LSU Tigers: Trent Domingue

Today, our SEC position-by-position rankings move to an area that will see plenty of turnover throughout the league: special teams.

There are a ton of SEC heavyweights who lost key special teamers, like league champ Auburn -- which lost punter Steven Clark, kicker Cody Parkey, now-legendary return man Chris Davis and kickoff returner/tailback Tre Mason -- LSU (All-American Odell Beckham) and Alabama (punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster). That’s just a start.

The league is full of dynamic playmakers who can become stars in the return game, but as of right now, many SEC teams have questions to answer on special teams. That’s why teams that have returning veterans at those positions sit high in our rankings.

Special teams position rankings

1. Texas A&M: There aren’t many SEC teams that can make this claim, but the Aggies have a clean sweep of returning specialists. Leading the way is an All-American and Ruy Guy Award finalist at punter, Drew Kaser, who broke the school record with a 47.4-yard average last season. Texas A&M also has kicker Josh Lambo (8-for-10 on field goals in 2013), kickoff returner Trey Williams (25.2 yards per return, fifth in the SEC) and punt returner De’Vante Harris (6.7 yards per return, sixth in the SEC) back this fall. That’s a solid collection of talent that should help an Aggies team that certainly has some questions to answer on offense and defense.

2. Missouri: This is another squad that returns the key figures from a season ago, led by versatile return man Marcus Murphy. Murphy was fifth in the SEC in punt returns (7.0) and 11th in kickoff returns (22.2) while also contributing to the Tigers’ solid running game. Andrew Baggett (18-for-25 on field goals, 8.6 points per game) was the SEC’s second-leading scorer among kickers, and he returns along with punter Christian Brinser (41.0 yards per punt).

3. Georgia: Truth be told, Georgia was frequently terrible on special teams last season. The Bulldogs struggled to generate much of anything in the return game and experienced some issues with blocked punts. Coach Mark Richt changed the way the coaching staff will address special teams during the offseason, and perhaps that will make a difference. The individual specialists are actually pretty good -- particularly kicker Marshall Morgan, who should generate some All-America attention himself. Morgan was 22-for-24 (91.7 percent) and led all SEC kickers with an average of 10.3 points per game, truly one of the best seasons by a kicker in school history. Punters Collin Barber and Adam Erickson were mostly average, which is more than can be said for the Bulldogs’ return men. Keep an eye on freshman Isaiah McKenzie in August to see if he has a chance to contribute in the return game.

4. LSU: The return game will certainly suffer a blow without electric All-American Beckham -- the winner of last season’s Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player -- but LSU has no shortage of athletic players (running back Terrence Magee is one option) whom the coaches can plug into Beckham’s old spots. The Tigers are solid at kicker with Colby Delahoussaye, who led the SEC by making 92.9 percent of his field goals (13 of 14). They held a competition for the punting job during the spring between hot-and-cold Jamie Keehn (41.0 ypp) and walk-on Trent Domingue.

5. South Carolina: Here’s another one where experience helps, although the Gamecocks have much to improve upon this season. Punter Tyler Hull (37.8 ypp) is back, but South Carolina ranked last in the SEC with an average of 34.1 net yards per punt. They were mediocre both returning and covering kickoffs and at returning punts, although Pharoh Cooper (22.4 ypr on kickoffs and 4.4 ypr on punts) might be a breakout candidate for the Gamecocks this fall. Elliott Fry was a solid performer (15-for-18 on field goals, fourth in the SEC with 7.6 ppg) at place-kicker in 2013.

6. Alabama: The Crimson Tide should rank higher on this list by season’s end. After all, they have arguably the SEC’s top return man in Christion Jones (second in the league with 28.7 ypr on kickoffs and second with 14.0 ypr on punts). But they also lost a dynamic punter in Mandell and a place-kicker, Foster, who was solid last season before melting down in the Iron Bowl. Perhaps Adam Griffith (1-for-3 on field goals) will take over the kicking job, but Alabama also has high hopes for signee J.K. Scott, who is capable of kicking or punting in college.

7. Arkansas: The rankings start getting murky around the middle of the pack. Arkansas has a phenomenal punter back in ambidextrous Australian Sam Irwin-Hill (44.3 ypp, fifth in the SEC), but the Razorbacks also lost kicker Zach Hocker (13-for-15 on field goals) and punt returner Javontee Herndon. Kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (22.2 ypr, 10th in the SEC) is back. It would be huge for Arkansas if signee Cole Hedlund, USA Today’s first-team All-USA kicker for the Class of 2014, can come in and take over Hocker’s job.

