LSU Tigers: Jermauria Rasco

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. -- LSU’s spring practice is officially in the books. Now that it’s over, we thought it might be fun to review two sets of our predictions from before the spring and see how close we came.

Prediction No. 1: Freshmen will contend for playing time

[+] EnlargeEdward Paris Jr.
Max Olson/ESPN.comLSU early enrollee Edward Paris is making an impact at defensive back.
Outcome: Although it’s clear that freshmen such as tailback Leonard Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and safety Jamal Adams -- none of whom will arrive until this summer -- are likely contributors in 2014, this prediction mostly referred to the redshirt freshmen who will see their first action this fall. It also referred to early enrollees defensive back Edward Paris and quarterback Brandon Harris, who participated in spring practice and stand a good chance of playing this season.

We were hardly going out on a limb here, but it appears as though plenty of redshirt freshmen secured 2014 playing time over the last month. Players worth mentioning from that group include receiver John Diarse and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore.

Prediction No. 2: Anthony Jennings keeps the QB job

Outcome: To be determined. Harris clearly outplayed Jennings in last Saturday’s spring game, but LSU’s coaches and players insist the competition is far from over. Jennings etched his name into LSU lore by leading the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas last year in relief of an injured Zach Mettenberger, but his mediocre performance in the Outback Bowl and highly average spring game -- he threw two interceptions, both to linebackers who returned them for touchdowns -- leave this race wide open.

Jennings might very well start the opener against Wisconsin, but we can’t claim victory (or accept defeat) on our quarterback prediction at this point.

Prediction No. 3: Right guard isn’t the only offensive line job that’s up for grabs

Outcome: Right guard is the only spot that didn’t return a starter, so it was clearly up for grabs. We were curious as to whether new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes might shake things up along the line, but it doesn’t appear that he did.

Returning starters La'el Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliott Porter and Jerald Hawkins apparently held onto their starting roles, although it wouldn’t be completely untrue to say that some of their jobs were up for grabs had one of the reserves put together a dominant spring. Nonetheless, the right guard battle -- Evan Washington, Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic all remain in the running for the job -- was the only one that seemed highly competitive this spring.

Prediction No. 4: Rashard Robinson keeps rising at cornerback

Outcome: Another fairly safe prediction here. As long as Robinson remains on the active roster, it seems highly likely that he will build upon his late charge in 2013 and become a star in the secondary.

Harris and Rob Bolden teamed up to beat him on a pretty throw down the sideline in the spring game, but Robinson otherwise held up well last Saturday. After shutting down Texas A&M superstar Mike Evans last season, Robinson has LSU fans excited about his potential -- and he didn’t seem to hurt his cause on the practice field this spring.

Prediction No. 5: Danielle Hunter improves as a pass rusher

Outcome: Anyone who saw Hunter manhandle the second-string offensive line in the spring game -- including back-to-back sacks on one possession -- would say this prediction seems to be sound.

LSU posted just 27 sacks last season, which was a big drop-off after the last few Tigers teams boasted at least one or two scary pass rushers. Jermauria Rasco led the team with just four sacks, and Hunter tied for second with three.

It would be a major upset -- and a big disappointment -- if Hunter fails to exceed that total this fall.

Now let’s take a look at our predictions for five players to watch during the spring: Paris, Jennings, Fanaika, wide receiver Quantavius Leslie and defensive lineman Mickey Johnson.

There were some hits and misses here. Jennings was an obvious choice since he and Harris were clearly going to battle for the quarterback job. Picking either one made sense, but we went with Jennings since he was the more experienced player. Harris was the contender who generated all of the positive buzz in the spring game, however.

Fanaika, Leslie and Johnson are all veterans at positions with major playing time available, so they seemed like good picks. Fanaika is still a leading contender to start at right guard and Leslie had a productive second scrimmage (four catches, 135 yards and three touchdowns), although he was quiet in the spring game. But Johnson dealt with injuries during the spring and was not a factor in the Tigers’ competition at defensive tackle.

The problem with our Paris prediction was that we projected him as a contender at safety, which is where ESPN listed him as a prospect. The early enrollee practiced at cornerback during the spring, so we can’t feel too good about that prediction. But he was working with the second-team defense by the end of the spring, so at least he flashed some potential.

If we could redo the list, we’d place Harris, Washington, Diarse, Bain and sophomore Kendell Beckwith -- who shifted to middle linebacker this spring -- on there.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s first spring practice, we offered our best guesses -- some on the mark and some off -- on how LSU’s lineup might look when the Tigers took the field.

