LSU Tigers: Jeremy Hill
What's new: Former Auburn and Virginia Tech assistant Jeff Grimes joined the staff in January, replacing Greg Studrawa as offensive line coach. An old face will also return to Les Miles' staff, as Bradley Dale Peveto -- a Miles assistant from 2005-08 and participant in a failed experiment as co-defensive coordinator in 2008 -- was recently hired as special teams coordinator. He replaces Thomas McGaughey, who accepted the same position with the New York Jets of the NFL.
On the move: If comments he made last month are any indication, Miles and the coaching staff intend to leave Jalen Mills at safety on at least a part-time basis. He started at the position in the Tigers' Outback Bowl win against Iowa. Don't be surprised if players who have played other positions -- tackle Evan Washington and center Ethan Pocic are reportedly among them -- figure into the competition to replace Turner at right guard. Also, keep an idea on how the Tigers deploy Kendell Beckwith this spring. He has the ability to contribute at defensive end or linebacker, and he might play both positions at points.
New faces: The Tigers have two early enrollees participating in spring practice in quarterback Brandon Harris and defensive back Edward Paris Jr. We'll discuss Harris, who was ESPN's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and No. 37 overall prospect for the 2014 class, more below. ESPN ranked Paris as its No. 4 safety and No. 50 overall prospect, but LSU listed him as a cornerback when it added the freshmen to the roster.
Key battle: There will be several position battles worth watching -- right guard, defensive tackle and quarterback are among them -- but let's talk about the wide receivers. With Landry and Beckham jumping to the NFL, LSU lost nearly all of its production at wideout. Speedster Travin Dural (seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 2013) is the only receiver who has done much of anything, and even his production was limited last fall. With arguably the nation's top collection of receiver signees -- led by ESPN's No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre and No. 3 Trey Quinn -- set to arrive in the summer, now is the time for the players on campus to show they deserve some snaps. Senior Quantavius Leslie (1-11) was disappointingly quiet last season as a junior college transfer. Freshmen John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears all redshirted. Conventional wisdom has Dural and Diarse as the most likely contributors in 2014. Will at least one or two of the others join that group?
Breaking out: Let's see whether cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White continue the ascent that started late last season. They started alongside one another in two of LSU's last three games -- wins against Texas A&M and Iowa -- and the secondary made strong showings in both games. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel had one of the worst outings of his college career (16-for-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions), with Robinson intercepting the former Heisman Trophy winner once. LSU held Iowa to 13-for-30 passing and 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions -- one of which came when White picked off a Jake Rudock pass at the LSU 7-yard line in the second quarter. LSU has a longstanding tradition of excellence at cornerback, although the Tigers' entire defense needed to perform more consistently last fall. Perhaps they've found something in sophomores Robinson and White.
Don't forget about: Most of us have already penciled in No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette as the Tigers' starter-in-waiting at tailback. And he very well may be. But he won't arrive on campus until the summer. For now, rising seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will handle the carries, and both players have proved themselves capable of producing. Magee was Hill's primary backup last season, rushing for 626 yards (and 7.3 yards per carry!) and also flashing good receiving skills (six catches for 49 yards). Hilliard has never been the No. 1 tailback, but he has acquitted himself in a short-yardage role, rushing for at least six touchdowns in all three seasons. Fournette has stardom written all over him, but he won't push the veterans completely out of the way. Count on Magee and Hilliard to keep getting their touches.
All eyes on: Anthony Jennings started LSU's bowl game against Iowa after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger -- and leading the game-winning comeback -- against Arkansas. He was shaky to say the least (7-for-19 for 82 yards and an interception) in that first career start, however. With Harris, an excellent passer and explosive runner, already on campus, Jennings needs to show he can handle the starting job. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron hand-picked Harris and is no doubt excited about what he can bring to the offense, but he needs to learn the offense first before he can truly threaten Jennings for a starting spot. Throughout the summer, LSU fans will dissect the two quarterbacks' performances in the spring game. Jennings seems like the safe bet to open the season as the Tigers' starter, but whether he holds onto that spot is up to him -- and perhaps up to his new freshman competitor, whose ability to execute the offense will be under heavy scrutiny over the next month.
