LSU Tigers: Brick Haley

Editor’s note: With LSU’s spring practice now in the rearview mirror, this week we’ll empty our notebook from the spring and cover a few topics that we weren’t able to hit prior to the Tigers’ spring game. On Tuesday, we focus on a junior pass rusher with star potential.

BATON ROUGE, La. – Danielle Hunter had a fine first season as a starter, but he had a problem. Mentally, the then-sophomore couldn’t get out of his own way.

“I was thinking too much,” Hunter said. “I know you could watch games and you could see me just, like, I’d stutter myself out of sacks and all that. I was thinking too much last year. I need to just let go and just play.”

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy, Danielle Hunter
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsDanielle Hunter is a good bet to build on his sack total of three from last season.
There were bright spots along the road. He was the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording seven tackles and batting down two passes in the Tigers’ 17-6 win over Florida. And he recorded a career-high eight tackles against Auburn -- the first of 10 consecutive starts he would make to close the season.

But Hunter finished the season with just three sacks (tied for second on the team), eight tackles for a loss (second) and five quarterback hurries (second). The Tigers’ total of 27 sacks was the program’s fewest since 2009.

That’s why he identified improving as a pass rusher as one of his top goals during spring practice.

“All of us, we’ve got to do better than last year because last year we didn’t do as well as we thought we were going to do,” Hunter said.

If Hunter’s spring was any indication, expect rapid improvement this fall. For one thing, Hunter is no longer out-thinking himself.

“Coach Brick [Haley] has been telling me I’m starting to do that,” he said. “The young guys are starting to do that.”

Hunter recorded sacks on back-to-back plays in a standout effort during the Tigers’ spring game and was credited with two more quarterback hurries.

He made sure to share the credit with defensive tackle Quentin Thomas afterward for occupying blockers, but it was Hunter who blew past the offensive tackle to record the two sacks.

And as his confidence continues to build -- and as he learns to “just let go and play,” as he put it -- the 6-foot-6 junior might emerge as one of the SEC’s better pass rushers in 2014.

“I think he’s a very talented guy,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think he has range and speed and I think the more snaps he gets, the more significant he’ll be and the more impact that he’ll give us in the fall. I think he’ll start fast and I think he’ll finish fast.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU held its final spring practice this week, officially sending the Tigers into a crucial offseason.

An obvious point this spring was that Les Miles’ coaching staff was working with an incomplete roster. Seven underclassmen jumped ship to enter the NFL draft and only two of the Tigers’ 23 signees -- quarterback Brandon Harris and defensive back Edward Paris -- enrolled early to participate in spring practice.

That leaves plenty of questions as the team moves into the offseason -- five of which we’ll address now:

5. Do the Tigers have adequate depth in the backfield?

[+] EnlargeKenny Hilliard
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOutside of Kenny Hilliard, there is not a lot of returning depth in the backfield and the Tigers will need to rely on incoming freshman.
The answer to this question during the spring was a resounding no -- Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard were the only scholarship tailbacks on the roster, and Magee missed a portion of the month after spraining an ankle in a scrimmage -- but that’s irrelevant. You don’t win or lose a game in March or April.

But even when freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams arrive this summer, will that be enough? An injury here or there could cause major problems. For example, look what happened at Georgia last season. When the season opened, it appeared as though the Bulldogs had one of the nation’s top backfields with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall leading the way and freshmen J.J. Green, Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman serving as backups. But then Gurley suffered a minor injury in the opener against Clemson followed by a serious ankle injury in Game 4 against LSU. The next week, Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury.

All of a sudden, Georgia was down to a bunch of freshmen -- all of whom were mid-level prospects -- by the first week of October. It’s no mystery why the Bulldogs went 1-2, and very nearly 0-3, in that October stretch before Gurley returned to the lineup. A lack of backfield depth in the SEC can be a season killer when you make a living on the ground like Georgia and LSU typically do.

4. How many players will figure into the Tigers’ plans on the defensive line? And how good can they be this season?

Aside from quarterback play, this might be the most important factor for the 2014 Tigers. Brick Haley’s bunch was a bit erratic last season, and now it must function with youngsters replacing departed juniors Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the middle.