Nothing is settled yet, but at least we now have an idea of what the coaches are thinking.

Coach Les Miles addressed some of the Tigers’ biggest position battles and lineup alterations after Saturday’s initial team workout -- starting with the quarterback battle that will likely be the talk of this camp. Here is where things stand at the positions that are in flux as the Tigers enter today’s second practice:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings is the early favorite to start for the Tigers in 2014, but two freshmen remain in the competition.
Quarterback: Miles said Saturday that “I think I have a good idea, anyway” about who the Tigers’ starting quarterback will be, but the competition for the job still figures to be fierce. By all accounts, the early leader is rising sophomore Anthony Jennings, but redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig and immensely talented early enrollee Brandon Harris could challenge Jennings for the job.

This competition is only beginning, however. Miles said the coaching staff is in no rush to settle on a starter now, preferring to allow the competition to progress over the next few months before making any decisions.

“The idea that you make the decision early is foolish,” Miles said. “I think there’s always going to be that point in time where a young guy gains speed late or an injury makes the decision or the old guy, the more veteran [player], just shows that he’s worthwhile.”

Wide receiver: We learned Saturday that there is one less contender in the quarterback battle since Rob Bolden has shifted to wideout. Bolden actually “made a couple nice catches today” after making what “appears to be a pretty good move,” Miles said.

Bolden’s position change made for an interesting side note, but he isn't the headliner at receiver. Who among the returning players is the headliner? That’s still to be determined.

It apparently starts with Travin Dural and redshirt freshman John Diarse. Candidates such as Quantavius Leslie, Kevin Spears and Avery Peterson need to use this spring to solidify their spots in the rotation before a star-studded freshman class led by Malachi Dupre -- who attended Saturday’s practice -- and Trey Quinn arrives this summer.

“Travin Dural and John Diarse are both guys that really look good. We’re going to have the ability to put those guys on the field and go,” Miles said. “Q. Leslie and Kevin Spears and those guys that are really behind that group need to come on. This is the time for that. This is an opportunity for those guys. But those first two guys, we would look forward to them playing a lot.”

Right guard: Miles emphasized that for new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, “playing the best player is obviously the key.”

Four offensive line jobs have clear leaders, with returning players who started nearly every game a season ago. But the right guard position is wide open, and Evan Washington is shifting from tackle to try to grab the job.

Fehoko Fanaika and Ethan Pocic -- who can also play center -- are among the other candidates at right guard, Miles said, but “we’re going to have to see how that all goes.”

Linebacker: It looks like the Tigers will do some juggling at these spots. Kendell Beckwith, a utility player last season, worked at middle linebacker on Saturday. Kwon Alexander shifted from strongside linebacker to the weak side. Lamar Louis practiced on the strong side after playing in the middle in 2013.

“We’re really taking the time to multi-train these linebackers so we can put the best three guys on the field,” Miles said. “Kwon has moved from his starting spot to the other side, so we think this spring will allow them to be put in either side.”

The quarterback battle will attract most of the headlines, but this might wind up becoming the Tigers’ most interesting competition this spring. Lots of moving pieces here.

Safety: We know this much: Jalen Mills is a safety and early enrollee Edward Paris Jr. -- who is working at cornerback -- is not. Beyond that, we’ll see where this battle goes.

Mills and Ronald Martin might be the top options here for now, but this is a competition that will begin in earnest when signees Jamal Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle IV arrive on campus this summer.

“We’ll have guys back, but I think we’ll be looking at some of these young guys that are coming in,” Miles said. “Ed Paris is lined up at corner right now and getting some corner work and then some of these young guys coming in will get opportunities to fit in there.”

Junior safety Corey Thompson (knee) might participate at some point this spring, but Miles said did not sound particularly optimistic on that front. Incidentally, he shared a similar spring-time prognosis for defensive end Jermauria Rasco (shoulder).

LSU position groups to improve: No. 1

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
9:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With 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.

We've discussed the tight ends, defensive tackles, safeties and linebackers in the first four installments of this week's series on positions that can stand to improve this fall. Today's final position group is the defensive ends, who last fall struggled to replace the 2012 stars who left early to enter the NFL draft.