Here's a look at the Tigers who are scheduled to be in attendance and when their position groups will take the field for workouts in Indianapolis.
Saturday: Tight ends, offensive line, special teams
Trai Turner will be the first Tiger to take the stage. The right guard surprised some by entering the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. This is his chance to prove that decision wasn't a mistake. If Turner shows up in good shape and excels in the workouts and positional drills, perhaps he can work his way up some teams' draft boards.
Sunday: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
This is the showcase day for LSU talent, with five former Tigers set to take the field for workouts. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger would have made it six, but he is still rehabilitating an ACL tear suffered in LSU's Nov. 29 win against Arkansas.
Hill is one of the more intriguing running backs in the draft because of his physical abilities, but his off-the-field issues will probably come up, as well. Hill will be fine in the workouts. The most important part of his trip to Indy won't air on television. He must satisfy at least one team that his disciplinary issues are behind him and that he can be a reliable professional. Performing well in these job interviews is essential for a player with a checkered past.
Meanwhile, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see Blue perform well in the drills and positional workouts and elevate his draft stock. He was overshadowed by Hill at LSU, but Blue has the tools to be an NFL player and he might just emerge on some radars if he's healthy and has an impressive afternoon.
Landry can help himself with a solid time in the 40-yard dash, should he choose to run in Indy. Dependable hands are his best asset, but he will wear the possession receiver label unless he surprises scouts by flashing some top-end speed. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wrote this week that a strong combine workout might help Landry work his way into the first round. Conversely, Beckham could help his cause by catching the ball consistently and displaying some polished route-running skills. He's electric with the ball in his hands – and ESPN's Todd McShay is hyping him as one of the draft's fastest prospects – so his biggest hurdle is proving that he's more than a raw athlete.
Monday: Defensive linemen, linebackers
All three of LSU's Monday participants – defensive linemen Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson and linebacker Lamin Barrow – have something to prove to NFL scouts.
At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Barrow is not the biggest guy in the world, so most teams likely view him as a situational linebacker and special-teams performer instead of an every-down player. He's athletic and has some intangibles that will probably help him interview well, but he needs to flash some physical tools during the workouts that might help him stand out a bit more.
On the other hand, Johnson and Ferguson should excel in the workouts. After all, Johnson's nickname is “Freak” and he possesses the raw athleticism to back up the hype. The problem for both players is that scouts question their motors. They look the part, but must convince teams that they can refine their games and become more consistent performers at the pro level than they were in college.
Tuesday: Defensive backs
Craig Loston closes out LSU's long list of combine participants when he competes with the defensive backs on the final day of workouts. Loston projects as an inside-the-box safety who is best as a hitter and run stopper. He was a bit brittle in college, which might affect his draft stock, but Loston can probably help his cause in Indy by flashing some fluidity and ball skills during the defensive back drills. If teams determine he can play coverage the way he can run and hit, Loston will rise as a prospect.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the offense was a bit better than expected, the defense might have been a bit worse. Everyone knew it was a rebuilding year after John Chavis' group lost a whopping seven players to early entry into the draft. Losing Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter hurt badly, as some of the totals opponents posted early showed. LSU's defense did improve as the season progressed -- an impressive late-November performance against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M was the highlight -- but it was still not as consistent as Chavis certainly would have preferred. Nonetheless, LSU finished the season ranked third in the SEC in total defense (340.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (22 ppg). Those aren't bad numbers, but they aren't up to the standard Chavis' recent defenses have set.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Having Beckham on its side helps LSU quite a bit here. The Paul Hornung Award winner and all-purpose All-American helped the Tigers lead the SEC in kickoff return average (25.5) and rank fifth in punt return average (7.5). His 109-yard touchdown return of a missed UAB field goal was one of the season's most electrifying plays. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye (13-for-14 on field goals and 56-for-57 on PATs) had a solid freshman season, but the Tigers were fairly average on special teams aside from his kicking and Beckham's work as a return man.
