LSU Tigers: Evan Washington
Fanaika made no such comment, but make no mistake: he has no intention of handing over the job to Washington -- a senior who is shifting from offensive tackle in an effort to win the position -- or Ethan Pocic without a fight.
“We want the best out there,” Fanaika said. “If someone’s beating me out, that’s probably going to be hard to do, but I’d want him on the field more than me. I want the best.”
So does new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who has a long way to go before he settles on anything, however. Pocic said Grimes has been moving his linemen around throughout LSU’s early practices in order to identify the combinations he likes.
It’s unclear whether one of those combinations will include Pocic at center. An early enrollee last year, Pocic backed up Elliott Porter at center during the fall. Pocic said Tuesday that he had practiced only at guard and tackle so far this spring, but Coach Les Miles said Pocic spent about half of Thursday’s practice at center.
“When I came in, I went to center and just the whole basic stuff was pretty hard -- like snapping and stepping -- but once you really get the hang of it, you get more into a groove,” said Pocic, who played left tackle in high school. “The good part about playing center is you’ve basically got to know what everyone’s doing, so when it’s time to play a different position, I pretty much already know it because you’ve got a good overall base of what the O-line’s doing.”
If the rotation in the periods of practice that were open to the media are any indication, the seniors are Grimes’ top two options at right guard. For the most part, Washington was the first to work alongside starting right tackle Jerald Hawkins in drills, but he and Fanaika are both getting their chances to impress the new position coach.
“It’s pretty much a great battle right now,” Hawkins said. “They both know what they’re doing -- especially Evan Washington and Hoko [Fanaika]. They know the playbook from last year, so it’s just who really wants it more.”
Fanaika said he now weighs 340 pounds after tipping the scales at approximately 370 when he transferred from College of San Mateo junior college last January. He said he wants to get down to 330 pounds before the season.
In addition to dropping more weight, Fanaika said he also needs to prove to Grimes that he’s mentally and physically tough enough to claim the job.
“I’m not there, but I’m just trying to get better every day -- as well as everyone who’s trying to fight for it,” Fanaika said.
That fight will continue for the next couple of weeks, although Washington predicted there will be a clear leader by the time the spring game arrives on April 5.
“I feel like everyone has a chance right now,” Fanaika said. “[Grimes] came in actually telling us that no one has a guaranteed spot. We’re all going to come out here and work and the best five will start.”
- Many of the NFL's elite attended Alabama's pro day yesterday, including coaches Chip Kelly, Marvin Lewis and Sean Payton. There, they saw former offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio state his case for a clean bill of health and former quarterback AJ McCarron shrug off the notion of pressure, saying "this is easy."
- Jake Holland and his 46 tackles are gone from Auburn's linebacker corps this spring. Here's a breakdown of the rest of the position group.
- Why doesn't college football have an early signing period? The AJC asked a few notable coaches for their opinions, including Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Tennessee's Butch Jones.
- The offensive guard position is a point of contention in Baton Rouge these days. Evan Washington is running with the first-team now, but he hasn't been the only one. The race to replace Trai Turner is an open competition.
- Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O'Brien says he's learned from his offseason arrest. In fact, he said he's glad it happened, and it's a lesson he'll take with him forever.
- Maty Mauk is Missouri's No. 1 quarterback, but that's not written in stone. "It's all about competition," said coach Gary Pinkel.
- Andre Dubose, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last season, was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Florida.
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:
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).
What's new: Former Auburn and Virginia Tech assistant Jeff Grimes joined the staff in January, replacing Greg Studrawa as offensive line coach. An old face will also return to Les Miles' staff, as Bradley Dale Peveto -- a Miles assistant from 2005-08 and participant in a failed experiment as co-defensive coordinator in 2008 -- was recently hired as special teams coordinator. He replaces Thomas McGaughey, who accepted the same position with the New York Jets of the NFL.
On the move: If comments he made last month are any indication, Miles and the coaching staff intend to leave Jalen Mills at safety on at least a part-time basis. He started at the position in the Tigers' Outback Bowl win against Iowa. Don't be surprised if players who have played other positions -- tackle Evan Washington and center Ethan Pocic are reportedly among them -- figure into the competition to replace Turner at right guard. Also, keep an idea on how the Tigers deploy Kendell Beckwith this spring. He has the ability to contribute at defensive end or linebacker, and he might play both positions at points.
New faces: The Tigers have two early enrollees participating in spring practice in quarterback Brandon Harris and defensive back Edward Paris Jr. We'll discuss Harris, who was ESPN's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and No. 37 overall prospect for the 2014 class, more below. ESPN ranked Paris as its No. 4 safety and No. 50 overall prospect, but LSU listed him as a cornerback when it added the freshmen to the roster.
