LSU Tigers: Ronnie Feist

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is scheduled to hold its final spring walk-through on Tuesday, which will officially send the Tigers into the offseason.

As Les Miles’ club wraps up its 15 spring workouts, here are five things we took away from the last month on the practice field:

[+] EnlargeJennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings' ability as a running quarterback will be a weapon LSU can utilize this fall.
1. Those QBs can move: Having seen Anthony Jennings play a bit as a freshman, we already knew he had some wiggle. But freshman Brandon Harris looks to be at least his equal in the running-quarterback department after he had 76 rushing yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s spring game.

Whichever quarterback wins the starting job, it’s a certainty that his playing style will differ wildly from predecessor Zach Mettenberger, who stood like a stone in the pocket. With either Jennings or Harris under center, defenses will have to respect that he can take off and make big plays with his legs.

“Oh boy, isn’t that fun to see?” Miles asked, referring to a 41-yard run that Harris made in the second quarter. “You go back in there and the defense makes a mistake and let me tell you what happened: One of those linebackers went over there to the other side with one of those backs and did not stay home. And so that quarterback came out the back side and suddenly 41 yards later, he’s run out of bounds.

“That’s something you can’t do, either, so when you line up against a quarterback with that kind of ability -- and both of our guys have it -- you’d better keep that linebacker home.”

Jennings still seems to have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long while looking to pass. Iowa sacked him four times in the Outback Bowl, and his defensive teammates got to him four times in the spring game. Harris seemed to have a better idea when to tuck it and run, which doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea for either of them, as they can both be dynamic runners when they leave the pocket.

2. Linebackers will be strong: Saturday was a great day for LSU’s linebackers. Not only did Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones both intercept Jennings' passes and take them to the house for touchdowns, but Ronnie Feist (14 tackles) and Lamar Louis (seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for a loss) were their respective teams’ leading tacklers.

Feist seemed to be everywhere, continuing what Miles said was an impressive spring from a physicality standpoint.

“When he hits you, you’re hit,” Miles said of Feist. “There’s no pretend to it.”

Senior middle linebacker D.J. Welter apparently left a major impression on his coaches this spring as well. Not only was he among the defense’s honorees in awards for leadership and for outstanding performance, but he was the lone winner of the Jimmy Taylor Award, the team’s comprehensive spring award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance.

3. Offensive playmakers still must emerge: It seemed like a foregone conclusion even before spring practice started that some of the team’s top offensive players for 2014 weren’t on campus yet. Spring didn’t do much to change that perception.

Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee -- who dealt with a sprained ankle for much of the spring -- were adequate at tailback, but freshman Leonard Fournette will inject some star power to the position once he arrives on campus. Likewise, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and the new receivers will add explosiveness at a position that was riddled with injuries throughout the spring. The receivers were nearly nonexistent in the spring game.

LSU wide receivers totaled seven catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Sounds pretty good, right? But five of the catches, 130 yards and both touchdowns came from one player: Travin Dural.

Otherwise, the group frequently dropped passes and misplayed catchable balls, proving that they need every bit of the available practice time this summer to develop chemistry with their quarterbacks. Dural looks like a star in the making, but the others have a lot to prove from a consistency standpoint.

4. Tight end talk seems legit: DeSean Smith and the Tigers’ other tight ends expressed hope this spring that they would get more opportunities to catch passes in 2014 than they did last season, when wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham got most of the looks from Mettenberger.

They said that’s how things had been going in practice, and Saturday looked to continue that trend. Smith led the way with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, but Dillon Gordon (2-32), Logan Stokes (1-26), John David Moore (1-20) and Travis Dickson (1-8) also made receptions. In all, the tight ends accounted for eight of the Tigers’ 21 catches in the final spring scrimmage, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems pleased with the weapons he has at his disposal at the position.

“Every year, with different personnel, creates a whole new set of opportunities, and I think the opportunities for our tight ends are going to be critical,” Cameron said. “I was thrilled -- for the most part -- I thought they made the most of it.”

5. Defense is on the comeback: Judging by the way the White team (which featured the starters) throttled the Purple team’s offense on Saturday, it looks like LSU’s first-team defense has the potential to rank among the SEC’s best this fall.

The Purple team accounted for 179 yards of offense on 46 plays -- 53 rushing on 27 carries and 126 passing on 6-for-19 attempts. The Purple converted for a first down just once out of 11 third downs.

After saying earlier in the week that he overthought things in his first season as a starter, defensive end Danielle Hunter seems to have cut loose now. He recorded two sacks on Saturday and was a regular presence in the Purple team’s backfield.