With division rivals Alabama and Auburn having either won or played for the BCS title in each of the past five seasons, LSU might be getting a bit tired of its bridesmaid status of late. It's not as if the Tigers have been pushovers, however. This marked the first time in school history that LSU won at least 10 games for a fourth straight season, and included in those 10 wins was the only victory against eventual SEC champ Auburn in the regular season. Considering the roster turnover that took place on defense, a 10-win season and a New Year's Day bowl in Florida were perfectly acceptable results.
His season didn't start under the most positive circumstances, with an offseason arrest delaying his return until a limited workload in Week 2 against UAB, but LSU's Jeremy Hill was a beast once he returned to the lineup full time. His physical running helped him rank among the league's top tailbacks.
No. 12: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
2013 summary: After returning to the lineup against UAB, Hill rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of the remaining 11 games, finishing the fall with 1,401 yards -- the second-best rushing total in school history -- and 16 touchdowns. He was also the team's third-leading receiver with 181 yards on 18 catches.
Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2013 preseason countdown
Making the case for Hill: He entered the NFL draft after a standout sophomore season because of next-level running ability. His off-the-field issues will almost certainly affect Hill's NFL draft stock, but his skills while toting the rock aren't in doubt. LSU's offense largely sputtered on a wet, miserable day in Tampa when the Tigers faced Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but Hill (28 carries for a career-high 216 yards and two touchdowns) carried the Tigers to a 21-14 win. He also ran 25 times for 184 yards and three scores as LSU handed Auburn its only loss of the regular season and posted 157- and 121-yard outings against Mississippi State and Florida, respectively. Only Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason finished with more rushing yards among SEC backs in 2013.
No. 13: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn, Sr.
No. 14: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, So.
No. 15: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.
No. 16: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 17: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr.
No. 18: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 20: Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.
No. 21: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.
No. 22: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
No. 23: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
No. 24: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.
No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Jr.
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
2013 summary: When Zach Mettenberger desperately needed to complete a pass, he looked Landry's way more than anywhere else. And more often than not, Landry rewarded Mettenberger for his confidence. The junior finished with 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns -- all totals that rank among the top five single-season showings in LSU history -- and entered the NFL draft after the season.
Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2013 preseason countdown
Making the case for Landry: Although he also had talented tailback Jeremy Hill eating up chunks of yards and one of the league's most dynamic playmakers, Beckham, lining up alongside him, Landry still ranked third in the SEC with an average of 91.8 receiving yards per game. He posted five 100-yard games -- including a 10-catch, 156-yard outing against Georgia -- and totaled at least 87 yards in each of the last five games of the regular season as the Tigers pushed toward their program-record fourth straight season of at least 10 wins. His and Beckham's departures will leave an enormous void in the Tigers' passing game, as they combined for 2,345 of the team's 3,263 receiving yards.
No. 20: Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.
No. 21: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.
No. 22: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
No. 23: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
No. 24: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.
No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Jr.
Jeremy Hill rushed for 216 yards in LSU's season-ending victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl -- a performance that, even before he made it official, seemed as if it would be the sophomore's final college game. Then the nation's No. 1 prospect, New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette, committed to LSU the very next day.
Les Miles' staff had put all of its eggs in the Fournette basket, opting not to sign a single running back in 2013 in an effort to land the biggest recruit available in 2014. And Fournette is certainly that, earning the highest prospect rating of any running back since ESPN began grading recruits in 2006. LSU's efforts paid off when he verbally committed to the Tigers during the Jan. 2 Under Armour All-America Game, creating a sigh of relief throughout an LSU fan base that desperately wanted to see Fournette play next season in purple and gold.
“They have a player who is meeting needs if you think about Jeremy Hill declaring for the NFL draft and Alfred Blue being a senior,” Haubert said in an ESPN Recruiting Nation video discussing Fournette's commitment. “That leaves only two running backs [rising seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard] on the roster, so obviously Leonard Fournette fills a big need and he's also a great fit if you think about LSU's power running game -- that two-back, downhill scheme. That is ideally the best fit for Leonard Fournette.”
LSU's sports information department might have built a Heisman Trophy campaign around Hill had he returned for his junior season. After his 1,401-yard, 16-touchdown campaign in 2013, Hill might have ranked among the nation's most dominant college backs in 2014. His final college season certainly was one of the best in school history, with the yardage total ranking second all-time at LSU and the touchdown total ranking fourth.