Key battle: There will be several position battles worth watching -- right guard, defensive tackle and quarterback are among them -- but let's talk about the wide receivers. With Landry and Beckham jumping to the NFL, LSU lost nearly all of its production at wideout. Speedster Travin Dural (seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 2013) is the only receiver who has done much of anything, and even his production was limited last fall. With arguably the nation's top collection of receiver signees -- led by ESPN's No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre and No. 3 Trey Quinn -- set to arrive in the summer, now is the time for the players on campus to show they deserve some snaps. Senior Quantavius Leslie (1-11) was disappointingly quiet last season as a junior college transfer. Freshmen John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears all redshirted. Conventional wisdom has Dural and Diarse as the most likely contributors in 2014. Will at least one or two of the others join that group?
Breaking out: Let's see whether cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White continue the ascent that started late last season. They started alongside one another in two of LSU's last three games -- wins against Texas A&M and Iowa -- and the secondary made strong showings in both games. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel had one of the worst outings of his college career (16-for-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions), with Robinson intercepting the former Heisman Trophy winner once. LSU held Iowa to 13-for-30 passing and 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions -- one of which came when White picked off a Jake Rudock pass at the LSU 7-yard line in the second quarter. LSU has a longstanding tradition of excellence at cornerback, although the Tigers' entire defense needed to perform more consistently last fall. Perhaps they've found something in sophomores Robinson and White.
Don't forget about: Most of us have already penciled in No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette as the Tigers' starter-in-waiting at tailback. And he very well may be. But he won't arrive on campus until the summer. For now, rising seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will handle the carries, and both players have proved themselves capable of producing. Magee was Hill's primary backup last season, rushing for 626 yards (and 7.3 yards per carry!) and also flashing good receiving skills (six catches for 49 yards). Hilliard has never been the No. 1 tailback, but he has acquitted himself in a short-yardage role, rushing for at least six touchdowns in all three seasons. Fournette has stardom written all over him, but he won't push the veterans completely out of the way. Count on Magee and Hilliard to keep getting their touches.
All eyes on: Anthony Jennings started LSU's bowl game against Iowa after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger -- and leading the game-winning comeback -- against Arkansas. He was shaky to say the least (7-for-19 for 82 yards and an interception) in that first career start, however. With Harris, an excellent passer and explosive runner, already on campus, Jennings needs to show he can handle the starting job. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron hand-picked Harris and is no doubt excited about what he can bring to the offense, but he needs to learn the offense first before he can truly threaten Jennings for a starting spot. Throughout the summer, LSU fans will dissect the two quarterbacks' performances in the spring game. Jennings seems like the safe bet to open the season as the Tigers' starter, but whether he holds onto that spot is up to him -- and perhaps up to his new freshman competitor, whose ability to execute the offense will be under heavy scrutiny over the next month.
In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. This week, leading up to Saturday's first team workout, we'll make five predictions related to the Tigers' upcoming practices.
Today's prediction: Right guard isn't the only offensive line job up for grabs
So that means the Tigers only have one offensive line spot that is open for true competition, right? Maybe, but I'm not sure that will be the case.
Les Miles hired a new offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, during the offseason and the message he will undoubtedly send this spring is that everyone has a clean slate. He made that very point two weeks ago in a local radio interview, noting that he watched only enough film of the group to get a general idea of what the individual players can do. He wants to see them earn their jobs, starting now.
Now you can comfortably assume Collins will remain as the starting left tackle. He's widely considered one of the nation's better senior offensive tackles and could conceivably become a first-round NFL pick in 2015. Hulking junior Alexander (LSU lists him at 6-foot-6 and 342 pounds) has a similar pedigree among 2016 guard prospects.
So where will the most competition occur? Right guard is obvious since the Tigers must replace Trai Turner, who seems to have impressed NFL scouts since deciding to leave after his redshirt sophomore season.
Massive senior Fehoko Fanaika (6-6, 348) might be the answer there, but there are other candidates. One of them might be Ethan Pocic, who could also push Porter -- whom he backed up at center last season as a true freshman -- for playing time. Another might be Evan Washington, who is officially listed as a tackle.
As a sophomore Hawkins naturally had his ups and downs in his first season as a starter, so Grimes will certainly look for more consistency out of him this season before handing him the starting spot once again. But the Tigers shifted Alexander from right tackle to left guard last season to make way for Hawkins, so clearly they liked the athletic Hawkins' potential.
The safe money is on experienced players holding onto their starting spots. And it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Collins, Alexander, Porter and Hawkins man four of the five line spots when the Tigers open the season against Wisconsin.
Grimes has been around the block a time or two, though. This is his eighth different coaching stop since grabbing his first college job coaching the offensive line at Hardin-Simmons in 1998. He knows that the best way for a new coach to motivate players is to give everyone a fair shot and then let them earn their jobs.
That's what he'll do with his new players and, even if the starters remain the same, it's safe to predict that a fresh competition might help the line improve this fall.
We covered the wide receivers, defensive tackles, quarterbacks and safeties in the first four installments. We conclude this week's series with the offensive line, which will break in a new position coach, Jeff Grimes, and at least one new starter this fall.
