LSU Football: Previewing 5 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall
LSU head coach Les Miles is going through a major media swing. Miles went to SEC media days last week and is going through the ESPN "car wash" Monday. He is a joy to watch whenever he is behind a microphone, as his affable personality captivates the college football world.
But that means little on the football field.
Miles' real work begins in fall practice. The season opener against Wisconsin is just over a month away, and he still has difficult decisions to make at key positions.
Here are some of the key battles for starting roles that will determined over the next few weeks.
LSU's quarterback battle is one of the SEC's biggest storylines. Miles confirmed at SEC media days that he will choose between sophomore Anthony Jennings and incoming freshman Brandon Harris.
Jennings entered spring as the starter, as he is the more experienced of the two. He played sparingly last season, logging one start against Iowa in the 2014 Outback Bowl.
Harris came to LSU as an early enrollee, which gave him much needed time to learn Cam Cameron's offense. He was the better of the two quarterbacks in the spring game, combining for four touchdowns and no turnovers.
There is no telling when Miles will name a starter, but it seems like Harris will be the guy.
LSU’s offensive line should be one of the Tigers’ strengths next season, with four of five starters returning. The only vacancy open is at right guard, as Trai Turner took his talents to the NFL despite having eligibility remaining.
Seniors Evan Washington and Hoko Fanaika are the top candidates for the spot. Senior left tackle La’el Collins said at SEC media days last week he thinks highly of both: "Evan knows the ins and outs of our offense. He's one of the guys I go to with questions because he has played every position on our offensive line," Collins said. "Hoko is a very talented guy. We have very high expectations for the both of them and I think we will need both guys to play this year."
Washington or Fanaika will join Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins. First-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes should feel comfortable with either of the two.
Washington is probably the slight favorite. He has been in the LSU program longer and was the player inserted at right guard when Turner was substituted due to injury.
LSU has a hole of productivity to fill at linebacker with the departure of leading tackler Lamin Barrow, but the Tigers have more than enough talent to fill the void.
Returning starter Kwon Alexander, LSU’s most gifted linebacker, will move from strong side to weak side to replace Barrow. D.J. Welter will remain at middle linebacker.
Lamar Louis is the most likely candidate to take over the final starting spot. Louis raked in 20 tackles in limited action last season.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis could move players more freely this year at all linebacker positions than in years past. The Tigers have talented backups in Kendell Beckwith, Debo Jones, Ronnie Feist and 5-star incoming freshman Clifton Garrett.
There is no telling who will start at either safety spot for LSU against Wisconsin.
Junior Jalen Mills looked to be a lock, but he was arrested for second-degree battery and suspended indefinitely this summer, as per ESPN.com's David Ching. There is no telling where Mills fits in the picture now.
Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thompson and Ronald Martin all return with starting experience in the LSU secondary. All three would be starters at most schools across the country. Incoming 5-star freshman Jamal Adams will also get the opportunity to show his skills in fall practice.
Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond has some difficult decisions to make. Martin is probably the best bet to make the starting lineup, but when the pads are strapped back on in practice, anything can happen.
Losing Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver is a major blow. Finding productivity at receiver will be a slow and arduous process for Cameron.
But losing Beckham Jr. as a return specialist could be even tougher on the Tigers.
Beckham Jr. won LSU football games as a kick and punt returner. His ability to glide past tacklers and effectively use his blockers was astonishing. Replacing that experience will be difficult.
Les Miles said at SEC Media Days senior running back Terrence Magee will be the kickoff returner. But than easily change as Magee's body will take a toll on offense. Miles referenced the names of Jamal Adams and Tre'Davious White as candidates as punt returners.
Despite Miles' comments, nothing is set in stone. Travin Dural, Quantavius Leslie, Ed Paris, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn will also be in the mix with Magee, Adams and White for return duties.