8. Florida: We’re speculating here that Andre Debose comes back healthy and reclaims his job as the Gators’ kickoff return man. That would be a big deal since Debose is tied for the SEC’s career lead with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Now-departed Solomon Patton did a great job in his place last season, averaging 29.2 ypr. The Gators also lost punt returner Marcus Roberson (9.2 ypr). The big issue, though, is at kicker, where former top kicking prospect Austin Hardin (4-for-12 on field goals) was awful last season and eventually gave way to Francisco Velez (6-for-8). Likewise, Johnny Townsend (42.0 ypp) took over at punter for former Groza finalist Kyle Christy (39.6) because of a slump, although both are back.

9. Kentucky: Although the Wildcats lost a solid kicker in Joe Mansour (12-for-14 on field goals), they still have several solid players returning. They include punt returner Demarco Robinson (10.4 ypr), kickoff returner Javess Blue (20.4 ypr) and punter Landon Foster (41.3 ypp). Austin MacGinnis, one of the nation’s better kicking prospects in 2013, claimed the place-kicking job during spring practice.

10. Auburn: As with Alabama, we expect Auburn to move up this list during the season. They have the No. 1 kicking prospect from 2013, redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, taking over for Parkey at place-kicker. They have speedster Corey Grant as an option at kickoff return. And they have another talented redshirt freshman, Jimmy Hutchinson, inheriting the reliable Clark’s spot at punter. Quan Bray might be the man who takes over at punt returner for Davis, who averaged 18.7 ypr (which doesn’t include his 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama), but he could face a challenge from candidates like Trovon Reed, Marcus Davis or Johnathan Ford.

11. Tennessee: Considering how the Volunteers lost punter/kicker Michael Palardy (third in SEC with 44.5 yards per punt and 14-for-17 on field goals), it’s a good thing that they signed top kicking prospect and Under Armour All-American Aaron Medley. Tennessee has return man Devrin Young (25.9 ypr on kickoffs and 7.9 on punts) and backup punt return man Jacob Carter (9.3 ypr) back, as well.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return most everyone from last season (minus punter Baker Swedenburg, who averaged 42.5 ypp), but it remains to be determined whether that’s a good thing. They were mediocre or worse in most special teams departments in 2013 – especially at place-kicker, where Devon Bell (6-for-14 on field goals) and Evan Sobiesk (3-for-6) were hardly reliable. Bell (41.2 ypp) was a decent punter, but could face a challenge from signee Logan Cooke on kickoffs and punts. Return man Jameon Lewis (23.5 ypr on kickoffs and 2.3 on punts) is back, as is speedster Brandon Holloway (37.7 ypr on three kickoffs and 18.0 ypr on two punts), who is trying to crack the starting lineup at running back, but could become a dynamic return man if given the opportunity.

13. Ole Miss: By losing punter Tyler Campbell (44.4 ypp, fourth in the SEC), kicker Andrew Ritter (16-for-24 on field goals) and punt returner Jeff Scott (12.7 ypr), Ole Miss has plenty of holes to fill. They have kickoff returner Jaylen Walton (20.6 ypr) back and also signed the No. 2 kicking prospect for 2014, Gary Wunderlich, who is capable of becoming a standout performer as both a kicker and punter.

14. Vanderbilt: New coach Derek Mason didn’t seem particularly enthused about his special teams units after spring practice. The Commodores lost kicker Carey Spear (15-for-19 on field goals) and potential replacement Tommy Openshaw struggled during spring scrimmages, potentially opening the door for a walk-on. Punter Taylor Hudson (42.9 ypp, seventh in the SEC) is back, but he and competitor Colby Cooke were apparently not very consistent this spring, either. Vandy lost punt returner Jonathan Krause (3.6 ypr) and returns leading kickoff return man Darrius Sims (22.8 ypr, eighth in the SEC).
Editor’s note: With LSU’s spring practice now in the rearview mirror, this week we’ll empty our notebook from the spring and cover a few topics that we weren’t able to hit before the Tigers’ spring game. On Thursday we focus on the special teams, which has a new coordinator this year.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- You might wonder how much Colby Delahoussaye can improve upon the results from his freshman season. He missed only one field goal and one extra point, after all -- but that was his focus during LSU’s spring practice.