He was only one member of a sizable group of defensive players on both teams who flashed major potential in the scrimmage. Things seem to be looking up for defensive coordinator John Chavis’ bunch.

LSU position groups to improve: No. 2

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

After discussing the tight ends, defensive tackles and safeties in the first three installments of this week's series on position groups that can improve this fall, today we move to the linebackers, who disappointed a bit last season and now must replace starter Lamin Barrow.

[+] EnlargeSteven Clark
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDuke Riley (No. 40) could be poised to make a big impact for the Tigers in 2014.
2. Linebacker

Battling for No. 1: Barrow, one of the leaders of the 2013 LSU defense, is a likely NFL draft pick and tied for ninth in the SEC with 91 tackles. He, rising senior D.J. Welter (80 tackles, four tackles for a loss) and rising junior Kwon Alexander (65 tackles, 6.5 TFLs) hardly set the world on fire, however, as the Tigers' typical starters. When spring practice opens, Welter probably starts as the middle linebacker and Alexander could remain at the strongside linebacker spot. There could be a competition between rising junior Deion Jones (15 tackles, 1 TFL) and sophomore Duke Riley (seven tackles, 0.5 TFLs) for the starting spot on the weak side.

Strength in numbers: Kendell Beckwith -- the highest-rated prospect in LSU's 2013 signing class -- made a small impact as a freshman. He totaled 11 tackles and one TFL but has the ability to play a larger role at strongside linebacker, in the middle, or at defensive end. Rising junior Lamar Louis (25 tackles) might also be a candidate for a bigger role in the middle. Sophomore Ronnie Feist is also coming off a redshirt season and might figure into the rotation somewhere.

New on the scene: Clifton Garrett is clearly one of the stars of LSU's newest signing class, ranking as ESPN's No. 31 overall prospect, No. 2 inside linebacker and top prospect in the state of Illinois. He looks like exactly the type of downhill run stopper who will fit in well in Baton Rouge, but it's rarely a great idea to project immediate greatness for freshmen who arrive in the summer. Perhaps he, or ESPN 300 outside linebacker Donnie Alexander, will be able to crack the rotation sometime during the fall, but it's probably best to temper expectations early on in preseason practice.
D.J. WelterDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSidelined by grades most of last season, D.J. Welter has become a better student on and off the field.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- D.J. Welter struggled as a student so much that he missed all of the 2012 season because he was academically ineligible.

That has not stopped him from progressing so much as a student of the game of football that he might end up being LSU's starting middle linebacker.


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Spring preview: Positions of need

March, 6, 2013
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As LSU prepares to begin spring practice March 14, GeauxTigerNation will take daily looks at aspects of the spring camp. This is the third in the series:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you watched the NFL combine, you saw former LSU defensive linemen and defensive backs lining up to take their turns in drills.

So you want to know the areas of need as we head to the spring?

The combine gave you most of the answers.

Defensive end

Players lost: Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Lavar Edwards, Chauncey Aghayere

Experience returning: Jermauria Rasco

Other candidates: Danielle Hunter, Jordan Allen, Justin Maclin.

Outlook: LSU won't have all of its candidates until August, when a trio of true freshmen arrive. But it'll be interesting to see who emerges out of the four veterans. Rasco worked his way into the top four last season and Hunter was a nice special teams player. Allen is coming off a knee injury. Any strong play from these four would be great news in the spring.

Defensive tackle

Players lost: Bennie Logan, Josh Downs

Experience returning: Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson

Others: Quentin Thomas, Mickey Johnson, Christian LaCouture.

Outlook: LSU is a little more solid here than at end because Johnson and Ferguson have seen plenty of snaps. Ferguson needs to step his game up though. There's a lot of talk that Thomas is a guy who might step up and earn significant playing time, possibly even challenging Ferguson for a starting spot. True freshman Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore will arrive in August. Another freshman, LaCouture, is already on campus.

Lamin Barrow
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLamin Barrow is one of several options that LSU has to replace Kevin Minter at middle linebacker.

Middle linebacker

Player lost: Kevin Minter

Experience returning: Lots of players, but are there any natural MLBs?

Outlook: This position is more a matter of finding the right guy than finding a guy. Does LSU move weak linebacker Lamin Barrow there? Does D.J. Welter, who was second team in the Chick-fil-A bowl after missing the season for academic reasons, get a shot? How about young Ronnie Feist? There are no shortage of candidates. It's just a matter of finding the right fit.

Left tackle

Player lost: Chris Faulk, Josh Dworaczyk

Experience returning: La'el Collins (could be moved from left guard), Vadal Alexander (could be moved from right tackle).

Others: Jerald Hawkins, Evan Washington, Jonah Austin, Ethan Pocic.

