LSU Football: Position-by-Position Fall Practice Preview
Familiar faces on the football field will intertwine with fresh baby faces this fall at LSU.
The familiar faces are found on the offensive side of the ball. Every projected starter on the offense has played in at least 10 games.
As for the defense? Well, not so much. The wealth of experience is greatly reduced after losing eight players to the 2013 NFL draft. The unit returns four full-time starters, but the defense will still have experience from the playing time most reserves saw last season.
What positions will have the least experience in 2013? What fresh faces will emerge as the new superstars on defense? Here is a position-by-position preview for the Tigers in 2013.
Barring any injury occurring, Zach Mettenberger is the guy at quarterback.
Mettenberger threw for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago. Modest numbers at best.
At times, such as the Alabama and Mississippi State games, Mettenberger looked elite, throwing for 571 yards, three touchdowns with no interceptions. And other times, well, he looked inferior to other quarterbacks in the SEC, completing less than 50 percent of his passes with two interceptions and and one touchdown against Florida and Texas A&M. Makes you miss Jordan Jefferson. OK, it's not that bad...
The addition of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is expected to abbreviate those type of performances. Fans are optimistic that he will rid them altogether.
Mettenberger's backups are Stephen Rivers, who should be an expert on the playbook by now, Anthony Jennings, who is elusive and quick in the backfield, and Hayden Rettig, who played on the 2012 Under Armour All-American High School Football Game.
The trickiest position of the season next year will be the halfback position.
Let's go ahead and say Jeremy Hill will not start. Even if ADA Sue Bernie is unable to revoke his probation in August, he will likely inherit a minimum suspension of two games from Les Miles. It would still be better than losing him for the season, as his provided depth could be needed late in the season when most of the backs are banged up.
So who will the starter be in his absence? Will it be Alfred Blue, who had limited contact in the spring ball after his knee injury, or will it be Kenny Hilliard?
It is likely that both of these running backs will share the backfield, much like they did before Blue was injured. Through the first three games, including the game Blue was injured in, both backs combined for 573 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Terrence Magee, who showed glimpses of explosiveness out of the backfield in 2011, should receive carries as well.
At fullback, J.C. Copeland will start over Connor Neighbors, as Copeland is one of the most talented fullbacks in the country.
This is the best group of wide receivers at LSU since 2009.
Actually, this group might be better. That receiving corps boasted names such as Brandon LaFell, Terrence Toliver and Rueben Randle. This receiving corps offers names such as Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone, but they are not the reason this group has a valid argument for superiority.
Nope, it's the new faces that are intermingled amongst them. Names such as Quantavius Leslie, Travin Dural and John Diarse could easily become household names for diehard LSU fans in 2013.
But don't get it twisted—the stars of the show will continue to be Beckham and Landry. Beckham led the Tigers in receiving yards last season with 713 to go along with his two touchdown receptions, while Landry followed behind with 573 and five touchdowns.
To go along with those two starters and the new faces, James Wright, who's collected 304 receiving yards in his three-year career at LSU, should get his number called also. This deep receiving corps will give Mettenberger and Cameron plenty of options.
Will Les Miles utilize the tight ends more in the passing game this year?
You can bet your money he will if Cameron has his way. With talents like Travis Dickson, Dillon Gordon and DeSean Smith, the Tigers can be extremely effective using the tight ends this fall.
Look at what the Tigers did against Ole Miss with Dickson last year. He caught five passes for 69 yards. Want to know how many more catches Dickson had on the year? One. Just one.
Heading into the fall, Dickson has a leg up on the competition with his experience, but if hype suggests anything at all, he'll have his hands full with Smith.
Smith was No. 4 on Dandy Don's list of best high school players in Louisiana a year ago, and he looks to be the next great receiving tight end. Who was the last great receiving tight end at LSU, though? Dickson's brother, Richard.
This will be a fun position battle in August.
This starting offensive line is big, nasty and experienced.