“I don’t want to say [I was seeking] perfection because nobody’s perfect, but just to hit the ball as well as I can and after each kick -- whether it’s a perfect kick or something’s wrong with it -- I just want to know what did I do wrong each kick without even looking at tape,” Delahoussaye said. “I’m going to look at tape, but I just want to know what did I do wrong at that instance. I want my body to be so conformed to doing the right thing that it knows whenever it does the wrong thing.”

[+] EnlargeColby Delahoussaye
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColby Delahoussaye missed only one of his 14 field goal attempts last season.
So far, so good. After hitting 13 of 14 field goals -- his 92.9-percent average made him the SEC’s most accurate place-kicker in 2013 -- and 56 of 57 PATs, Delahoussaye said he was hitting the ball even better during the spring. He added close to 10 pounds of muscle during offseason conditioning, which he said made a difference in his kicking power.

“I’ve been kicking the best I’ve been kicking in probably all of my life,” said Delahoussaye, who booted six PATs and did not kick a field goal in the Tigers’ spring game.

The question facing Delahoussaye is not whether he will be the Tigers’ 2014 place-kicker -- that seems to be highly likely -- but whether he will handle other kicking duties. For instance, coach Les Miles recently expressed a preference that another kicker replace James Hairston as the kickoff specialist to reduce Delahoussaye’s workload.

A lifelong LSU fan, Delahoussaye said he also would like to be the kickoff man but will be happy to specialize only in the kicks that result in points.

“I really enjoy kicking field goals. I’ve never complained about wanting to do more. Whenever I’m kicking field goals for LSU, I’m never going to complain about that.”

Besides, the Tigers have some other options who could keep them from relying on the sophomore too heavily.

“There’s a young man named [Cameron] Gamble coming in who has a pretty good leg,” Miles said. “We’ll also look at some other guys we have on the team at kicker that have ability. Trent Domingue would be that guy.”

Domingue was that guy this spring, and he also rotated with 2013 starter Jamie Keehn, who averaged 41.0 yards per punt last fall, as the first-team punter. Domingue punted eight times in the spring game and averaged 39.9 yards per attempt, and Keehn averaged 41.5 yards on four kicks.

“This is probably the biggest opportunity I’ve had, but I’m just going to keep working hard and not let it pass me up,” said walk-on Domingue, who has yet to appear in a college game.

Even if Keehn holds onto the punter job, there will still be plenty of turnover on the Tigers’ special teams units this fall under first-year coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto. Aside from the kickoff job, someone must replace Odell Beckham as the return man on kickoffs and punts.

Miles said some members of the Tigers’ star-studded 2014 recruiting class might be able to step into that role -- one that requires steady hands and breakaway speed, which are always in full supply on LSU’s roster.

“A number of guys can catch it. I think [tailback Terrence] Magee may very well be one of those guys,” Miles said. “I think there’s a likelihood that we’ll have some of those fast guys in that spot, as well. I think there’s some guys that will show up here in June that may also have an opportunity to do some return damage.”
BATON ROUGE, La. – Les Miles has maintained for much of spring practice that LSU’s defense is ahead of its offense. And that’s still the case after Saturday’s first full scrimmage -- although it sounds as if the rebuilding offense is making up ground.

“I think the offense took a real nice stride today, but yeah, I would expect that the defense would be a little further ahead – and they are,” Miles said.

Miles didn’t offer many specifics, much less statistics, from the scrimmage at Tiger Stadium. Those are “top secret,” he joked, although he did say the quarterbacks connected on “two big passes [and we] probably threw it for, I don’t know, just under 300 yards passing today.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Courtesy of IntersportIncoming freshman quarterback Brandon Harris was on target during LSU's scrimmage, coach Les Miles said.
With the quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris ranking as perhaps the team’s top spring storyline, Miles said he was pleased with the way both players threw the ball on Saturday.

Plus, they eliminated some of the sloppy ball handling that Jennings said was a problem in the Tigers’ partial scrimmage last Saturday.

“Both of them were sharp,” Miles said. “The passing was very sharp today. We dropped a couple balls, but the balls were right on the money and to be honest with you, we caught a lot of balls.”

Miles singled out receiver Travin Dural as having enjoyed an excellent scrimmage.

