Position-by-Position Preview of LSU's 2014 Roster
LSU head coach Les Miles is fortunate.
Not every coach has the luxury of Miles, who always has the talent at his disposal to fill in holes when players jump to the pros. This year's roster is no different.
The Tigers have a brutal schedule ahead of them, which includes eight SEC games and a tough nonconference season opener against Wisconsin. Miles will need both starters and productive backups in order to win to the conference.
Here is a glimpse of how the Tigers will look at each position.
Starter: Brandon Harris
Backup: Anthony Jennings
The cloud that has hovered over LSU's offseason is who will start at quarterback. Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will choose between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris.
Harris was the better of the two quarterbacks in the spring game, combining for four touchdowns. On the other hand, Jennings threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns. But Miles and Cameron both stressed after the game they are in no rush to name a starter.
Harris has been working in San Diego this offseason with quarterback guru George Whitfield, whose past clients include Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. He recently told Tim Fletcher of 1130 AM in Shreveport that he is now "100 times better" after working with Whitfield.
Jennings served as the backup for Zach Mettenberger last season, earning a start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. The Tigers won the game, but Jennings was rather pedestrian behind center.
LSU must also find a new third-string quarterback as Hayden Rettig announced last week he will transfer, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.
Starter: Terrence Magee
Backups: Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette
LSU fans awaiting the Leonard Fournette show will have to be patient.
Terrence Magee is the leading returning rusher after the departure of Jeremy Hill. Magee was slated to be the fourth-string back last season, but moved his way up the depth chart with great performances against TCU and Texas A&M.
Magee will share the load with fellow senior Kenny Hilliard, who has yet to regain his freshman form from 2011. Hilliard was used primarily as a goal-line back last year, rushing for seven touchdowns.
Fournette is arguably the most highly touted recruit in Les Miles' coaching career. The 5-star recruit is expected to be a special talent next season. Yet for the season opener against Wisconsin, expect Magee to get the start.
Starters: Travin Dural, John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie
Backups: Malachi Dupre, Rob Bolden, Avery Peterson
Travin Dural has huge shoes to fill.
Dural was the No. 3 receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Beckham Jr. and Landry both eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving, but Dural only had seven catches for 149 yards. He showed promise in the spring game, catching five passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Quantavius Leslie, John Diarse and Rob Bolden should all get a chance to be a difference-maker next season. All three have a year of Cameron's offense under their belts.
LSU has four incoming freshmen coming in, headlined by 5-star Malachi Dupre. Look for Dupre to make an immediate impact, as well as 4-star Trey Quinn.
Starter: Connor Neighbors
Backup: Melvin Jones
Connor Neighbors quietly had a fantastic 2013 campaign. J.C. Copeland was the projected No. 1 fullback before the season, but Neighbors earned more snaps as the season went along. Neighbors is a superb lead blocker who can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
Melvin Jones is still listed as a linebacker on LSU's official roster, but he will play fullback primarily next season. Jones played in nine games last season and should have an even bigger role in 2014 at fullback and on special teams.
Starters (2-TE Set): DeSean Smith, Dillon Gordon
Backups: Logan Stokes, Travis Dickson
DeSean Smith should be LSU's top threat at tight end through the air. Smith caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
The Tigers tight ends have caught a combined 28 passes and no touchdowns over the past two seasons. Smith should catch at least 15 passes next season.
Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes are critical cogs as blockers in the running game. LSU will look for Gordon in particular to step up as a receiver.
Travis Dickson was the tight end LSU relied upon in critical situations last season, but he did not produce. The Tigers will work out incoming freshman Jacory Washington this fall to see if he can be a receiving threat.
Starters: La'el Collins (left tackle), Vadal Alexander (left guard), Elliott Porter (center), Evan Washington (right guard), Jerald Hawkins (right tackle)
Backups: Hoko Fanaika, Jonah Austin, Josh Boutte, Andy Dodd, K.J. Malone
LSU's most experienced unit on either side of the football will be at offensive line. Four of the five starters return, headlined by projected first-round pick La'el Collins.
