LSU Football: 5 Biggest Position Battles to Watch in Spring Practice
LSU spring football begins Friday. Players are hungry to put the pads back on and get out of the weight room. Coaches are champing at the bit to look for improvements at each position.
The mass exodus of players has become commonplace at LSU. Not only did the Tigers lose important seniors, but key underclassmen decided to declare for the NFL draft. The touted players that backed them up will now begin to fight for snaps.
LSU lost talent on all levels of offense and defense. The Tigers must find the right pieces to maintain its status as one of the SEC's elite.
It all starts in the spring. Position battles are fierce. Players who started last season are not guaranteed to start in 2014. Les Miles is looking to improve everywhere in an effort to win back the SEC West.
Here are a few position battles to keep an eye out for in LSU spring football.
Spring Candidates: Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Hayden Rettig
The biggest headline of LSU's spring practice will be the battle for quarterback. Zach Mettenberger will go down as one of the best quarterbacks to play at LSU, but he is now gone. Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Hayden Rettig all want to be the signal-caller in the season opener against Wisconsin.
Jennings is the only quarterback returning with experience, throwing for 181 yards, a touchdown and interception over the course of four games last season. He is a mobile quarterback who keeps defenses honest with legs.
Harris is the hot name. He is one of two 4-star early enrollees in LSU's star-studded 2014 recruiting class. The 6'2'' gunslinger is as dangerous with his legs as his arm.
Rettig plays the role of the forgotten quarterback. He redshirted last season after being beaten by Jennings for the backup role. Fans should not take his name out of the picture.
Jennings will begin as the front-runner, with Rettig running the second unit and Harris behind them.
Jennings' experience does not guarantee him the starting role. He was far from convincing against Iowa in his only college start, going 7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception.
Harris and Rettig can spin the pigskin. Do not be shocked if either begins to work in a high number of reps with the first unit by the end of the spring.
2) Wide Receiver
Spring candidates: Travin Dural, Avery Peterson, John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Kevin Spears
Most of the focus this spring in Baton Rouge will be on the quarterback, and deservingly so. It is the most important position on the field. But LSU only has to replace one QB. At receiver, the Tigers have to replace two of the best receivers in school history.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were spectacular last season. Their 2,000-plus yards and 18 touchdowns do not do justice on the impact each had on a football game.
Spring begins a new era. Travin Dural returns, but he was average last season. Dural caught just seven passes and never had a multiple reception game.
Quantavius Leslie, Avery Peterson, John Diarse and Kevin Spears bring little experience. Leslie played in only four games, catching one pass for 11 yards. Peterson, Diarse and Spears redshirted.
Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn of the 2014 class will be part of the receiving equation next season. But neither are early enrollees. Dural, Peterson, Diarse, Spears and Leslie would be wise to show out in spring to help secure playing time in the fall.
3) Right Guard
Spring candidates: Jonah Austin, Fehoko Fanaika, Josh Boutte, Evan Washington, K.J. Malone
The starting right guard position opened up when Trai Turner surprisingly left LSU early for the NFL draft. The battle for who will replace him will be heated.
There are a slew of Tigers candidates who could win the role. Evan Washington played the position when Turner went down with an injury against Auburn. Washington will certainly get some reps with the first unit this spring.
Josh Boutte and Jonah Austin have immense talent, but they have struggled to see the field due to the depth of the LSU offensive line.
Fehoko Fanaika could be the biggest surprise of the spring. Fanaika is the largest of the candidates at 348 pounds and is a menace as a run blocker.
New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will be coming in with a fresh perspective. Do not be surprised if Grimes shifts some players this spring in an effort to find the best chemistry.
4) Defensive Tackle
Not one, but two starting slots are open at defensive tackle. Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson decided to leave LSU early for the NFL draft.
Quentin Thomas and Christian LaCouture were average last season. The duo raked in 20 total tackles as Ferguson and Johnson's backups. Both still have room to grow this offseason.
Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron have plenty to gain. All three redshirted last season, but that wasn't because of a lack of talent. They could have all contributed if called upon. LSU also has a rich history with redshirted defensive linemen. Herron will also be competing to join the crowded defensive end rotation.
Thomas and LaCouture will probably begin spring as the starters. But do not be surprised if defensive line coach Brick Haley looks for fresh blood up front.
5) Outside Linebacker
Spring candidates: Lamar Louis, Deion Jones, Ronnie Fiest, Duke Riley, Kendell Beckwith, Melvin Jones
The replacement for Lamin Barrow has massive shoes to fill. Barrow lead the team in tackles with 91 and was an emotional leader for the team.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis serves as the linebackers coach. Chavis loves to rotate his linebackers, but Barrow was so valuable he rarely left the field.
D.J. Welter returns as the middle linebacker and Kwon Alexander at one of the outside positions. Chemistry was an issue to begin the season, so the replacement for Barrow must learn quickly.
Lamar Louis is a hard hitter with decent range. Deion Jones could be the fastest linebacker on the team. Louis and Jones both showed flashes of brilliance at times last season, raking in a total of 40 tackles in limited action.
Ronnie Fiest and Duke Riley could be a darkhorses, but expect both to maintain their roles as special teamers.
Kendell Beckwith and Melvin Jones are listed as linebackers and played as true freshmen. Yet neither played meaningful snaps at the position last season. Beckwith was used as a pass rush specialist and Jones as an emergency fullback. Both are more fitted for 3-4 defenses, so expect Chavis to get creative with them this spring to fit them in his 4-3.
Chavis will rotate at all three positions this spring. Yet his main focus will be how he replaces Barrow. The position is truly up for grabs.