But with Fournette coming aboard after rushing for 1,802 yards and 17 touchdowns and totaling 745 receiving yards and six more scores as a senior at St. Augustine High School, and Magee (86 carries for 626 yards and 8 TDs in 2013) and Hilliard (68-310, 7 TDs) returning, the Tigers should be able to absorb Hill's departure without much difficulty.
Fournette and fellow running back commit Darrel Williams (Marrero, La./John Ehret) won't arrive at LSU until summer, but they seem like good fits for what LSU wants to do in the running game, frequently with young players in its backfield.
“We don't look at them as young kids -- like my freshman year, when I was able to play my freshman year, a couple of guys went down and that's what led me to play,” said Hilliard, who rushed for 336 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman while splitting time with Blue, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. “So everybody's just got to be ready to play when their number's called.”
Magee became a productive counterpuncher behind Hill in 2013, and he will most likely continue to play a big role in LSU's backfield as a senior. And while Hilliard has never been the lead back, he has three 100-yard games on his résumé and has rushed for 21 touchdowns in just 212 career carries.
“At any point in time you can turn to a guy that's as veteran as Kenny Hilliard and know you're going to get quality play,” Miles said last week.
They're all capable of providing quality play, but everyone expects Fournette to claim the lead role at some point. He's just that good -- and he'll have to live up to those astronomical expectations if he is to make Tigers fans forget about what Hill could have brought to the offense in 2014.
“Or [they] have lesser players,” Miles said last week. “One of the two.”
The truth, of course, is that it's a bit of both for most of the teams that Miles' LSU faces annually.
“If a great player can be in your two-deep, he plays,” Miles said of the hypothetical incoming freshman. “If a great player can't be in your two-deep, he's probably not a great player.”
The concept is simple. Players who aren't great tend to stick around longer than those whose physical abilities make them promising targets for NFL scouts. The tricky part for a college coach is convincing players who possess NFL potential to stick around long enough to maximize their talents and land a lucrative professional contract. That takes longer for some than it does for others.
LSU has fallen short in that department, which is why Miles hammers the point that players shouldn't give the NFL “a deal” by leaving school before they have proven themselves as sure-fire, early-round picks.
Some who left Baton Rouge early last year -- and a couple more this year might follow in their footsteps -- could have improved their stock by returning for another season in college. Instead, they made a risky decision to turn pro that blew up in their faces. While improving their draft stock, they also could have been helping LSU win football games had they stayed. Poor choices caused both parties to suffer.
Miles refuses to say that early draft entry has created a problem for LSU -- “It appears to me that we're winning a lot of games year after year after year. I think that will continue,” he insisted -- but the Tigers will provide a case study that bears watching.
After leading the nation with 11 early departures a season ago, LSU again leads the pack with seven this year. LSU's 18 early entries are 10 more than any school has ever had in a two-year period according to ESPN's Brad Edwards. Further, Edwards tweeted on Tuesday that LSU's 18 early entries are seven more than the entire Big 12 in that span and eight more than the entire Big Ten.
Honestly, how could that not create problems? Nobody, not even Alabama, is dealing with that kind of draft-created roster turnover.
Miles is a confident coach who believes that his coaching staff is capable of attracting enough high-level talent that they can plug in youngsters without missing much of a beat. LSU handled the attrition well for the most part in 2013, although last year's seven early departures off fearsome defenses from 2011 and 2012 clearly affected John Chavis' inconsistent unit in the fall.
It's only natural to wonder whether another veteran's defensive presence here or there might have made a difference in 2013 going down as a championship-caliber season instead of simply another solid fall under Miles' leadership.
Now it will be Cam Cameron's turn to rebuild, with five of the seven early departures -- including receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and tailback Jeremy Hill, who combined for 3,985 of LSU's 5,893 offensive yards in 2013 -- coming on offense. And Cameron will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, as well.
This is where players like Leonard Fournette, Trey Quinn and Brandon Harris fit into the conversation.
Among the motivational signs in LSU's team meeting room is one that spells out the Tigers' team process. One line reads “Young guys must prepare to play big roles,” which is exactly what tailback Fournette -- ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect -- receiver Quinn and early enrollee quarterback Harris might have to do.