The good news is that there is plenty of talent on hand along the interior line. Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas worked as first-teamers, with redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron chipping in as reserves. There is an extremely high ceiling with that group, but they’re about as green as it gets. It will also bear watching during preseason camp to see whether a signee like Travonte Valentine can crack Haley’s rotation, too.

The end spots are also a bit of a mystery. Jermauria Rasco -- who missed the spring while returning from offseason surgery -- and Danielle Hunter seem locked in as starters, but will they improve upon middling results in 2013? And who fills in the depth chart behind them? Tashawn Bower seems like a safe bet, but who else? We’ll see.

3. Who will start at safety?

Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin seemed to have these jobs locked down during the spring, but Rickey Jefferson and Corey Thompson -- another player who missed spring practice due to injury -- will be in the mix in August.

Keep in mind that nearly every time this position came up in one of his post-practice press gatherings, Miles mentioned how the Tigers’ safety signees -- Jamal Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle -- will be part of the preseason competition, too.

2. Will this offense be productive enough to win a championship?

It probably was last season, but for once it was LSU’s defense that was in the middle of a retooling effort. John Chavis’ defense appears to be on the rise now, but Cam Cameron must replace nearly every significant skill player from last season’s offense.

Freshmen like Fournette, Harris and receiver Malachi Dupre don’t just look like serviceable college players, they look like superstars in the making. But it’s a lot to ask of true freshmen to be superstars immediately.

Cameron’s dilemma is that he will almost certainly rely on at least a half-dozen newcomers to make an impact this fall. It’s a tricky proposition, but his getting reliable production out of that group might mean the difference between LSU contending for the SEC West title this fall or having to wait another year or two until they mature and bring the Tigers back to national championship contention.

1. Will Harris overtake Anthony Jennings at quarterback?

We can’t post this list and fail to address the biggest question surrounding the Tigers this spring. After a month of practice, there doesn’t seem to be an answer, although Harris clearly outperformed his sophomore counterpart in the spring game.

LSU’s coaches understandably see no need to declare a starter five months before the season starts. They’ll battle it out this summer in passing sessions and then again in August. Harris looks to be the contender with higher upside, but he must prove he can avoid the decision-making problems that most freshman quarterbacks encounter when the pressure of the season arrives.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brick Haley faces the blessing and the curse of coaching LSU’s defensive line each year around this time.

The blessing is that the Tigers’ coaching staff has attracted loads of NFL-caliber talent to Baton Rouge. Just check the stats. Eight LSU defensive linemen have been drafted since Haley joined the staff in 2009, a number that would grow to 10 if defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are selected this year.

The curse is that continuity is nearly impossible to maintain, particularly at defensive tackle. This is Haley’s sixth spring practice at LSU and the third where both of his starting defensive tackles -- whoever they might be in 2014 -- will be new to starting roles.

“That’s LSU,” said Christian LaCouture, who is attempting to take over one of the starting jobs after Johnson and Ferguson both bolted for the NFL after finishing their junior seasons. “That’s something where guys, we want to win a national championship, we want to win an SEC championship and a lot of the guys go to the league. You’ve got to prepare. It’s the next man in here and you’ve got to produce.”

LaCouture is perhaps LSU’s most experienced interior lineman, having appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman. But he faces plenty of competition for a starting job from junior Quentin Thomas and redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. Redshirt freshman Frank Herron also took some practice reps at defensive tackle earlier this spring, but he appears to be playing end for now.

While LSU coach Les Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage that there’s a chance that the defensive tackles “could be as successful as any group that we’ve had,” the dynamics in play this fall could be significantly different from a season ago. Ferguson and Johnson played the vast majority of scrimmage downs in 2013, but the workload might be spread more evenly between players this season.

“They definitely were the impact players of our defensive tackles. They definitely were, and it’s all good,” Gilmore said. “I think that was a good year for us to sit back, learn the plays, learn the techniques. So I think this year now we have everybody that’s equal, trying not to have a drop-off in the twos and try to rotate in.”

By redshirting Bain and Gilmore -- both of whom ranked among ESPN’s top 130 overall recruits in 2013 -- Haley put a particularly heavy burden on his two starters, and Bain said the effect of that workload was noticeable.