1. Defensive end

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsJermauria Rasco (No. 59) was the Tigers' most productive defensive end in 2013.
Battling for No. 1: LSU went from having defensive ends who intimidated 2012 opponents in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo to a 2013 group who struggled to generate the same pass-rushing production after Montgomery and Mingo left early for the NFL. Rising senior Jermauria Rasco (56 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high four sacks) and junior Danielle Hunter (57 tackles, eight TFLs, three sacks) combined to make 23 of 26 possible starts at end last season, with rising senior Jordan Allen (16 tackles, two TFLs, two sacks) accounting for the other three. That veteran trio seems likely to remain in leading roles, although it would help if some younger players help beef up the Tigers' pass rush. LSU's 27 sacks last season were their fewest since notching just 21 in 2009.

Strength in numbers: The versatile Kendell Beckwith can contribute at end in certain situations, and perhaps he will be able to bolster LSU's edge rush after playing in a limited capacity as a freshman. Lewis Neal played a supporting role last season as a freshman, and perhaps he might earn additional playing time this fall. He appeared in 10 games and recorded seven tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss. Same for Tashawn Bower, an ESPN 300 prospect last year who made three tackles in six games. Otherwise, Justin Maclin is the only returning end who played last season, although the oft-injured rising senior finished with just two tackles in five games.

New on the scene: ESPN 300 honoree Deondre Clark completed LSU's 23-man signing class this week when he officially joined the Tigers at a signing ceremony at his high school. He and fellow signee Sione Teuhema look capable of bringing some playmaking ability to the end position in time. The Tigers also have M.J. Patterson -- a three-star end signee in 2013 -- and ESPN 300 recruit Frank Herron coming off redshirt seasons. Herron was listed as an end last year, but he also has the frame and skillset to become an interior lineman.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- La'El Collins would have been an NFL draft pick this year. He might have even been an early-round pick this year. But unlike seven teammates, Collins announced on Tuesday that he will return for the 2014 season at LSU in order to complete his degree and improve his pro stock.

[+] EnlargeLa'el Collins
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWith La'El Collins returning for his senior season, LSU will have four of five returning starters back on its offensive line.
“Going to the draft early and maybe going late first, early second -- who knows? -- I know for a fact that if I came back to school, I could earn my degree and have a better chance and a better opportunity to go higher in the draft next year,” Collins said. “It all kind of came together and it all made sense.”

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.

Week 7 helmet stickers

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
9:00
AM ET
Here are three Tigers who earned some extra recognition after the 17-6 win over Florida on Saturday.

The LSU offensive line (that’s one big sticker): This group controlled the line of scrimmage for four quarters. The Tigers rushed for 175 yards against a Gators defense that has allowed 65 yards per game. Zach Mettenberger did not get sacked, which is not to say that he didn’t get hit. But he fared a lot better than Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy did.

DE Jermauria Rasco: We could give a helmet sticker to the entire defensive line, but let’s single out Rasco. The Tigers defensive end had four quarterback hurries and half a sack. LSU allowed Murphy very little time to throw all night. That’s why he threw downfield so rarely, which is how he completed 16-of-28 passes for only 129 yards.

Tailback Jeremy Hill: He rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries and caught one pass for 30 yards, Mettenberger’s longest completion of the game. The Tigers might have a committee of tailbacks, but Hill has established himself as the first among equals. His 715 rushing yards and nine touchdowns lead LSU even though he served a one-game suspension in the season opener.

LSU camp: Biggest position battles

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
10:00
AM ET
D.J. WelterDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsD.J. Welter appears to be leading the battle for the middle linebacker spot.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As August camp has continued at LSU, position battles have emerged, some expected, some not so much. Here are five worth keeping an eye on as the Aug. 30 season opener against TCU looms.

Middle linebacker
The prime competitors: D.J. Welter, Lamar Louis
Darkhorses: Lamin Barrow, Kendell Beckwith
Outlook: There was a huge assumption out there that Barrow would move to middle linebacker during August camp, creating a spot at outside linebacker for talented young Kwon Alexander while getting the best of the Tigers' linebackers to the most important position. As of this week, that hasn't happened. Instead, Welter, the starter at the end of spring, remains in a battle with sophomore Louis for the spot, with talented freshman Beckwith looming in the background, biding his time. And there's still time for LSU to move Barrow to the middle if defensive coordiantor John Chavis sees fit.
Opening day starter? Our guess is Welter.

Defensive end
The prime competitors: Jordan Allen, Danielle Hunter.
Darhorses: Lewis Neal, Tashawn Bower.
Outlook: Hunter is a huge talent who many feel has the potential to be a double-digit sack guy and could form an imposing pass-rushing duo opposite Jermauria Rasco. But Les Miles often rewards older, hard-working players (see Josh Downs last year starting over Anthony Johnson at defensive tackle), and Allen seems to fit that bill. And make no mistake, he's talented in his own right. Also, look out for Neal and Bower, two bright young true freshmen who have impressed during summer workouts and have continued to do so in camp.
Opening day starter? The guess is Allen, though Hunter will see plenty of snaps.