Miles said senior tailback Terrence Magee sprained an ankle in the scrimmage, but said there were no major injuries. Receiver John Diarse, whom Miles said underwent a minor medical procedure, should be back on the practice field next week, the Tigers' coach said.

Before spraining his ankle, Magee and fellow senior Kenny Hilliard both ran the ball well, Miles said.

“Both Magee and Kenny Hilliard had really nice running days today,” Miles said. “I think Magee is going to have a great fall and I think Kenny Hilliard’s going to have a great fall. It looks like to me Kenny Hilliard’s lost a little bit of weight and is just a little bit quicker than he’s been.”

In addition to the scrimmage downs, the Tigers also focused on special teams Saturday. Miles said Trent Domingue has been working as the team’s top punter over last season's starter, Jamie Keehn.

“Special teams made improvement at the punting game,” Miles said. “Jamie Keehn’s not getting a lot of snaps right now. Our punter Trent Domingue really has improved. I think we were perfect with 42 [yards] at field goals and really had a pretty good scrimmage. If you look at [it being scrimmage] No. 2, it’s really a pretty strong event.”

LSU camp: Biggest position battles

August, 14, 2013
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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.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney took your questions:

From: Hunter Johnson: Do you think LSU would rather sign Racean Thomas or Darrel Williams at running back with Leonard Fournette, and does Kwon Alexander being from the same high school as Thomas helps us? Also any update on the situation at kicker?

LSU spring game: What we learned

April, 20, 2013
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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.

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LSU spring football primer

March, 14, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Here are things to know as LSU starts spring practice:

Practice dates: March 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 23 (scrimmage), 25, 26 and 28. After spring break, resumes April 9, 11, 13 (scrimmage), 16, 18 and 20 (spring game).

What's new: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will install his new offense, and four new starters will man the defensive line.

What's old: The Tigers have eight returning starters on offense, led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Offensive outlook:
Starters returning (8): QB Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, FB J.C. Copeland, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, LT La'el Collins (moved from left guard), LG Josh Williford (moved from right guard), RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander.

New starters: TE Dillon Gordon or Logan Stokes, C Elliott Porter. Key reserves -- QB Stephen Rivers, RBs Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrance Magee, FB Connor Neighbors, LT Jerald Hawkins, RG Fehoko Fanaika, RT Ethan Pocic, WR James Wright, Kadron Boone, John Diarse and Travin Dural, TE Travis Dickson.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Les Miles took the podium for his pre-spring practice news conference Wednesday with a red left eye he said was the result of a case of pink eye.

It looked, however, like it might have been something else, like a symbolic black eye that came from a jab thrown by Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, or from a hook fired by a couple of surprisingly early departures from his team to the NFL, part of a whopping 13 NFL departures after a 10-3 season.

At any rate, Miles looked ready to put the pink eye, and any symbolic black eye, behind him as LSU begins drills on Thursday.

Here is what we learned from Miles on Wednesday:

[+] EnlargeLa'el Collins
Patrick Green/Icon SMILa'el Collins might see some shuffling along the offensive line this spring.
1. La'el Collins will get first shot at left tackle: Collins was one of the highest-rated offensive tackles in the country coming out of high school in 2011, but he was the Tigers' starting left guard as a sophomore in 2012.

Miles confirmed that Collins, now a junior, will get his chance to slide over to tackle, but added that redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins will get a look at the position as well. If Hawkins proves to be the better tackle candidate, Collins would move back inside.

Miles said if Collins indeed wins the left tackle spot, senior Josh Williford would be the likely choice to start at left guard. Junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika came to LSU at 370 pounds, Miles said, and is more likely to play on the right side, where Trai Turner returns as the starting guard, Miles said.

2. Lamin Barrow gets first shot at MLB: Miles also indicated that Barrow would get the first shot at the vacant starting middle linebacker role, a spot vacated by Kevin Minter's early NFL departure.

Miles said Barrow " can do the job outside," where he excelled with 107 tackles at weak-side linebacker last season. If one of LSU's six Class of 2012 linebacker recruits or another veteran -- Miles mentioned junior D.J. Welter -- steps up at middle linebacker, Barrow can easily move back to his weak side spot.

3. Bolden, Maclin out: Miles said quarterback Rob Bolden, who made news when he transferred from Penn State to LSU last summer following the NCAA fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, will not participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in the off-season.

(Read full post)

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