Anxiety over the transformation of LSU’s offense since a loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron ranged between slowly percolating and a full boil.
But the exodus of seven starters, including the entire defensive line, and the audition process to fill those roles might be just as vital during Saturday’s L Club Spring Game at Tiger Stadium.
Just how much fans filtering into the West stands will be able to glean, though, is still incomplete with three projected starters sitting and not donning white jerseys.
On Thursday, LSU coach Les Miles confirmed defensive end Jermauria Rasco, free safety Ronald Martin and cornerback Jalen Mills will be held out with undisclosed injuries.
“There’s a couple first-team guys that are nicked and aren’t going to play,” Miles said.
Martin suffered what Miles labeled a “weight-room injury” and missed last week’s scrimmage, while Rasco and Mills are out after undergoing minor shoulder surgery and will not be back on the field until fall camp.
It succinctly put to rest notions of evaluating of how Rasco will replace NFL-bound junior Barkevious Mingo on the left end, and whether Martin’s solid production translates into a facsimile of All-American Eric Reid.
But five weeks of practices revealed a relatively orderly process of transition for defensive coordinator John Chavis’ crew.
In the middle of the line, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson seemed at ease, while Rasco’s production seemingly tabbed him at one end spot. Coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Jordan Allen has operated as a solid technician in a battle with Danielle Hunter for the right end spot — one poised to carry into August.
“Those guys might not have taken as many snaps, but I feel like those guys are veterans,” senior linebacker Lamin Barrow said.
So Barrow doesn’t have to get complex with his main point ahead of suiting up this weekend.
“Every time we go on the field, treat it like a game day,” Barrow said. “Treat it like it will be the last game you ever play. They’ve already started developing that mindset.”
The linebacker corps has been staid, too. Junior D.J. Welter appears to have a tight grip in the middle, while the experiment with moving Barrow from the weakside was mere tinkering. And Tahj Jones, who returned from an academic suspension against Clemson, could be on the strong side.
Senior Craig Loston returns at strong safety, while Jalen Collins could slide into Tharold Simon’s place at right corner and Mills on the other side.
Put simply, the new cogs are installed. It’s just a matter of ensuring there’s no spits and coughs when the engine is turned over.
“A lot of people are anxious and worried, and we can sense that,” Barrow said. “We lost a lot of guys, some very talented guys who are going to be drafted in early rounds. At the same time, we’ve got some young guys that are just as good or might be better. A lot of people are going to be surprised.”
The Tigers eased into the weekend during their final practice Thursday, passing on pads for helmets alone.
It was a relatively staid two-hour workout, only with a slew of LSU students on hand to take in the workout for a second consecutive year.
“We figured we’d freshen the team up and that helmets practice for today,” Miles said. “Basically, it was a warm-up before the scrimmage. ... The preparation for the spring game is complete.”
After practice, players and Miles stuck around the team’s indoor facility signing autographs and meeting with the student body.
As expected, senior running back Alfred Blue will off limits to tackling Saturday.
The Boutte native, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament against Idaho, has been able to participate fully in every practice this spring. Yet, LSU hasn’t seen the need to expose him to the risk brought on by contact until August arrives.
“Alfred Blue will take some snaps,” Miles said. “He’s full go. He could well have competed this spring, but we’ve held him out because he’s doing so well.”
Upon first glance,the White team Saturday appears to have odds tilted in its favor with Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on its roster.
Miles said he isn’t stacking the deck, but simply trying to recreate a plausible and familiar scenario for an offense in the midst of transitioning terminology to have familiarity.
“You want the quarterbacks to see the same pictures,” Miles said. “There’s some talent in that second team as well. When thrust with the inability to break it aup all even and the chance it could be a mish-mash and not something quarterbacks could see, we figured we’d keep it all together.”
Looking ahead, LSU’s early commitments for the 2014 recruiting class picked up early laurels.
Four of the Tigers’ eight pledges landed in ESPN’s list of the top 150 prospects.
Safety Edward Paris, who hails from Arlington (Texas) Timberview is No. 53. Athlete Devin Voorhies of Woodvile (Miss.) Wilkinson County is No. 103. Westlake native and tight end Jacory Washington came in at No. 119. Finally, Fort Piece (Fla.) Central linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed sits at No. 129.
The state’s top prospect in St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette is rated as the top overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, and leads 11 in-state recruits among ESPN’s rankings.
The gates open for the spring game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, and admission is free. Seating is on the West side and in the South end zone. Parking is also free, with lots opening at 8 a.m. Motor homes can park in the Touchdown Village or Veterinary School lots beginning at 5 p.m. today. North and South Stadium Drive will be closed to traffic starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, with the South portion adjacent to Tiger Stadium closed to pedestrians because of ongoing construction.
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