LSU not only lost two All-America cornerbacks in Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu, they also lost two of the top returners in the country with Claiborne going to the NFL and Mathieu being kicked off the team.
As the Tigers close in on the season opener against North Texas on Saturday in Tiger Stadium, several players are in contention to participate in the return roles. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are the top candidates to replace Mathieu, who had two punt returns for touchdowns last season, but coach Les Miles said running back Spencer Ware and wide receiver Kadron Boone might also return some punts.
Landry and Beckham are also competing to succeed Claiborne, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD last season, on kickoffs, and Miles said wide receiver Russell Shepard and running back/wide receiver Terrence Magee are also in the mix.
“We have a number of those guys,” he said.
Landry said he’s the up back on kickoff returns and Beckham is the primary returner, so he thinks he has a better chance of being the top punt returner.
“Most of the time he’s the main (kickoff) return guy,” Landry said of Beckham, “so my possibilities of being the starting punt returner are very high.”
Beckham said he’s confident that the first player down the field covering a kickoff won’t get to him because of Landry’s presence in front of him.
“I’ve got my brother in front of me,” Beckham said. “He’s always got my back, and he’s going to lead the way. He’s a physical guy, and he attacks hard. It’s hard to beat a guy who has determination like he does. I feel sorry for whoever the first guy is.”
Miles praises freshman end
Miles said several true freshmen will be involved in kickoff coverage, and he singled out linebackers Lamar Louis and Deion Jones and running back Jeremy Hill. But his highest praise was for defensive end Danielle Hunter from Katy, Texas.
“He’s going to be really good,” Miles said. “I hope he looks at it as an opportunity to play great on special teams and send a signal that he’s ready to play a lot of defensive football.”
The coverage units likely will continue to feature prominent veterans such as Landry, running back Alfred Blue and safety Eric Reid.
“It’s their responsibility to make sure that spot is played like they would play it, or they play it,” Miles said. “It’s important enough so our veterans play those snaps.”
Hill has shaped up
Miles said early in preseason practice that Hill was a little heavier than he would have preferred, but three weeks of practicing in the August heat has rectified that.
“He’s in much better condition,” Miles said. “He’s much quicker, much more capable. He still needs to keep an eye out and not gain weight, but he can go in and play.”
Wary of crane operator
Miles said the new lights in Tiger Stadium “seem to add to the mystique and feel at night,” though he was taken aback as the name Tiger Stadium was starting to be applied to the outside façade.
“I’m told there appears to be an unusual gold ‘T’ for Tiger Stadium,” Miles said. “When I saw it, it looks a lot like another school in our conference.”
Miles joked that he had to make sure “a rogue crane operator” wasn’t beginning to spell Tennessee.
Advocate sportswriter Scott Hotard contributed to this report.