Fournette has two veterans in Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard to help him make the transition into college, but it will be an enormous disappointment if he does not play a leading role in the 2014 offense.
Quinn -- ESPN's No. 29 overall prospect and No. 3 receiver -- and other players who will have either signed with the Tigers last February or in a couple of weeks must also play big roles this fall. The Tigers have next to no experienced alternatives at the position.
And while rising sophomore Anthony Jennings got a head start on the competition by starting the Tigers' Outback Bowl win against Iowa, he can’t be crowned the 2014 starter just yet. Harris -- ESPN's No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat quarterback -- is among those who will challenge for the job.
Those players and more, who will officially become Tigers on signing day, are immensely talented prospects. That is why several will be included in the coaching staff's plans almost immediately.
“For years we've said that young guys that come into this program are expected not to be young guys,” Miles said. “They're expected to take their roles and play big roles in this program. That being said, we recruit to that. We recruit to those guys that see themselves stepping in and making big plays and playing a part.”
John Calipari's basketball program at Kentucky employs a similar recruiting philosophy and has also kept winning despite considerable attrition through the NBA draft. In both situations, however, it's reasonable to wonder whether the model is sustainable.
Calipari has won a national title but also fielded disappointing teams following considerable draft attrition at Kentucky. Year 2 of the closest comparison in college football -- Miles' LSU -- will tell us plenty about whether it can work on the gridiron.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The deadline to declare was Wednesday, although players still have a window to change their mind prior to this weekend as long as they don't sign with an agent.
For the second straight year, LSU is losing the most. Seven players with eligibility remaining are leaving early to enter the draft, which is actually down from the 11 players the Tigers lost last year. Alabama is losing five players and Florida and South Carolina four apiece.
Below is an unofficial list:
OLB Adrian Hubbard, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Jeoffrey Pagan, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Vinnie Sunseri
RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson
DL Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, OLB Ronald Powell
RB Michael Ford, RB Jeremy Hill, OG Trai Turner, WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson
RB Henry Josey, DE Kony Ealy
WR Donte Moncrief
DE Jadeveon Clowney WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, DT Kelcy Quarles
OT Antonio Richardson
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans
1. Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC; last ranking: 1): The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship, but they did exactly what Gus Malzahn predicted: make the biggest turnaround in college football. Auburn had the nation's best running game behind Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason and a championship attitude that grew all season. The future looks very bright on the Plains.
2. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC; LR: 3): With a 10-point victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina became only the fourth team in the country to win at least 11 games in each of the past two seasons. The Gamecocks made a fun, end-of-the-year run at Atlanta but fell short with a loss to Tennessee and an equally as fun Missouri run.
3. Missouri (12-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 4): These Tigers also had a magical 2013. After rebounding from a five-win 2012 season, Mizzou won the SEC East Division, displayed one of the conference's best, most explosive offenses and ended the season with a back-and-forth victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Gary Pinkel went from the hot seat to beloved by erasing an ugly SEC debut with a stellar encore.
4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1 SEC; LR: 2): The Crimson Tide's SEC and BCS title game chances ended on a miraculous "Kick Six" by Auburn's Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl. With no national championship at stake for the first time since 2010, Alabama failed to match Oklahoma's toughness and intensity in its 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl loss. Despite another impressive regular season, the Tide's chance to make a case as the nation's best team ended inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
5. LSU (10-3, 5-3; LR: 5): We never really knew what we were going to get from these Tigers (so many Tigers!), but after their loss to Alabama on Nov. 9, they closed the season on a tear with three straight wins. Even without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (ACL) for their bowl game, the Tigers grinded out a 21-14 Outback Bowl win over Iowa on the back of running back Jeremy Hill and his 216 yards and two touchdowns.
6. Texas A&M (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 6): Of course Johnny Manziel went out in style. A month after ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, Johnny Football helped orchestrate a comeback win after a 21-point halftime deficit to Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with 455 total yards and five touchdowns. Texas A&M outscored the Blue Devils 35-10 in the second half to win 52-48. What a Johnny Football way to say goodbye.