“Last year they were kind of tired between Ego and Freak [Johnson],” Bain said. “They were kind of tired and we told Coach Brick, ‘You wore them guys a little bit more. You can trust us.’ So now that he trusts us, he’s putting us out there in the spring and now he sees that we can do what Freak and Ego did.”

Of course, the candidates must prove to Haley that they deserve to share some of those snaps -- which is the same responsibility that signees such as Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux will face when they arrive in the summer.

Valentine, according to fellow Floridian Bain, could be a candidate for early playing time if he competes well in August.

“Hopefully when Tra Valentine gets in here, he’ll be the fifth man,” Bain said of the freshman signee fitting in with himself, LaCouture, Thomas and Gilmore. “But right now, it’s just a four-man rotation and that’s what we’re going with.”

Last season, Haley made the best of the hand he’d been dealt. Starting tackle Bennie Logan had eligibility remaining when he entered the 2013 NFL draft. Johnson and Ferguson were the returning linemen with whom Haley was the most comfortable, and he decided that the Tigers would be better off riding them as far as possible without relying on the raw freshmen.

Now nobody is particularly proven, and the resulting competition reduces any possibility of complacency within the group. That’s what their counterparts on the offensive line have noticed, anyway.

“They know they have less experience than the guys that left, so of course they’re out there trying to get better each and every day and they’re giving us their all,” senior offensive tackle La'el Collins said. “Last year we had a lot of veteran guys and those guys were just out there going through whatever they needed to go through. But these guys are giving a little bit more effort because they understand that it’s their time to play, so they’re really trying to focus on getting better.”

Center Elliott Porter added that “it’s a grind every day to block them,” which has created worthwhile practice competition for both LSU lines this spring. Although LSU’s offensive line carries a serious experience advantage over its defensive opponents, Miles indicated Saturday that the competition between the two groups has been close -- with two weeks of spring practice left to declare a victor.

“I think that these [defensive tackles] can be dominant players. I think improvement needs to take place,” Miles said. “Again, I think the offensive line and defensive line, they’re measured in the spring. It’s going to be interesting to see that competition as it plays out the next two weeks.”
BATON ROUGE, La. – Early enrollment is frequently beneficial in that it helps a newcomer address a team’s immediate need, but its value goes well beyond the short term. Imagine what LSU’s spring position battles might look like if eight signees hadn’t joined the Tigers in January 2013.

“There’s no question, if they had not been here in January and moved and advanced in their knowledge of what we’re doing, then they’d have a very difficult time competing,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

If not for the valuable experience he gained last spring, Anthony Jennings -- one of two quarterbacks who early enrolled last year, along with Hayden Rettig -- almost certainly wouldn’t have catapulted up the depth chart the way he did, much less completed a game-winning comeback against Arkansas in place of injured senior Zach Mettenberger. And Jennings and Rettig wouldn’t be as far along as they are now in learning the nuances of Cam Cameron’s offense if not for that low-pressure springtime learning environment, since the Tigers already had an established starter in Mettenberger.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsIf Anthony Jennings didn't enroll early, it's doubtful he would have been ready to step in for the injured Zach Mettenberger and lead LSU to a comeback win over Arkansas.
“I’m definitely more confident because I’ve known all the guys for a year now,” Jennings said. “I’m confident in everybody on my team rallying around me to become a better leader and a better quarterback.”

Quarterback being the high-profile position that it is, perhaps it’s the most noticeable place where the Tigers benefited from last year’s big group of early enrollees. But LSU is actually better off at several positions because of those eight players who early enrolled last January -- a group that also includes defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, tight end Logan Stokes, offensive linemen Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic and receivers John Diarse and Avery Peterson.

Nearly all of those players are in the thick of the competition to grab a starting spot this spring.

“Think about Ethan Pocic. He was our second-team center last year. He shows up here in January or he doesn’t finish at center. He’s not there,” Miles said of Pocic, who played offensive tackle throughout high school, but backed up Elliott Porter at center last season and could contribute at a number of different positions this fall.

