LSU Football: Grading Each Unit, Spring Edition
Spring football is well under way for most teams in the nation. However, in LSU's case, the Tigers just wrapped up their spring game and there were a number of impressive standouts for Les Miles' team.
Just like any college football team, the Tigers will have to fill several important positions this year with players graduating or moving onto the NFL.
Quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker are all key positions that Les Miles and his coaching staff with have to find new options at, but who will fill those vacant spots?
Let's hand out some grades for each unit on LSU's offense, defense and special teams.
Bleacher Report style!
Quarterback always seems to be the most difficult position to replace for a college football team, but in LSU's case, this change might be a good one.
Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have been in charge of LSU's quarterback position for the past four seasons in Baton Rouge, and while they have had plenty of bright spots, there have also been plenty of low points, including last year's BCS National Championship Game.
Out are Jefferson and Lee and in is Zach Mettenberger.
All reports out of camp have said that Mettenberger has been beyond impressive thus far, and he concluded the spring football session with a great showing in the spring game. LSU fans are beyond excited to finally have a quarterback who can air it out and stretch the field with his arm.
Mettenberger's backup is redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Rivers, the brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. While Rivers is expected to learn and watch from Mettenberger in 2012, he is a very capable backup who should be able to step in and play if called upon this season.
This is a very talented unit who has had great reviews throughout spring practice, but their lack of experience makes it tough to give them a perfect grade at this point
LSU had one of the top running back units in the country last season, featuring four running backs who combined to rush for more than 2,300 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Now, one year later, all four of these running backs return to the Tigers in 2012.
Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, both to-be juniors, lead this group. But reports have said that Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard have also been extremely impressive this spring, and both should be used plenty next season.
If this LSU team didn't feature the top backfield in the nation in 2011, make no doubt about it, they will in 2012.
The Tigers will have the challenge of replacing their top receiver in 2011, Rueben Randle, who left after his junior season to enter the NFL draft and is expected to be one of the top receivers off the board in this April's draft.
Randle's former teammate, Russell Shepard, was also planning to leave school early to enter the NFL draft, but decided that was not in his best interest and will be back now in 2012, which is big for this LSU team.
Joining Shepard as the other starting wideout is sophomore Odell Beckham Jr., who could be in line for a breakout season after a fantastic freshman campaign. Beckham Jr. had an outstanding showing in last week's spring game.
Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone are two other receivers who have the talent and skill set to step in and play a big role in LSU's passing game in 2012 as well.
While this group doesn't have a ton of experience, the potential is certainly there.
Tight end is a position that LSU didn't utilize a ton this past season, but part of that was Jordan Jefferson's inability to hit open receivers in big games.
The Tigers' top tight end from 2011, Deangelo Peterson, is attempting to make it in the NFL. That leaves Chase Clement as the only returning tight end who caught a pass in 2011.
Clement was used more so for his blocking last season, hauling in just seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. But this season, he will be looked at to be the primary tight end option for this LSU football team.
While Clement certainly lacks experience, his backups have even less.
This unit has looked solid this spring, but there is plenty more room to improve.
Not many offensive lines can lose two senior starters to graduation and get even better the following season. However, that very well could be the case with this 2012 LSU football team.
All-SEC lineman Will Blackwell and fan-favorite T-Bob Hebert are gone, but this unit has plenty of talent to fill the needed holes.
Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst both return at the two offensive tackle spots in 2012, and both should be all-conference performers this season. Also returning is center P.J. Lonergan, who is the glue on this dominant unit.
There are plenty of candidates in line to replace the two vacancies at offensive guard. La'El Collins, Josh Williford, Matt Branch, Josh Dworaczyk and freshman standout Vadal Alexander are all capable of filling those open spots.
This unit should be outstanding in 2012.
Many would argue that LSU had the best, young defensive line in the country last season.
Fortunately for the Tigers, three of the Tigers starters return on the defensive line in 2012, including DE Sam Montgomery, who should be a preseason All-American candidate with the way he played in the second half of last season.
The junior-to-be duo of Bennie Logan and Barkevious Mingo should be exceptional next year and Anthony Johnson appears ready to step in and fill that other defensive tackle spot vacated after Michael Brockers decided to jump early for the NFL.
I believe that LSU's defensive line was the second best in the SEC behind Alabama, but look for the Tigers to take on that "best defensive line" title in 2012.
If there was one specific unit where LSU was hit the hardest this offseason it would probably be at linebacker.
Stefoin Francois, Ryan Baker and Karnell Hatcher, all of who saw the field in 2011, are all lost to graduation. That leaves Kevin Minter as the only returning starter in 2012.
Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones are expected to fill in the voids at outside linebacker, and while both are extremely talented, that will leave the Tigers with not one senior in their linebacking corps.
The talent is there, but how this group can come together will be one of the biggest stories leading up to the 2012 LSU season.
LSU featured the top secondary in the nation last season, and while replacing All-American Morris Claiborne will be no easy task, this group should be exceptional again in 2012.
Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann Mathieu returns for his junior year and safety Eric Reid is one of the most feared hitters in all of college football. If Tharold Simon and former 5-star recruit Craig Loston can step in and fill the voids in 2012, this group will be special.
Mathieu is the most explosive athlete in all of college football and the thought of him improving from last season is quite a thought.
But one that could very-well be true.
Any time a team returns both their kicker and punter, the outlook for the following season should be pretty darn good.
Any team that also brings back their return man, who was a Heisman Trophy candidate and the most explosive punt returner in college football over the past decade, should be better than good.
They should be great.
Kicker Drew Alleman and punter Brad Wing are both back in 2012, and combined with Tyrann Mathieu, this unit should be summed up by one word.