Outlook: Like middle linebacker, there are candidates here, but which one is the best fit? Collins was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school, but he got comfortable at left guard as a sophomore and there could be a reluctance to move him. Hawkins is a talented redshirt freshman, but do you really want a redshirt freshman blocking quarterback Zach Mettenberger's blind side? Alexander, last year's starter at right tackle, could be an option as well, but that would leave the Tigers having to find a new starter for two positions.


BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Kevin Minter decided Thursday to pass on his senior season to leave LSU for the NFL -- a decision that came as no surprise given the fact the the team's MVP had a superb season and earned his degree at the end of the fall semester -- he didn't leave LSU without a 100-tackle linebacker.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLamin Barrow, who had more than 100 tackles as a junior, will be looked upon to pick up the slack at linebacker after Kevin Minter entered the NFL draft.
The all-SEC middle linebacker and Butkus Award finalist left the Tigers after putting together the most prolific tackling season of the Les Miles era (130). The middle linebacker spot will be up for competition, but the linebackers will remain a veteran group with the possibility of starting three upperclassmen in 2013.

Lamin Barrow, the weakside linebacker, will anchor the defense next season coming off a strong junior season where he had 104 tackles, a performance somewhat overshadowed by the often-dominant Minter.

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Where LSU will need help: Defense 

January, 3, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The commitment of Maquedius Bain to LSU on Wednesday made perfect sense.

Bain, the No. 6 defensive tackle in the ESPN 150 and the highest-rated of the Tigers' 24 commitments, figures to play at LSU early. And he'll play a position where the Tigers have a tremendous recent track record for getting players to the NFL. Part of the reason there is a need for defensive tackles in this LSU class (Bain is one of four DT commitments in the class) is the presumed early departure of junior Bennie Logan to the NFL.

If Bain does play immediately, it will continue an LSU trend: Tiger freshmen should come ready to play because many of them will play. LSU used 15 true freshmen in the 2012 season, including four who started and a fifth who was a special-teams starter.

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LSU on Monday morning donned full pads for the first time in August as the Tigers wrapped up a stretch of five straight practice days to start August camp.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Feist
Courtesy Jamie NewbergFreshman Ronnie Feist has already been a hit at LSU's August practices.
It was the second day of the team being together as a group, meaning you are getting a feel for how newcomers might be used this year.

What's particularly interested is watching the linebackers, where true freshmen Ronnie Feist, Lamar Louis and Deion Jones, all true freshmen, have often worked together as a second-team unit behind first-teamers Kevin Minter, Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow. That doesn't necessarily mean a veteran like Luke Muncie, who was competing with Barrow for the starting spot on the weak side, has completely fallen out of favor, but it is interesting to see the young players get early looks.

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LSU DEs get bigger and smaller 

August, 2, 2012
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To describe LSU's tandem of pass-rushing defensive ends as "small" or "slender" would be only half right this season.

Sam Montgomery told media members Thursday after the first day of August camp that he has gained 30 pounds in the off-season, pushing his weight over 270 pounds without sacrificing any of his speed.

"I think Sam is in position to have a great year," said LSU coach Les Miles of the junior, who was projected as the No. 5 player in the 2013 NFL draft by Mel Kiper. "I think he's more veteran, more seasoned, maybe more of a want this fall. He looks bigger and stronger to me."

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Fall practice report: Day 1 

August, 2, 2012
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Alfred Blue, Zach MettenbergerGary Laney/ESPN.comZach Metternberger and Alfred Blue get loose on the first day of practice.
LSU kicked off what promises to be a grueling month Thursday with a 9 a.m. practice -- the first official practice of the 2012 season.

As will be the case for the first three practices of August, Thursday morning was a varsity practice, so there was no sign of any incoming freshmen or transfers. Thus, much to the dismay of media everywhere, Penn State transfer Rob Bolden was not on hand.

Instead, reporters caught 25 minutes of initial veteran workouts, with a few notes worth mentioning.

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Opening preseason camp: LSU

August, 1, 2012
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Schedule: The Tigers’ first practice is Thursday morning with the varsity players. The freshmen and selected veterans will practice later in the day. The first full-squad practice is Sunday, and the first day in pads is scheduled for Monday. LSU opens the season Sept. 1 against North Texas in Tiger Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by ESPNU.

Returning starters: Six on offense, six on defense and the place-kicker, punter and top return man on special teams.

Star power: Junior cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. He tied for the team lead with 76 total tackles and led the SEC with six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He also returned two punts for touchdowns.