“It’s a tremendous advantage for these guys that show up early. There’s no question,” Miles continued. “And it’s a tremendous advantage for us. We get to see what they look like, how they think and is there somebody that we should count on other than them, short term, or do we say, ‘No, move him in because he’s got it.’”

Take Diarse for example. The redshirt freshman probably would have played last season but for an ankle injury he suffered during preseason camp. But he wouldn’t have been in position to back up Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry in 2013 -- much less occupy the starting position he currently enjoys -- if not for his experience last spring.

Louisiana’s 2012 Mr. Football, Diarse was a star dual-threat quarterback at Neville High School in Monroe. He admits that he had a lot to learn about playing his current position, receiver, when he arrived last January.

“It blew my mind the first couple of months into it -- it blew my mind how much detail and technique that it takes to be a receiver,” Diarse said. “Just coming in last spring kind of put me ahead of the 8-ball and now I’m just picking up tidbits here and there to better myself every day.”

Three of the five 2013 early enrollees who played last season -- Stokes, Jennings and Pocic -- all started at least one game. LaCouture played in all 13 games as one of the top reserves on the defensive line, while Fanaika played behind Trai Turner at right guard in several games and worked on the Tigers’ field-goal unit in 12 contests.

All five players are either the leading candidate to start at their position this fall or to play in some sort of a rotation, thanks in no small part to the head start they got this time a year ago.

“You’ve got to learn quick,” LaCouture said. “Spring ball is something that really helped me out -- coming in and knowing the pace of the game, knowing the plays right off the bat. That way when we hit fall ball, it was quick and we were rolling and we were getting ready for that.”

Now he’s in position to help guide less experienced teammates at a position where LSU desperately needs leadership. NFL draft early entrants Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson played the vast majority of the key snaps at defensive tackle last season, thrusting 2013 signees LaCouture, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain into position where they might play much bigger roles this fall.

LaCouture is the only member of the trio who played last season, so if LSU’s line performs anywhere near a championship-caliber level -- which might be one key in whether LSU becomes more than an also-ran in the SEC title chase -- the knowledge and experience he gained last year could become even more valuable.

“It was an awesome experience,” LaCouture said. “It was something for me that I’ve always grown up wanting to do. I wanted to come in here [and] it was so great for me having spring ball and preparing myself to do that with the help of Coach Brick [Haley, LSU’s defensive line coach] and the older guys, [defensive coordinator John] Chavis also and Coach Miles.

“Having Ego, Freak [Johnson] and all the guys that left for the draft helped me build my way up for now where I can lead the team this year, just do as much as I can to produce a national championship.”

LSU position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With more than three weeks to go until LSU opens spring practice on March 7, we'll use some of the down time to preview the upcoming series of team workouts.

Today we continue this week's series listing five position groups with room to improve in the fall. Yesterday we discussed the tight ends, who could develop a more active presence in the passing game in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Now we move onto the defensive tackles, who were good but rarely dominant last season and now must replace both starters.

[+] EnlargeTrey Lealaimatafao
Tom Hauck for Student SportsCould incoming freshman Trey Lealaimatafao crack the defensive tackle rotation for the Tigers?
4. Defensive tackle

Battling for No. 1: High-profile departures on offense will draw the most attention between now and the season, but this position is every bit as important as who will replace the likes of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill. Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson bolted for the NFL after their junior seasons, leaving a great deal of inexperience at a key position. Rising sophomore Christian LaCouture (11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and one sack last fall) and junior Quentin Thomas (nine tackles, 1.5 TFL, one fumble recovery) have the most experience, but that isn't saying much.

Strength in numbers: Rising junior Mickey Johnson (three tackles in four games) was a top 150 recruit when he signed with LSU in 2011 but has yet to make a major impact. Not only must LSU's coaches pick from a large group of signees and players coming off a redshirt season to fill out the depth chart, but they need some of them to push for starting positions. At this point, however, it's tough to predict which members of the group will earn a role in the rotation -- a traditional element of LSU defense that barely existed last year since Johnson and Ferguson played the majority of downs and LaCouture and Thomas handled most of the reserve snaps.