Running back
The prime competitors: Alfred Blue, Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard
Darkhorse: Terrence Magee
Outlook: With returning starter Hill reinstated following an offseason suspension the question is, will he resume his role, or will he suffer more repercussions for his off-field issues? History tells us players who find trouble at LSU don't necessarily get booted but often find themselves somewhat marginalized. That could be the case here. Blue was the opening day starter last year before suffering a knee injury, and he looks better than he did a year ago.
Opening day starter? We like Blue, and we also think Hill might not see the field in the opener as part of his punishment.

Kicker
The prime competitors: Colby Delahoussaye, James Hairston
Darkhorse: Trent Domingue
Outlook: Delahoussaye handled most of the field goals in the spring game and seems to have the edge to replace the departed Drew Alleman as the primary kicker. But Hairston, the only scholarship kicker on the team, remains in the competition, and with his stronger leg he might be the man for longer field goals. He will retain his role as the kickoff specialist.
Opening Day Starter? Delahoussaye.

No. 2 Quarterback
Prime candidates: Anthony Jennings, Stephen Rivers
Darkhorses: Rob Bolden, Hayden Rettig
Outlook: We know Zach Mettenberger is the starter, but the burning question at LSU camp is who will back him up and thus become the heir apparent to replace him in 2014? Coaches have indicated Jennings, the talented true freshman, has a slight edge over Rivers, the sophomore younger brother of Philip Rivers. But don't discount Bolden, a former starter at Penn State who is coming off injury.
Opening Day No. 2? We still like the more seasoned Rivers to come in if Mettenberger gets banged up agianst TCU, but look for Jennings to make his presence felt as the season progresses.

LSU season preview

August, 11, 2013
8/11/13
10:00
AM ET
Our SEC preview series shifts today to the Bayou and the LSU Tigers.

Coach: Les Miles (113-42 overall, 85-21 at LSU)

2012 record: 10-3, 6-2 SEC

Key losses: DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsThe Tigers hope to use more of their passing attack this season, including leaning on Jarvis Landry's skills at wideout.
Key returnees: QB Zach Mettenberger, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham Jr., OT La’el Collins, DT Anthony Johnson, LB Lamin Barrow, S Craig Loston

Newcomers to watch: LB Kendell Beckwith, TE Logan Stokes, WR Travin Dural, WR Quantavius Leslie, DE Lewis Neal

Biggest games in 2013: TCU (in Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31; at Georgia, Sept. 28; Florida, Oct. 12; at Alabama, Nov. 9; Texas A&M, Nov. 23

Biggest question mark: The amount of talent LSU lost on defense last season to the NFL was staggering, but few teams in the SEC have reloaded on that side of the ball the way the Tigers have under fifth-year coordinator John Chavis. That’s the challenge this season, particularly when it comes to finding guys who can rush the passer and make big plays off the edge. LSU should be fine on the interior with the tandem of Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, but there’s not a proven finisher at end. Junior Jermauria Rasco and sophomore Danielle Hunter are both primed to move into that role and have breakout seasons, while freshmen Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower will also be worth watching.

Forecast: Amid all the talk about Alabama going for its third straight national championship and the circus surrounding Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, LSU has sort of been the forgotten team in the West race. Deep down, LSU coach Les Miles doesn’t mind being in the shadows entering the 2013 season because it’s been an excellent source of motivation for his team. Try mentioning to any of the players that this could be the year the Tigers fall off a bit. At LSU? The Tigers may have lost several great players, but they also breed great players, and that’s been their mantra on the Bayou.

One of the big questions of the offseason was recently resolved when star running back Jeremy Hill was reinstated to the team following his legal troubles. Miles has said only that Hill would be punished internally and hasn’t specified if he will miss any games. Getting Hill back was big for the Tigers, who were already deep at running back. But the 233-pound Hill has the size, power and speed that should fit perfectly into Cam Cameron’s offense. Having Hill in the backfield will make LSU’s play-action passing game that much more effective, and the plan is for senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger to throw the ball down the field more this season. The Tigers need to throw it better, period, after finishing 11th in the SEC last season in passing offense and tossing just 12 touchdown passes in 13 games.