7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 4-4 SEC; LR: 7): For the first time in school history, Vandy won nine games in back-to-back seasons and consecutive bowl games. The Commodores went undefeated in November for the second straight year and beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever. Their reward? Saying goodbye to coach James Franklin, who left to become Penn State's head coach.
8. Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC; LR: 8): The Bulldogs started the season as the favorite to win the East, but injuries and a young, struggling defense knocked Georgia out of contention late. Even with how poorly the defense played at times, you have to wonder what might have been had injuries to receivers and the loss of Todd Gurley for a month not happened. The Bulldogs ended the season with a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
9. Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC; LR: 9): What looked like a disaster of a season ended with three consecutive wins. The first two were overtime victories and the last one was a 44-7 blowout of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Dan Mullen's popularity level in Starkville took a hit, but he enters his fifth season with much higher expectations with a solid offense and defense returning.
10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5 SEC; LR: 10): What started as a promising season hit a bit of snag in October before the Rebels reeled off four consecutive victories to turn things around. Ole Miss lost to Missouri and Mississippi State to close the regular season but bounced back with an impressive, 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Eight wins, despite injuries and depth issues, was impressive for Hugh Freeze in his second season.
11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LR: 11): For the third year in a row, the Vols failed to make it to a bowl game, but you can tell that the attitudes are different in Knoxville. There's a bit more excitement with Butch Jones in town, especially after that upset win over No. 11 South Carolina. The next step is development on both sides of the ball. Tennessee struggled with quarterback play all season and owned the SEC's No. 11 defense, allowing 418.4 yards per game.
12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LR: 12): For the first time since 1979, the Gators had a losing season. For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida failed to make a bowl game. The Gators suffered 15 season-ending injuries, 10 to starters, including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Florida ranked 113th nationally in total offense, lost to Football Championship Subdivision foe Georgia Southern (at home) and said goodbye to offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis after the season.
13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LR: 13): The first year of the Bret Bielema era was a dud on the field, as the Razorbacks lost a school-record nine straight games to close the season. Arkansas owned the SEC's worst passing offense (114th nationally) but had quite the spark in freshman running back Alex Collins. The next step for the Hogs is getting the right players on both sides to fit Bielema's system.
14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LR: 14): It was a tough first season for Mark Stoops in Lexington, but he really was behind from the start. This team struggled with positive consistency, and it didn't help that the staff had to rotate quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow all season. Kentucky was 13th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense.
The Tigers (10-3) fell out of the national championship hunt with a midseason loss to Ole Miss and suffered a lopsided defeat at Alabama but rallied to win their final three games -- including impressive defensive outings against Texas A&M and in the Outback Bowl against Iowa -- and finish with a No. 14 national ranking.
Offensive MVP: Mettenberger combined with wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and running back Jeremy Hill to make LSU the first SEC team ever to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. They would all make good choices, but Mettenberger's emergence helped turn LSU into a much more effective offensive club.
Defensive MVP: Senior linebacker Lamin Barrow was one of the few veterans on a defense that lost seven underclassmen to the draft a year ago. He served as a steadying force for coordinator John Chavis, leading the team with 91 tackles -- tied for ninth in the SEC -- and finishing as a second-team All-SEC selection.
Best moment: Freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings came off the bench when Mettenberger suffered a torn ACL against Arkansas and led the Tigers on a 99-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Jennings hit Travin Dural with a 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 to play to help LSU win 31-27.
Worst moment: The sloppy outing at Ole Miss was LSU's worst loss of the season, but the most painful was the 38-17 loss against heated rival Alabama, where the top-ranked Crimson Tide scored the game's final 21 points. The Tigers blew early chances to take control of the game and got dominated late.
Collins announced his decision at an on-campus press conference alongside coach Les Miles and fellow rising seniors Jordan Allen, Kenny Hilliard, Elliott Porter and Jermauria Rasco -- all of whom also plan to return in 2014.
Miles credited the returning players for making decisions that will allow them to further develop before making the leap for the pros -- often a risky proposition, as several of the 11 Tigers who left school early after last season can attest. Only nine of those 11 got drafted and six were taken in the third round or later.
“I'm absolutely sure,” Miles said when asked if the departed Tigers' fates this season might have impacted the decisions of the players who chose to stay. “There were some unusual decisions made last year in my mind.”