New on the scene: The good news here is that LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley has some talented players to add to the mix this fall. They're just young. Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain were both among LSU's highest-rated signees a year ago, and both are ESPN 300 prospects are coming off a redshirt season. So is Frank Herron, whom LSU lists as a defensive end, but who could develop into an interior lineman. Finally, the Tigers signed three players last week who they list as defensive tackles. Four-star, 300-pound tackles Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao both announced on signing day that they were LSU-bound. Davon Godchaux -- whom ESPN graded as a four-star defensive end -- stuck with his LSU commitment and is also listed as a tackle.
BATON ROUGE, La. – National signing day isn't always dramatic, but this could be a memorable one at LSU.

Between the half-dozen spots still available, the uncommitted heavyweights who are reportedly still considering the Tigers and the players who have already committed to LSU and recently considered other options, Les Miles and his staff have plenty of work to do before the end of the day Wednesday.

We'll start our look at how LSU is addressing its positions of need with the group that is the source of the most intrigue -- the defensive line -- before discussing how premium talent such as tailback Leonard Fournette, receiver Trey Quinn, linebacker Clifton Garrett and offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield should make this one of the nation's top signing classes regardless of what happens with the Tigers' uncommitted targets.

Defensive line: Position coach Brick Haley might not sleep too well tonight, as even he is probably unsure of who will become a Tiger on Wednesday.

Not only have committed ESPN 300 defensive ends Deondre Clark (Oklahoma, Arizona State) and Davon Godchaux (UCLA, Auburn) looked around a bit lately, but several prospects are still flirting with LSU late in the process.

The biggest fish was ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect Lorenzo Carter -- most recruiting analysts predict he will sign with home-state Georgia -- but LSU also seems to be in the mix for No. 164 overall prospect and No. 11 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic) and four-star tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren). The Tigers also received a weekend visit from three-star end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), a Texas commit whose brother Maea -- the No. 38 prospect and No. 2 offensive guard in the ESPN Junior 300 -- seems likely to sign next season with the school Sione chooses Wednesday.

As of now, Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) and Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) are LSU's only publicly committed defensive linemen, so the quality and size of this group is far from set. Stay tuned.

Receiver: The good news is that LSU is on the verge of signing one of the nation's top groups of wide receivers regardless of what happens with ESPN's top player at the position, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis). Dupre is set to announce on Wednesday -- he visited UCLA over the weekend after a whirlwind of trips to LSU, Alabama, Florida State and Ole Miss -- and LSU seems to be the favorite.

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
Courtesy of IntersportIf LSU signs Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, the Tigers would have a fantastic class of wide receivers.
Generally considered the must-have prospect among LSU's remaining targets, Dupre would join record-setting receiver Quinn (Lake Charles, La./Barbe), ESPN's No. 3 wideout, and fellow ESPN 300 honorees D.J. Chark (Alexandria, La./Alexandria Senior) and Tony Upchurch (Pearland, Texas/Glenda Dawson) in the class. The Tigers also continue to pursue four-star TCU commit Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln).

With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham entering the NFL draft after exceptional junior seasons, LSU has an immediate need at receiver because the Tigers have no proven options at the position. Some members of this signing class will almost certainly become immediate contributors in the fall.

Secondary: As with Carter, five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) -- ESPN's No. 9 overall prospect and No. 3 cornerback -- makes LSU recruitniks' hearts go pitter-pat. There has been heavy competition from USC, Florida and UCLA, but LSU gave Jackson its best sales pitch. And he could make an immediate impact if he picks the Tigers. LSU returns almost everyone from a young secondary, save senior Craig Loston, but will almost certainly feature one or two 2014 signees in some role this fall.

Early enrollee Edward Paris Jr. (Arlington, Texas/Timberview), ESPN's No. 50 overall prospect and No. 4 safety, is the first name that comes to mind, as he will participate in spring practice. But No. 18 overall prospect and No. 2 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) -- a huge get when the Tigers missed out on in-state prospect Hootie Jones – could also figure into the mix.

LSU also has a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete Devin Voorhies (Woodville, Miss./Wilkinson County), who should play safety, and three-star defensive backs John Battle IV (Hallandale Beach, Fla/Hallandale) and Russell Gage (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist).

