BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU fall camp is officially underway, and Les Miles is undoubtedly excited.
"We are looking forward to the practice schedule. Looking forward to improving," said Miles.
The Tigers reported to campus today and practice will begin tomorrow. This will be the first official full practice that includes most of the highly touted 2014 recruiting class.
Unfortunately for Miles, the entire team was not on campus.
LSU junior safety and projected starter Jalen Mills was arrested for second-degree battery in early June and was released less than 24 hours later, per The Daily Reveille. Mills was suspended indefinitely from the team.
“I really don’t know. I have not tried to, nor do I intend to, pressure the process in any way. Jalen Mills has a responsibility to handle his business. This is his business," said Miles.
Incoming freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine has yet to pass the academic qualifications required from NCAA Clearinghouse. Valentine has taken summer classes in South Florida and has yet to officially enroll at LSU, according to Geaux247.com.
"The reality is the high school and the Clearinghouse have to communicate. I think they're doing that, I think they're trying," said Miles.
Miles addressed a few more topics in his opening press conference.
LSU's starting quarterback will be either sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris. Miles was asked if there was a deadline for naming a starter and his answer, as it has all offseason, remained the same.
"Never have and never will. We'll have to see each day how they proceed," said Miles.
Miles did share what he was looking for from both Jennings and Harris.
"I think maturity is the key for both of them. Recognizing the style of throw, the kind of play and seeing them understand what we are trying to get accomplished. How we are attacking the defense," said Miles. "There is going to be that time in the game where you have the opportunity to extend the play and make a play. And their self interpretation at some point in time will be, in my opinion, the criteria in which you pick the starter."
There is no telling who will win the job, but experts seem to believe that Harris is the more gifted of the two.
"In terms of pure physical tools, he (Harris) is more talented than what LSU has," said ESPN's National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill at SEC Media Days. "He can make all the throws."
LSU's offensive line returns four of its five starters, led by projected first-round NFL draft pick La'el Collins. Miles was asked if the group is the best he has ever had.
"I'm not ready to describe them as the best offensive line ever just yet. But I agree with how they are perceived, talented and capable," said Miles. "I need them to come to the field ready to play before I give them that tag."
The only vacancy is at right guard. Miles has yet to make a decision between Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington, but he did say to expect both to see the field.
Freshman Wide Receivers
Replacing Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will not be easy, especially while breaking in a new starting quarterback. The Tigers will need to have young players step in and make plays right away.
The Tigers' best overall position in their heralded 2014 recruiting class was arguably wide receiver, and the influx could not have come at a better time. Expect two of the four incoming freshman receivers, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, to eventually be in the rotation.
Miles said despite their youth, they will be ready to go.
"I've never had a problem with backup receivers learning how to play, especially with guys as talented as these guys," said Miles. "I can't imagine they won't have success doing the things we are going to ask them to do. I think they will put some real heat on the guys who might be starting."
LSU's No. 1 option will be Travin Dural, who returns as LSU's leading receiver. The rest of the returnees, which includes talented redshirt freshman John Diarse and senior Quantavius Leslie, will need to perform at a high level to challenge for a starting spot.
LSU lost starting defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson this offseason. Johnson and Ferguson played a majority of the snaps last season and often got tired as them game went along.
LSU must have better depth at the position. If not, teams like Wisconsin and Alabama will wear them down with simple runs up the middle.
Despite uncertainty with Valentine's future, Miles feels comfortable with his starters and backups.
"(Christian) LaCouture and Quentin Thomas have had great summers, both of which played a lot of football a year ago," said Miles. "The next guys that go in the game, Frank Herron is a large defensive end with real mobility that has moved inside and I look forward to having a look at him. Qued (Marquedius) Bain has always been real athletic and (Greg) Gilmore has lost 20 pounds, which might be the lightest he has been since he has been here."
Miles is looking to make his practices as efficient as possible. LSU is only 29 days away from its season opener against Wisconsin and the coaching staff must make tough decisions at critical positions.
Repetitions are as important as anything for the youthful Tigers, especially learning all the nuances of Cam Cameron's offense and John Chavis' defense. Miles has decided to create an "emphasis period" in an effort to simulate the speed of an actual game.
At the back end of practices, we are going to call an 'emphasis period," said Miles. "We are not going to have contact, we are not going to have tackle football. But we are going to have competition. And the emphasis period is going to be as close to game-like conditions as possible and do it routinely...That will give those young guys getting snaps in game-like situations starting in the first practice even though it is not with the pressure of contact.
Miles emphasized his talented backups when further describing how the practices will be set up.
"We are going to divide the practices. There will be a two-deep morning practice and a two-deep afternoon practice with the offense and defense. We are going to take our best seconds (second string) and start them in the afternoon practice."
By switching up personnel groupings, Miles will also get a better look at who his most talented players are. There are plenty of backups who could easily take over starting roles by the season opener.
Miles will also switch up his quarterbacks often. This will allow Harris and Jennings to work with the first group, which gives both an equal opportunity to work with the best receivers.
"One day one will work with the morning group and the next day the guy will work with the afternoon group. We'll go back and forth between practices.
Defensive end Jermauria Rasco and safety Corey Thompson sat out spring practice while they recovered from injury. Miles said both are full speed and ready to go for fall.
Rasco is projected to start at defensive end alongside Danielle Hunter. The Tigers have plenty of depth behind them, but those two are the best and most experienced players at the position.
The uncertainty of Mills' future makes the Thompson news even better for LSU. Miles mentioned the names of Thompson, Ronald Martin, Rickey Jefferson, Jamal Adams and John Battle as players who could fill the two starting openings at safety.
Martin and Jefferson are the likely front-runners for now, but anything can happen with the talent the Tigers have in their secondary.
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