As Miles has alluded to more than a few times, LSU is the only team in the West this season that has to face both Florida and Georgia from the East. The Tigers also have to play at Alabama, so the schedule may be LSU’s biggest hurdle in terms of making a run at the SEC championship.

LSU camp: Five big questions

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU begins fall camp on Monday morning, the day after players report to campus to begin preparations for the Tigers' Aug. 31 opener against TCU.

Here are the five big questions LSU must answer.

1. Will it be a new offense? LSU has a new offensive coordinator in former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Does that mean the Tigers will break their recent trend of sub-par offense?

Mettenberger-MIles
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRELSU coach Les Miles is looking for quarterback Zach Mettenberger to break out in his senior season.
LSU finished 10th in the SEC in offense last season and struggled to move the ball consistently in two of its three losses. That's become a recurring theme with the Tigers since their last national championship in 2007.

Forced to go with freshmen quarterbacks in 2008, the Tigers have seemed to be conservative and reluctant to open up the offense since. Cameron, on the other hand, was fired in Baltimore in no small part because it was perceived that he abandoned the running back too often. Perhaps the new offensive coordinator and the traditionally conservative Les Miles offense can find a happy medium, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger can have a breakthrough senior year.

2. Is it a Hill, or a mountain to climb? Most expect running back Jeremy Hill to face some disciplinary ramifications after a second violation of his probation from punching a man outside of a bar near LSU. The question is, will Hill face a short suspension or something longer? That won't likely be known until mid-August.

If Hill, LSU's leading rusher last season, does not come back to the Tigers, the question becomes, who fills the void? The Tigers only have four scholarship running backs even with the immensely talented Hill.

3. Will the defense struggle down the line? LSU lost all four defensive-line starters from last season, including three who are now toiling in the NFL.

Those around the program are ecstatic about the talent the Tigers have coming up to replace departures of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan. But many of those talented players -- think defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter in particular -- are woefully unproven.

Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, a former top defensive tackle in the nation coming out of high school, is projected by many to be a first-round NFL draft pick after this season despite the fact that he mostly played a backup role last season. Johnson will need to be NFL caliber, and so will a couple of others, if the Tigers are to live up to their lofty expectations on the line.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesSenior linebacker Lamin Barrow performed well on the outside last year but could be in the mix to replace Kevin Minter at inside linebacker this season.
4. Who's the man in the middle? When you look at the players who have started at middle linebacker for LSU under defensive coordinator John Chavis -- think Kelvin Sheppard and Kevin Minter with a little Jacob Cutrera sprinkled in -- you see names currently on NFL rosters.

The question is, does LSU have an NFL-quality middle linebacker for this year's defense?

Lamin Barrow was a triple-digit tackler last season as a weakside linebacker playing alongside Minter. Chavis tried to keep him outside in the spring and worked junior D.J. Welter, who missed most of last season for academic reasons, in the starting lineup.

Barrow may be an NFL-bound outside linebacker, but can he play inside? And is Welter better than a career reserve at the position? Which one will start, or will a wildcard -- perhaps true freshman stud Kendell Beckwith -- step in?

5. Will a freshman start? Under Miles, LSU has never been afraid to run a true freshman to the field. Redshirting is rarely ever the goal for new players.

On this team, there will be plenty of opportunities for a young player to emerge. In the secondary, Tre'Davious White is expected to push for starting time at a position where Jalen Mills emerged as a true freshman starter last season following the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu.

Look for linemen to push for early playing time. Offensive lineman Ethan Pocic impressed during the spring as an early enrollee and may be an injury away from jumping into the lineup. Christian LaCouture had a similar spring on the defensive side. Look for impressive, young defensive linemen Lewis Neal, Tashawn Bower and Greg Gilmore to quickly challenge for playing time.

Opening camp: LSU

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
3:30
PM ET
Schedule: The Tigers will hold their first preseason practice on Monday. Their first day in full pads will be Friday, Aug. 9.

On the mend: Defensive end Jermauria Rasco and cornerback Jalen Mills both missed the last part of spring to undergo shoulder surgeries, but should be ready to go this preseason. Running back Alfred Blue is coming back from a torn ACL suffered in the third game last season. He was held out of contact this spring, but will open preseason camp as one of the Tigers’ top running backs. Blue had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games before going down a year ago. Vadal Alexander, the Tigers’ starting right offensive tackle, was also forced to miss part of the spring with an injured knee.