Running back: Every recruiting analyst has thoroughly covered by now that LSU's commitment from No. 1 overall prospect Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) was massive. With Jeremy Hill leaving for the draft, the Tigers needed to sign a top-tier back and Fournette should more than fit the bill. The Tigers are also adding three-star back Darrel Williams (Marrero, La./John Ehret), whose north-south running style should fit well in the Tigers' running game.

Offensive line: The Tigers return four starters along the offensive line, so it's not an immediate need. Rarely does a school sign high school offensive linemen looking to fill immediate needs, however. Down the road, ESPN's No. 1 guard and No. 54 overall prospect Brumfield (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory) should become a fixture in the lineup. The Tigers also have a commitment from four-star guard William Clapp (New Orleans/Brother Martin) and continued to pursue three-star tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) late in the process.

Linebacker: This much we know: No. 31 overall prospect and No. 2 inside linebacker Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South) looks like LSU's next great run-stopping linebacker. He and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Donnie Alexander (New Orleans/Edna Karr) are the Tigers' two committed linebackers. LSU is also among the leading suitors for Dupre's teammate Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), who will also announce on Wednesday.

The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale also reported Monday that LSU reiterated its interest in Miami commit Terry McCray (Pompano Beach, Fla./Blanch Ely), a three-star outside linebacker.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The damage wasn't as significant as a year ago, but early entries into the NFL draft will again hit LSU hard this season.

The Tigers lost seven players who had eligibility remaining -- five of whom came from the offense, a year after seven of LSU's 11 early entries were defensive players. That puts the onus on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to quickly determine his top options after losing the only foursome in SEC history that featured a 3,000-yard passer (senior Zach Mettenberger), two 1,000-yard receivers (juniors Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) and a 1,000-yard rusher (sophomore Jeremy Hill).

Let's take a position-by-position look at some of the possible replacements for the Tigers who opted to enter the draft:

[+] EnlargeTravin Dural
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTravin Dural (83) has big shoes to fill with the departures of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham.
Wide receiver

Departing: Juniors Landry (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs in 2013) and Beckham (59-1,152, 8 TDs). LSU passed for 3,263 yards in 2013. Landry and Beckham combined to accumulate 2,345 of those yards (plus departing tailback Hill and senior Kadron Boone were third and fifth on the team with 181 and 129 yards, respectively). In other words, LSU has a ton of receiving production to replace and no proven options.

Contenders: As the only returning receiver with more than 100 yards in 2013, Travin Dural (7-145, 2 TDs) is the most obvious choice here. He made a game-winning, 49-yard touchdown catch in the closing minutes against Arkansas, so perhaps he will be one of the Tigers' next receiving playmakers.

Otherwise, who knows? LSU would love to get more out of former junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie (1-11), but he didn't do much in 2013. And then you have Avery Peterson (brother of former LSU cornerback Patrick) and John Diarse, both of whom were big-time prospects before redshirting last season.

Additionally, the Tigers already have verbal commitments from Trey Quinn -- ESPN's No. 3 receiver and No. 29 overall prospect -- fellow ESPN 300 picks D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch, and are still pursuing No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre. If Les Miles' staff lands some of these top-tier prospects, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them crack the depth chart as freshmen.

Tailback

Departing: Sophomore Hill (203 carries, 1,401 yards, 16 TDs) and senior Alfred Blue (71-343, 1 TD). Hill posted the second-best rushing totals in school history in 2013 and was an absolute force when he stayed out of trouble. Blue missed his chance to be the No. 1 tailback when he suffered a season-ending injury early in the 2012 campaign. Hill had two years of eligibility remaining, while Blue was granted a fifth season by the NCAA but elected not to use it.

Contenders: Perhaps it's unfair to 2014 seniors Terrence Magee (86-626, 8 TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (68-310, 7 TDs) to discount their roles -- and they will certainly play roles next season -- but Leonard Fournette is the guy who will attract the most attention between signing day and the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin. ESPN rates Fournette as the nation's No. 1 prospect and he is often compared to Adrian Peterson thanks to a rare combination of size (he's listed at 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds), slippery moves and breakaway speed. Magee and Hilliard will both contribute, but LSU's running game can be great if Fournette quickly establishes himself alongside the veterans.