New faces: Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist, a pair of true freshmen, went through spring drills and showed enough that that they’re going to be in the rotation at linebacker this season. Also keep an eye on incoming true freshman Kwon Alexander. In the secondary, redshirt freshman Jalen Collins could end up being the Tigers’ third cornerback, while redshirt freshman Micah Eugene is expected to push Craig Loston for the starting strong-safety spot.

Don’t forget about: Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk didn’t go through the spring and missed all of last season with a knee injury. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility, and he adds a wealth of experience to an already-talented offensive line. Dworaczyk started at left guard in all 13 games of both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but will have to beat out promising sophomore La'El Collins if he’s going to return to the starting lineup.

Big shoes to fill: Morris Claiborne picked up right where Patrick Peterson left off the year before and took away one whole side of the field at cornerback last season. He was an eraser back there for the Tigers and also contributed a key 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Virginia. Next in line is junior Tharold Simon, who has the size, skills and drive to be the next great corner to come out of LSU.

Key battle: LSU coach Les Miles likes to play a lot of running backs, but he can’t play five, and the Tigers have five who could start for a lot of teams. The new kid on the block is 6-foot-2, 225-pound freshman Jeremy Hill, who might be the most complete package physically. Juniors Michael Ford and Spencer Ware combined for more than 1,450 rushing yards last season, and 240-pound sophomore Kenny Hilliard came on toward the end of the season. There’s also junior Alfred Blue, who averaged 6.9 yards per carry a year ago. The competition at running back should be fierce over the next month.

Rising star: After starring on special teams last season and blowing up a few opposing return men, sophomore Jarvis Landry is ready to make his mark at receiver. He runs excellent routes and catches everything. He’ll be a vital part of the Tigers’ passing game this fall.

Bottom line: The Tigers came up one game short a year ago after winning 13 in a row against a brutal schedule and then laying an egg in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. They lost three talented underclassmen to the NFL draft, but the defense has a chance to be even better in 2012. Good luck in finding a deeper, more talented defensive line this side of the NFL. The secondary won’t be too far behind. If quarterback Zach Mettenberger can have success throwing the ball down the field, it’s going to open up all sorts of things on offense for the Tigers. Their running game will be as potent as ever. The schedule is also much easier, and Alabama has to come to Baton Rouge this season. When you add it all up, it has the feel of another national-championship run for the Tigers, who are still smarting from what happened to them in New Orleans last season.
GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

The consensus about LSU coach Les Miles for a long time was that he'd always favor experience over youth. For years the argument about the Tigers' head man was that he wouldn't give newcomers a fair shake against established players.

That doesn't hold much water these days -- not after the past two seasons. LSU is 24-3 in the past two seasons, and green players have played a role of their own in setting that mark. In 2010 it was defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Eric Reid reaching the field early to make an impact.

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Malcolm MitchellTodd Kirkland/Icon SMILSU's Kevin Minter expects the linebacker unit to improve and be better than in recent years.
GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

It wasn't long ago that you thought of linebackers when LSU's dominant defense came up.

As recently as 2009, the Tiges had Kelvin Sheppard, Perry Riley, Jacob Cutrera and Harry Coleman, all future NFL players (though Coleman has since moved on to the CFL) alternating between three positions. Sheppard and Riley, in particular, were solid.

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GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

[+] EnlargeKwon Alexander
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comKwon Alexander is one of six linebackers in LSU's 2012 signing class.
If one were to look at an LSU defensive depth chart, he'd see four linemen, three linebacker and four defensive back positions.

But in the last two years, John Chavis' defense hasn't really looked that way very often. Forced to match up with the ever-popular spread offenses and faced with personnel where the Tigers defensive backs were a bit stronger as a unit than the linebackers, the five-DB look has been more the norm for LSU.

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GTN writers Gary Laney and David Helman answer your questions in this week's mailbag. You can send questions to glaneyespn@gmail.com or helmanespn@gmail.com or their Twitter accounts, helmanespn or glaneyespn.

Today, they'll discuss:

1. Recruiting grades

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Five things to know: Linebackers

May, 11, 2012
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Heading into the summer, here are five things to know about LSU linebackers

1. 2012 was a down year: It wasn't just your imagination. Surrounded by projected first-round draft picks on the defensive line and secondary, the 2012 linebackers were the LSU defense's weak link.

The Tigers had three senior linebackers last season -- Karnell Hatcher, Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois -- who tested poorly at either the NFL combine or LSU's pro day, verifying what you thought you saw on the field. Ultimately, none of the three were drafted although Baker did ink a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay.

Considering that they were lined up behind a first-round draft pick (tackle Michael Brockers) and in front of another (cornerback Morris Claiborne) and were surrounded by a multitude of younger players who project to be future first-round picks (safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo), the lack of high-end talent at the position stood out.

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