Editor’s note: This week, we’ll take a quick look at each of LSU’s position groups as the Tigers prepare to open preseason practice next week. Up last are the special teams units.
Returning starters: Colby Delahoussaye (13-for-14 on field goals, 56-for-57 on extra points) had an outstanding freshman season, ranking as the SEC’s most accurate kicker on field goals at 92.9 percent. Punter Jamie Keehn dealt with consistency issues, ranking 11th in the SEC with an average of 41.0 yards per punt.
Starters lost: Odell Beckham Jr. (26.4 yards per kickoff return, 8.9 on punts) will be nearly impossible to replace after winning the Paul Hornung Award and earning All-America honors last season as one of the nation’s most exciting return men. The Tigers also lost kickoff man James Hairston.
Key newcomers: Cameron Gamble (ESPN’s No. 6 kicking prospect) is the lone special teams-only signee, and Coach Les Miles has said several times that he is a candidate to claim the kickoff duties. Of course, several members of the signing class will also likely contribute on the Tigers’ various coverage and return teams, but it’s far too early to speculate on those possible roles.
Players to watch: Terrence Magee and Travin Dural. Listed as the starters at kickoff return and punt return, respectively, Magee and Dural are nearly the only players not named Beckham to handle those roles at all in 2013. Magee returned two kickoffs for 45 yards and Dural returned four punts for 12. Will they hold onto those roles this August? And will their attempts to claim starting jobs at running back and receiver affect their bids to serve as the top return men? We shall see.
Overall: Delahoussaye was pleased with his physical development this spring and said he was kicking the ball with more power than ever before. He seems locked in as the first-team kicker, although it will be interesting to see whether LSU follows through with Miles’ stated goal of finding someone to handle kickoffs in order to keep from overworking Delahoussaye. Utility man Trent Domingue and Gamble might battle for that job, but Delahoussaye is listed first on the preseason depth chart. Keehn also holds the top spot over Domingue at punter after the two players competed during the spring. Snapper Reid Ferguson and holder Brad Kragthorpe are also back. That leaves the return jobs (and to a lesser degree, the freshman personnel that will be included on the coverage and return teams) as LSU’s most intriguing question marks in the kicking game.