Defensive tackle

Departing: Juniors Anthony Johnson (35 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks) and Ego Ferguson (58 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack). Johnson and Ferguson anchored the middle of the Tigers' line, but their early departures create a big hole for position coach Brick Haley to fill.

Contenders: Christian LaCouture (11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack) is the first name to mention. An early enrollee last year, LaCouture jumped into the rotation as a freshman and served as a decent third option behind the veterans. Meanwhile, Quentin Thomas (9 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss) entered the starting lineup against Iowa in the Outback Bowl when Ferguson didn't travel to the bowl site. Beyond those two, it's a bit of a mystery. Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain -- both of whom redshirted in 2013 -- were big gets for LSU on the recruiting trail at this time a year ago, so they could enter the mix as well.

Right guard

Departing: Sophomore Trai Turner (Started all 13 games in 2013). Turner was a second-team All-SEC pick as a draft-eligible sophomore, prompting him to jump to the pros earlier than many would have expected. His departure creates an opening at right guard -- the lone spot to fill on what could be an outstanding offensive line.

Contenders: On the day left tackle La'El Collins announced he would return for his senior season, he lobbied for Fehoko Fanaika to fill Turner's spot. At 6-foot-6 and 348 pounds, the junior college transfer -- who appeared in 12 games in 2013 -- certainly has the girth to handle the job. Other options include a pair of ESPN 300 selections from 2013, Ethan Pocic (also Elliott Porter's backup at center) and Andy Dodd, along with ESPN's No. 1 guard for 2014, Garrett Brumfield, who has already committed to the hometown Tigers.

Tales From The Road: LSU 

May, 15, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the last couple of weeks, GeauxTigerNation has spent plenty of time in New Orleans metro, visiting with coaches and players from River Ridge John Curtis, Metairie Archbishop Rummel (to watch practice) and New Orleans St. Augustine.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. New Orleans is loaded, so we'll be back. We haven't even hit loaded Karr, or prospect-laden programs such as Brother Martin, Marrero Archbishop Shaw and Marrero John Ehret yet.

Meanwhile, LSU spread its wings well away from Louisiana on the recruiting trail:

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LSU braces for dramatic finish 

February, 4, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- So much activity, so little resolution.

LSU hosted the nation's No. 1 player, who was considered a long shot before the weekend. He met celebrities, attended a rap concert and seemed to leave Baton Rouge with a good vibe toward the Tigers. Meanwhile, a long-time Tiger commit seemed to waver on his commitment as he took a surprise visit to another school.


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Nkemdiche, Kamara get a visitor 

January, 15, 2013
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Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the ESPN 150's top-rated recruit, and cornerback David Kamara have talked about visiting LSU together for a while.

They moved one step closer to that Tuesday.


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Countdown to NSD: Lewis Neal 

December, 19, 2012
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To gear up for 2013 national signing day, GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney will break down every commitment in the Tigers' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: DE Lewis Neal, 6-1, 230, Wilson, N.C./James B. Hunt

Committed: July 4, 2012

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Five things to know: D-line 

May, 31, 2012
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With the dog days of summer hitting Baton Rouge, here are the five things to know about perhaps the hottest position in LSU's program, the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeSam Montgomery
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesSam Montgomery hopes to continue LSU's legacy of dominant defensive linemen.
1. The talent well runs deep: When the St. Louis Rams moved to shore up its run defense by picking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th overall pick in the NFL draft, it was further evidence of what anybody who has paid attention already knew: few schools produce NFL-quality defensive linemen like LSU.

Brockers' selection marked the ninth straight year an LSU defensive lineman was picked in the draft, including four in the first round. The Tigers' line streak figures to continue in the 2013 draft with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery both in the top five on Mel Kiper's big board. It's a remarkable run considering how difficult it is for most programs to find dominant defensive linemen.

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Kevin Toliver II Climbs New ESPN 300
Under Armour All-American and LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, the nation's top cornerback, joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the new ESPN 300, keys to managing success and the rising senior's plan to visit other colleges.Tags: Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian, LSU Tigers, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
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