Collins, Miles said, was a safe bet to become an NFL draft pick, but he emphasized that players need to strongly consider the possibilities should their pro stock sits on shakier ground.
“What we try to tell them is this: let's not give the NFL a deal. There's no reason for it,” Miles said. “The guaranteed money, the best position to go into the draft is the first round. What we want to encourage is to really view your decision in relationship to where you can be and where you are. These guys, they made great decisions.”
Collins was a second-team All-SEC selection this season after taking over as the Tigers' left tackle. He started all 13 games in 2012 at left guard, leading to some question about where he might eventually land in the pros.
He said NFL teams have offered mixed feedback as to which position he will play, but Miles said another college season at tackle will provide an opportunity to convince scouts that he can be a tackle.
“If I was sitting in an NFL room right now, I'd be sitting there questioning that. That would be a real question,” Miles said. “I think this year his piece is to improve and to make his last year his best year. And then I see tackle (in the NFL).”
The Tigers' offense lost five productive underclassmen with eligibility remaining -- receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., running backs Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue and offensive guard Trai Turner -- as well as senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, so LSU's 2014 offense will feature an entirely new set of skill-position players. The offensive line should return four starters, however, in Collins and center Porter, right tackle Jerald Hawkins and left guard Vadal Alexander.
Miles said he expects the group to be dominant next season and Porter and Collins both predicted that it will be the strength of the rebuilding offense.
“Last year was our first year really playing together as a whole and I think that with another year under our belt, it's going to be a great season,” Collins said. “For me the game is won in the trenches, so if we come out and do the things that we're capable of doing, I think we'll have a great season.”
Getting Collins back makes that a much more likely proposition. He didn't give the NFL a deal, to use Miles' expression, giving LSU another season with arguably its top offensive lineman and providing Collins with another season to prove where he belongs on 2015 draft boards.
“I don't think there's any question that he has the potential to be a very early draft pick at left tackle,” Miles predicted.
The SEC lost another talented offensive stud on Monday when LSU sophomore Jeremy Hill announced via Twitter that he will skip his junior year and declare for the NFL draft.
Though just a sophomore, Hill is three years removed from his graduating high school class after sitting out the 2011 season due to legal issues.
Hill was a special talent in the SEC, with a powerful blend of speed, agility and strength that frustrated defenses to no end. Only rarely could defenses stop him with one tackler. You needed assistance -- and then some -- to stop Hill when he got a full head of steam.
He rushed for 100-plus yards 11 times during his college career, including seven times this season.
The thing to watch with Hill is how he transitions to the pro level off the field. He was arrested last April following his role in an alleged fight outside an off-campus bar, and in July pleaded guilty to misdemeanor simple battery. This after already being on legal probation in connection with a 2011 arrest for an alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. (In January 2012, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a juvenile.)
Hill's off-field transgression last year almost cost him his LSU football career, but he more than took advantage of his return to the football field. He trained like a madman when he was away from the team in order to stay in prime shape for football season. He then showed focus and determination on the field when he returned. You can't average 116 yards per game without having the right focus.
Whether Hill has truly learned something from his mistakes is unknown. Until he gets back on the field, he'll have plenty of time to face distractions and temptations. His growth as a player is unquestioned, but his growth as a person is still unknown. Now is when we'll find out what Hill is really made of.
As for LSU, the Tigers welcome the nation's No. 1 recruit, running back Leonard Fournette, who is being called the second coming of just about every great college football running back. He has the right measurables, speed and strength to make an instant impact, as Hill did. Having Hill to learn from would have been a huge win for Fournette, who will now have to deal with overwhelming hype and expectations that will follow him from his outstanding high school career. Hill would have helped deflect some of the pressure that Fournette will now undoubtedly be showered with.
The good news for him is that he'll have two rising seniors -- Terrence Magee, who was second on the team with 626 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season, and Kenny Hilliard (310 yards, seven touchdowns) -- to work with in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers should have good depth at running back without Hill and might have their running back of the future in Fournette. Still, Hill will no doubt be missed on the Bayou.
Mettenberger's Rehab Ahead Of Schedule
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35