First-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has an embarrassment of riches to work with next season. His toughest offseason task will be to name a starting right guard. The battle has been hotly contested between seniors Evan Washington and Hoko Fanaika.
Fanaika started the spring game with the first group while Washington finished with them. Grimes said that is no indication of who will start. Washington filled in at right guard when now-departed Trai Turner went out with an injury against Auburn last season.
The offensive line was good, but not great last season. With a young core on offense, Miles will rely heavily on his big uglies up front to carry the team.
Starters: Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter
Backups: Tashawn Bower, Frank Herron, Lewis Neal, M.J. Patterson
Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter should have breakout seasons.
Rasco sat out the spring to recover from a nagging shoulder injury. Hunter, on the other hand, shined in spring practice, which was highlighted by a two-sack performance in the spring game. Both had lackluster years in 2013, but expect them to combine for at least 10 sacks next season.
Backups Tashawn Bower, Frank Herron, Lewis Neal and M.J. Patterson are young and inexperienced, but they should be hungry to make an impression.
The unit overall is of the lighter variety. They have speed, but anchoring down against the run will be a challenge.
Starters: Quentin Thomas, Christian LaCouture
Backups: Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore
One of LSU's biggest question marks heading into next season is at defensive tackle.
Departed starters Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson were average last season, yet, for the most part, held their ground against the run. Backups Quentin Thomas and Christian LaCouture were ineffective in their little playing time given.
Now Thomas and LaCouture are the starters. Both should be improved, yet they will need to be ready to go for the season opener against rushing powerhouse Wisconsin. They should have help in talented redshirt freshmen backups Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore.
Look for true freshmen Travonte Valentine, Davon Godchaux and Trey Lealaimatafao to all be in the mix as well.
Starters: Lamar Louis, D.J. Welter, Kwon Alexander
Backups: Debo Jones, Kendell Beckwith, Ronnie Feist
LSU should see some improvement at linebacker, led by returning starter Kwon Alexander. The experienced group should be amongst the best in the SEC.
Alexander moved from strong-side to weak-side linebacker this offseason, which should give him more freedom to make plays. He will joined by fellow returning starter D.J. Welter at middle linebacker and Lamar Louis at strong side. Welter was second on the team in tackles and Louis performed admirably in limited snaps in 2013.
The athletic trio of Ronnie Feist, Kendell Beckwith or Debo Jones will all be a part of the backup rotation. Sophomore Duke Riley and incoming freshman Clifton Garrett will primarily be special teams contributors, but will get some snaps on defense as well.
Starters: Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson
Backups: Ed Paris, Jalen Collins, Dwayne Thomas
LSU starting cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson should both be in contention for All-SEC seasons in 2014. The sophomore duo will form one of the best defensive backfields in the country.
Early enrollee Ed Paris and experienced junior Jalen Collins are admirable backups with good range and solid tackling ability. Dwayne Thomas will be used primarily as a "nickel" and "dime" back in defensive coordinator John Chavis' exotic schemes.
Starter: Jalen Mills, Ronald Martin
Backups: Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson, Jamal Adams
LSU struggled finding the right pieces at safety last season. The task becomes more difficult as Craig Loston has moved on to the NFL.
Jalen Mills was fantastic moving over to safety for the Outback Bowl last season. He played so well he started playing the position primarily this offseason. Senior Ronald Martin ran with him in the first group during spring practice.
Talented junior Corey Thompson sat out spring to recover from surgery but should be fully healthy come fall. Rickey Jefferson registered a start against Arkansas and would start at most schools around the country.
The Tigers have incoming 5-star freshman headhunter Jamal Adams, who should make an immediate impact on special teams. Adams could eventually make his way into the starting secondary like freshmen in the past such as Eric Reid and Patrick Peterson.