovery in August. And 3. At center, Porter will have one career start under his belt, so there could be competition with a true freshman.
Starter returning: Zach Mettenberger
Possible freshman impact: Mettenberger seems solidified in the starting job for one more season. The big question here is where does LSU go for the 2014 season? It'll be interesting to see if the true freshman can compete to battle Rivers and Bolden to be the primary backup, a responsibility that went to Rivers this seaosn.
Juniors possibly leaving: Spencer Ware
Starters returning: Blue (injured for most of 2012), Hill, J.C. Copeland (fullback)
2013 commits: None
Possible freshman impact: LSU seems content with the four or five tailbacks returning, and it appears the Tigers will focus on highly-regarded 2014 RB Leonard Fournette in recruiting, even if Ware decides to leave early. LSU did have a commitment from fullback Kennard Swanson, who since decommitted with academic questions. The Tigers may want another fullback, considering Copeland will be a senior next season. The Tigers have offered a a greyshirt scholarship to Cethan Carter, a fullback-tight end hybrid. That would still leave LSU with no new running backs on the fall roster.