Departures: Right guard Trai Turner (13 starts) entered the NFL draft after a redshirt sophomore season where he became a second-team all-SEC pick. ESPN Scouts Inc. ranks him as the No. 5 guard and No. 113 overall prospect in the upcoming draft.
Returning reserves: Although Grimes could always elect to shake up the lineup, the most intriguing position at this point is the one that lost a starter: right guard. We recently wrote about how this will be a big spring for Fehoko Fanaika to prove that he deserves to inherit Turner's starting spot. Fanaika was an early enrollee after transferring from the College of San Mateo junior college last January and played in 12 games as a backup. The 6-foot-6, 348-pound mauler must now prove he deserves a starting spot. Other reserves of note are Ethan Pocic, Porter's backup at center who could play other positions if necessary, and rising sophomore tackle Josh Boutte. Tackle Evan Washington and guard Jonah Austin also played last season, with Washington earning a start against Furman.
Newcomers: Guards K.J. Malone and Andy Dodd both redshirted last season after arriving at LSU as four-star prospects. The Tigers signed just two offensive linemen in this class, both of whom will arrive in the summer. One of them, Garrett Brumfield, was ESPN's No. 1 guard prospect for 2014, so he might make the guard competition interesting in August if Fanaika doesn't nail down the job this spring. The other signee is four-star guard William Clapp.
What to watch: Beyond the candidates for the right guard spot, it's worth watching how Grimes decides to use his returning players. He said in a local radio interview last week that LSU's line was good, but rarely great in 2013, adding that he hadn't evaluated individual players too closely yet, so that he could give them all a fair shake when they start practicing together. The four returning starters have a decided experience advantage, but Grimes hasn't developed any preferences yet. This will be a valuable evaluation time for the Tigers' new assistant coach.
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.
Experience returning: Jermauria Rasco
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.
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.
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.
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.
The only departing starters from LSU's line would be center P.J. Lonergan -- who has an heir apparent in Elliott Porter -- and left tackle Josh Dworaczyk, who became the starter only after Faulk got hurt.
Move Porter into the lineup, bring a healthy Faulk back at left tackle, and just like that you have an experienced and talented offensive line set to go.
But now that Faulk will depart despite suffering a season-ending knee injury that cost him the season's final 12 games, the outlook is less clear.
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Similarly, with a veteran stable of running backs returning, few saw true freshman Jeremy Hill emerging as a primary running back for LSU this year. Yet, it took only one injury -- to original starter Alfred Blue -- to get Hill the break he needed to start getting carries and eventually become the starter and the Tigers' leading rusher.
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Not yet, at least.
He also announced that defensive end Jordan Allen was lost for the season because of ACL surgery.
While that may seem like a lot of attrition to be announced at once, the reality is, it's either been dealt with already or is only an issue for players deep on the depth chart.
Jones is the one player among the five who was a starter. But like Welter, Edwards and Washington, Jones has not dressed for a game this season and most have started working under the assumption that Luke Munice had taken his place as the starting strong-side linebacker for the season. Wednesday's announcement just confirmed that. The loss of Jones, a junior, and Welter, a sophomore, means all of LSU's backup linebackers now are true freshmen.
That would be more of the problem had the 2012 linebacker recruiting class, six players strong, not been considered by Miles to be the strongest linebacker class recruited by LSU in his tenure. So far, true freshmen Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones have played well in reserve roles. Where it could be a problem is if injuries hit the veteran starting trio of Kevin Minter, Lamin Barrow and Muncie, forcing the true freshmen to play bigger roles than they might be ready for.
It's a similar situation at tight end and defensive end. Edwards' role as a primarily blocking tight end behind starter Chase Clement has been replaced by sophomores Nic Jacobs and Travis Dickson and freshman Dillon Gordon. But Edwards is a senior, so his experience will be missed, especially if Clement, also a senior, goes down. Allen was far down the depth chart at defensive end, but his loss would be felt at the position only if the Tigers suffer attrition ahead of him at what is a deep position.
Allen was injured covering a kickoff, an area where the Tigers will have to find a replacement.
Washington, a reserve sophomore who has yet to play in a game, is the second offensive lineman lost for the season after Chris Faulk's knee injury sidelined him last week. With Josh Dworaczyk starting at left tackle, LSU is perhaps eight deep with game-ready offensive linemen. True freshman tackle Vadal Alexander was mentioned as a possible starter after Faulk's loss and coaches have been pleased with the progress of second-team center Elliott Porter.
In last week's win over Washington, Trai Turner got snaps at guard when starter La'el Collins went down with a minor injury.
The losses announced Wednesday pushed the total number of veterans from LSU's spring roster that have been lost for the season to 11. Previous to Wednesday's five, Faulk suffered his injury, Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team, offensive lineman Corey White did not return to the team for August camp and defensive backs Ronnie Vinson, Sam Gibson and David Jenkins all transferred to other schools after the spring.
Mettenberger's Rehab Ahead Of Schedule
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35