LSU Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp
LSU head coach Les Miles has gaping holes to fill on his roster. Fortunately enough for Miles, he has talent at his disposal other coaches could only dream of having.
Miles spoke highly of his incoming freshman class of 2014 at SEC media days last week. He expects a few to contribute right away, including 5-star skill position players Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre. But expect none of them to begin fall practice as starters.
LSU has plenty of talent returning next season as well. Tiger returnees probably feel the pressure from the incoming class, so they will attempt to prove their worth once the pads are strapped back on in early August.
Here is a preview of what the depth chart will look like heading into fall camp.
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris
Brandon Harris is the most talented quarterback on LSU's roster and will eventually be the starter. But for right now, expect the more experienced Anthony Jennings to get the snaps with the first team at the beginning of fall camp.
Jennings was not his sharpest in his last outing, throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the spring game. He should perform at a higher level going forward.
Harris worked with quarterback coach George Whitfield in San Diego this offseason. Fellow LSU freshman receiver Malachi Dupre took part in Whitfield's "Shark Week" with Harris, per Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com. The freshman gunslinger should be even better once the pads are strapped back on with the addition of Dupre to the receiving corps.
The media will be locked in on the quarterback battle, and rightfully so. Zach Mettenberger will be a tough act to follow. Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will have a tough decision to make.
Starter: Terrence Magee; Connor Neighbors (fullback)
Backups: Leonard Fournette, Kenny Hilliard; Melvin Jones (fullback)
LSU fans cannot wait for 5-star incoming freshman Leonard Fournette to take his first carry in a LSU uniform. Fournette will get his opportunities against Wisconsin and could easily lead the Tigers to victory.
But do not expect Fournette to start against the Badgers.
Senior Terrence Magee will likely get the nod. At the very least, Magee will start fall practice atop the depth chart. Fellow senior Kenny Hilliard will also get snaps.
At fullback, Connor Neighbors returns after a productive 2013. Neighbors could be used more in the passing game out of the backfield. Backup Melvin Jones is massive at 6'3", 245 pounds and could factor into the game plan.
Starters (3-WR set): Travin Dural, John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie
Backups: Malachi Dupre, Avery Peterson, Trey Quinn
It will take some adjusting to look at LSU's receiving corps without Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The duo both eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving last season.
LSU's leading returning receiver Travin Dural will be the No. 1 option to start camp. Dural only caught seven passes last season but showed improvement in the spring game with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
After Dural, there is uncertainty. John Diarse battled injuries all spring, which gave Quantavius Leslie a chance to show off his skills. Those three will likely start the fall with the first group.
But much like at running back, incoming freshmen could eventually overtake them.
Malachi Dupre, a 5-star deep threat out of New Orleans, is the most likely candidate to crack the starting lineup. Trey Quinn also has the skill set to make plays a true freshman.
Starters: Dillon Gordon, DeSean Smith
Backups: Logan Stokes, Travis Dickson
DeSean Smith is looking to become the receiving threat LSU desperately needs at tight end. The Tigers have combined for only 28 catches and no touchdowns over the past two seasons at the position.
Dillon Gordon could be LSU's most well-rounded tight end. Gordon's sublime blocking ability allows the Tigers' running game to be effective on the edge.
Senior Logan Stokes' physicality in the running game is impressive. If LSU is looking to run the ball in short-yardage situations, Stokes can be a valuable weapon.
Offensive Line: La'el Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliott Porter, Evan Washington, Jerald Hawkins
Backups: Hoko Fanaika, Jonah Austin, Ethan Pocic, Josh Boutte
LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has plenty of talent to work with in his first year with the Tigers.
Left tackle La'el Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins are all returning starters. If Trai Turner did not bolt for the NFL early, the Tigers would be returning all five starters.
The final spot at right guard will be either Evan Washington or Hoko Fanaika. Washington is the slight favorite, as he is the more experienced of the two.
Defensive Line: DE Danielle Hunter, DE Jermauria Rasco; DT Christian LaCouture, DT Quentin Thomas
Backups: DE Lewis Neal, DE/DT Frank Herron, DE Tashawn Bower, DE M.J. Patterson, DT Maquedius Bain, DT Greg Gilmore, DT Travonte Valentine
LSU earned the title of "Defensive Line U" from ESPN.com due to its amazing success at defensive line. But in 2013, the group was not elite.
The player with the most pressure to perform is Danielle Hunter. Hunter was the most disruptive defensive force in the spring game, raking in two sacks. He will be joined by Jermauria Rasco, who led the unit in sacks with four.
Their backups will have to fight to be a part of the rotation. Defensive line coach Brick Haley has a wide variety of young talent to chose from in Lewis Neal, Frank Herron, Tashawn Bower and M.J. Patterson.
Defensive tackle is one of the biggest question marks heading into next season. Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas were backups last season but will get their chance to start in 2014. Expect the unit to rotate heavily next season with talented backups Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore.
Fall practice will be a critical time for the unit as a whole, especially for the talented incoming freshmen. Haley will be able to tell if he can trust players like Travonte Valentine, the 4-star, 325-pound force out of Florida.
Starters: Kwon Alexander, D.J. Welter, Lamar Louis
Backups: Ronnie Feist, Kendell Beckwith, Debo Jones, Clifton Garrett
Kwon Alexander is poised to break out next season. Alexander's talent is sublime and will be put to the test as he moves from strong-side to weak-side linebacker. D.J. Welter, LSU's lone representative at SEC media days, will return at middle linebacker.
Lamar Louis will likely fill the final starting role, but Debo Jones and Ronnie Feist will challenge him. Nevertheless, expect Jones, Feist and Kendell Beckwith to get snaps next season even if they do not start.
Clifton Garrett, like the other highly touted incoming freshmen, will have to prove his worth in fall practice. Garrett, a 5-star prospect, has the chance to be the next great linebacker at LSU.
Starters: CB Rashard Robinson, CB Tre'Davious White, SS Rickey Jefferson, FS Ronald Martin
Backups: Jalen Collins, Ed Paris, Corey Thompson, Jalen Mills, Jamal Adams, Dwayne Thomas
LSU has cornerback locked up for the next couple of seasons. Sophomores Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White form the best cornerback duo in the SEC. Dwayne Thomas will serve as the nickelback when defensive coordinator John Chavis runs five- or six-defensive back sets.
Jalen Collins is an experienced junior with great size and will be a serviceable backup. Early enrollee freshman Ed Paris will also see the field.
Junior Jalen Mills was supposed to be the stalwart at safety but was indefinitely suspended after being arrested for second-degree battery this offseason, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. There is no telling if Mills will play this season.
LSU has three players with starting experience at safety to fill two spots. Expect Ronald Martin and Rickey Jefferson to start fall practice, but Corey Thompson, who sat out spring recovering from surgery, could eventually crack the lineup.
Jamal Adams, a 5-star true freshman, is a sleeper candidate to get a start this season. Adams' game is similar to that of Eric Reid, who eventually became a starter as a true freshman in 2010.