Key battle: Defensive coordinator John Chavis likes his young talent at linebacker and will see to it that he gets his best three players on the field. Finding a replacement for Kevin Minter in the middle is the first priority. Senior Lamin Barrow could slide in there after racking up 104 tackles last season on the weak side. Junior D.J. Welter will get the first shot in the middle, while sophomore Lamar Louis could also be an option there after starting five games at strong side linebacker last season. Sophomore Kwon Alexander may be the most talented of the bunch and will vie with senior Tahj Jones for the starting strong side job. Welter and Jones missed all but the bowl game last season because of academics. Others to watch are sophomore Deion Jones, redshirt freshman Lorenzo Phillips and promising true freshmen Kendell Beckwith and Melvin Jones.

Of note: LSU has finished ninth or worse in the SEC in passing offense each of the last four seasons. The Tigers were 11th last season, 10th in 2011, 12th in 2010 and ninth in 2009.

Predicted order of finish: Picked third in the West at SEC media days.

They said it: “Everybody has their own opinion. We know every year that we have a chance to contend for the SEC title and national title, so we’ll control the things we can control and see who’s better on that day.” – LSU receiver Jarvis Landry
Alabama might have fallen to No. 2 in ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, but I'd like to think that most of the college football world still considers the Crimson Tide to be the favorites to win the national championship again.

Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.

But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.

No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.

Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.

The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.

A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.

Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:

Florida

The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.

The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.

Georgia

Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.

Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.

LSU

Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.

The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.

South Carolina

Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.

And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.

LSU spring game: What we learned

April, 20, 2013
4/20/13
7:39
PM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five things we learned in LSU's spring game Saturday, a 37-0 win for White (first-team players) over Purple (various reserves):

1. Mettenberger adjusts: Quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 12 of 19 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half, after he evidently adjusted his own game plan.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came up with the idea of allowing the quarterbacks to call their own plays in the spring game, so Mettenberger had some adjustments to make to his own calls.

"It was tough out there," the quarterback said. "Coach Cameron allowed us to call our own plays and it was the first time I've ever done that. It was kind of a slow start to get going, but we turned it around and had a pretty good day."

LSU coach Les Miles said the idea was to allow coaches to get a better feel for each quarterback's preference in certain situations and to allow the quarterbacks to gain a respect, and some insight, in the play-calling process.

"It allows you to see how the quarterback thinks," Miles said. "It allows you to see how he views the game plan, what he would call. I think it was a tremendous exercise."

It didn't get off to a rip-roaring start. Playing against a depleted second-team defense, the White offense managed a single field goal in its first three possessions before threw touchdown passes of 15 and 79 yards from Mettenberger to tight end Dillon Gordon and receiver Odell Beckham on consecutive possessions.

"We turned it around and had a pretty good day," Mettenberger said.

That goes especially for Beckham, who had two touchdown and 202 receiving yards on six catches, and Jarvis Landry, who added 132 yards on six catches.

2. Left out: LSU was without six injured first team players, as the secondary was depleted by injuries that kept out Jalen Collins, Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin. Offensive linemen Elliott Porter and Vadal Alexander also missed the game, as did defensive end Jermauria Rasco.

(Read full post)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney takes your questions:

Joe (Denham Springs, La.): Who are the big-name prospects coming to LSU's spring game?

Gary Laney: The spring game (2 p.m. Saturday) is always a big draw and we are working on figuring out the guest list.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Cam CameronAP Photo/Gail BurtonExpect to see snippets of Cam Cameron's offense at LSU's spring game on Saturday, but nothing that will give anything away.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- For the first time since the disappointing loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU will be in action for public consumption Saturday when the Tigers play their annual spring game at Tiger Stadium.

Like many teams in college football, most of the Tigers' preparations are done behind closed doors. For the public, there is no access to practices. For the media, there are a mere 10-15 minutes of open practices most days. For students, there's Thursday's open practice (4 p.m. with student ID).

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Now that Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are both pointing toward NFL careers, LSU needs to find some more pass-rushers.

Junior Jermauria Rasco has been waiting his turn, and he showed Thursday during the Tigers’ second scrimmage of the spring that he has everything it takes to be a force off the edge. Rasco led the defense with three sacks in his best outing of the spring.

Two of his sacks came during the two-minute drill against the No. 1 offense. His final sack came in a fourth-and-long situation, and would have sealed the deal had it been a real game.

“Rasco had a nice day. He continues to improve with practice,” said LSU coach Les Miles, adding that safety Craig Loston also had a big scrimmage.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

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
VIDEO PLAYLIST video