The biggest is Vadal Alexander at 350 pounds. The nastiest is La'el Collins, whose versatility upfront earned him an All-SEC third-team nomination from the media at SEC media days. And the most experienced is Josh Williford, who also earned All-SEC honors with 19 starts.
Between those three, Trai Turner and Elliot Porter, the Tigers' expected starters carry 86 games of playtime experience.
But this group isn't just talented. Oh no, its backups are stars of tomorrow. LSU's 2013 signing class exhibited a lot of great talent and most of it came from the hog-mollies on the offensive line. Newcomers Ethan Pocic and Fehoko Fanaika both had productive springs, and they could contribute to the team immediately.
Jerald Hawkins is most likely to play sixth man on the offensive line, as he is the backup for both tackle positions.
This is not your typical LSU defensive line.
In the past decade, names such as Chad Lavalais, Marcus Spears, Marquise Hill, Kyle Williams, Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Drake Nevis, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo have dominated the trenches for LSU.
With Logan, Montgomery and Mingo all going to the draft last year, who will win the game upfront for the Tigers in 2013?
First off, the Tigers are in great hands with Anthony Johnson starting. He's an athletic defensive tackle with the explosiveness necessary to get off of a block and cause chaos in opposing backfields. Because of his experience and athleticism, Ego Ferguson should start alongside him. Quentin Thomas and Mickey Johnson should back them up with true freshmen Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain directly behind them.
But what concerns Tigers fans most is the void at defensive end. Both Montgomery and Mingo were excellent in rushing the quarterback, and while production will drop off, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco should be solid.
Hunter was a heavily recruited coming out of high school and so was Rasco. As a sophomore last season, Rasco recorded 10 tackles, two for loss and forced a fumble. Jordan Allen, Frank Herron, Louis Neal, Tashawn Bower and Kendell Beckwith may challenge one of them for a starting position this fall. Beckwith could play linebacker as well.
Kevin Minter will be no easy replacement.
With 130 tackles last season, Minter was the heart and soul of the LSU defense. Who will step up to replace him? Right now, there are two possibilities—Lamin Barrow moves over from the "Will" to the "Mike" or D.J. Welter emerges as the starter.
Welter turned heads with an incredible spring practice, and if he has just as strong of a fall, he'll likely start at middle linebacker for the Tigers. The veteran players Barrow and Tahj Jones will likely start at the outside linebacker positions.
Here's where it gets fun for LSU fans, though. Let's just say those three are the starters right now. It's very possible that Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Beckwith steal the spotlight at camp.
All three players possess quickness and athleticism, and even if they don't land a starting role before the season, they will surely get some playing time this fall. Before breaking his ankle, Alexander recorded a forced fumble and 12 tackles as a true freshman. Jones, who was also a true freshman, finished the year with 23 tackles. Beckwith comes to LSU with high expectations, and if he lives up to his potential, there's no way he'll ride the bench as a true frosh.
Don't worry, folks—LSU will still be DBU in 2013.
With Craig Loston lowering the boom from the safety position and Jalen Mills locking down the best wide receiver on the opposing team each and every week, this secondary will still be fierce.
Loston and Mills have solidified their starting positions next season, but the other safety and cornerback position will have immense competition.
Ronald Martin is the favorite to win the battle at free safety, but Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson will give him a run for his money. Martin is better at coverage than Eugene, and he accounted for two interceptions last year. Eugene was more of a pass-rusher off of the edge. He would sneak up to the line on occasion and cause disruption in the backfield with 3.5 sacks.
In other words, he's a true strong safety who could see some time at free safety. As for Thompson, he didn't make as big of a splash last season, but he came out of his shell in the spring. Let's see if he builds off of that.
Another position battle to watch out for in the defensive backfield is at corner. Mills has one side locked down, but Jalen Collins and Tre'Davious White will have a great battle for the other starting position. Collins has the experience advantage, but White may have the speed advantage. He's going to be one of the fastest players on the roster next season.
Losing Tharold Simon and Eric Reid may hurt a little bit, but it doesn't look like this group will have any deduction talent-wise.