Having lost 11 underclassmen to the NFL draft — not to mention a few standouts who merely ran out of eligibility — this could be perceived as a rebuilding year for the LSU football team. But reloading has been the idea all along: Les Miles et al call it the three-year plan, and here’s how it breaks down as the 2013 squad reports for preseason camp today.
Gone, but not forgotten
DE Lavar Edwards: Edwards started six games (three at each end) for LSU last season but was primarily a backup. He was drafted in the fifth round by Philadelphia, and reports from camp so far have been mixed.
RB Michael Ford: If Jeremy Hill doesn’t play for LSU this season, how much will the Tigers and Ford wish he had stayed for his senior campaign? Ford went undrafted and signed a free agent contract with Chicago, where he’s fighting to be a backup to Matt Forte.
DT Bennie Logan: Logan looked like a questionable early entrant to the NFL draft, but he was rewarded for giving up his final college season by a third-round pick (67th overall) by Philadelphia. LSU will miss his steady hand in the middle, where he piled up 45 tackles.
CB Tyrann Mathieu: After being dismissed for multiple transgressions at LSU, Mathieu flirted with transferring but ended up turning pro. Not every team was willing to ignore his baggage, but Arizona drafted him in the third round with the 69th pick. Mathieu provides plenty of value as a cornerback and kick returner, if he can clean up his act.
DE Barkevious Mingo: There was plenty of debate before he left LSU about how high or low he would go in the draft, but Mingo appeared to max out by going sixth to Cleveland. The Browns switched him from end to a pass-rushing outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.
LB Kevin Minter: After posting 130 tackles last season, the most for an LSU player since 2002, Minter passed on his senior season and was drafted in the second round (45th overall) by Arizona. He has a chance to prove himself quickly: Pro Bowl MLB Daryl Washington sits out the first four games for a substance abuse violation.
DE Sam Montgomery: There were high expectations for Montgomery, who left for the NFL after four years (three seasons at LSU). But the third-round pick got off to a rocky start with Houston, reportedly showing up for camp out of shape. He suffered an ankle injury last week but was making strides before that.
S Eric Reid: None of the 11 Tigers who left early for the NFL draft made out better than Reid. Not only was he drafted in the first round (18th overall), he went to reigning NFC champion San Francisco. Reid has made an early impression on the 49ers, sharing practice time with the first team at free safety.
CB Tharold Simon: Simon said he could do without another year in college but didn’t get selected until the fifth round by Seattle. He has been battling a foot injury during the early part of camp.
RB Spencer Ware: Ware also got drafted by the Seahawks, going in the sixth round. If he were at LSU and Hill were not, he’d be fighting with Alfred Blue to be the starting tailback. As it is, Ware is fighting to unseat incumbent fullback Michael Robinson.
P Brad Wing: Wing left LSU under the cloud of a suspension for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and resurfaced with Philadelphia as a free agent. He is working to convince the Eagles he’s serious about football, putting his colorful/checkered LSU career behind him.
Depth chart breakdown
TOP OF THE CHART: Zach Mettenberger is entrenched heading into his second season at the controls of the offense. How the scheme, tweaked by new coordinator Cam Cameron, sets up the senior for a quantum leap remains a source of intrigue. A solid outing in the spring game also adds optimism. If LSU’s wide receivers are more sure-handed, Mettenberger could thrive in a system based around an intermediate and vertical passing game.
BIDING TIME: At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, freshman Anthony Jennings is built like a pocket passer but has more than enough mobility to intrigue Miles. Sure, his 8-for-21 outing in the spring game, when he had just 98 yards and was sacked twice, doesn’t glitter. But in workouts, he showed good velocity and a consistent delivery on outs, corners and deep curls.
WAITING ROOM: Sophomore Stephen Rivers and freshmanHayden Rettig, an early enrollee, could push Jennings for the backup job. Rettig, who was the nation’s No. 3 pro-style prospect, is transitioning from a spread system to a pro-style set, which has slowed his development. Rivers thrived in the spring game and could pounce if Jennings falters.
TOP OF THE CHART: A suspension and legal issues will keep sophomore Jeremy Hill, who led the Tigers with 755 yards and 12 TDs in 2012, out of camp until at least Aug. 16, when he has a court hearing on his probation status. Alfred Blue, who is 6-2 and 220 pounds, emerged as the starter last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee, and he did not take part in contact drills during spring. Junior Kenny Hilliard looked slower last season, when he rushed for 464 yards and six TDs.
BIDING TIME: Former wide receiver Terrence Magee’s move to running back hints at Cameron trying to find pass-catching options out of the backfield. Switched over at halftime of the spring game, Magee ran well with the front-line unit, gaining 62 yards on seven carries.
WAITING ROOM: This is where matters get dicey for LSU. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Juneau is on the roster, but the 5-11, 198-pound Lafayette native has no entry in the media guide — a hint at a void that needs to be filled. The Tigers could experiment with position switches in camp, but the hope clearly is Hill gets back in the fold.
TOP OF THE CHART: LSU’s pecking order at receiver is clear as crystal. You can pretty much scribble in juniors Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry as starters. The question: Can the duo, which combined to snag 99 catches for 1,216 yards and seven TDs in 2012, be more consistent? If LSU throws the ball downfield, that should open space and allow them to roll up yards after the catch. Another offseason working with Mettenberger should help build chemistry.
BIDING TIME: Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright can slip from your memory, but remember Mettenberger’s first four scoring throws went to Boone. It’s unlikely LSU will showcase many five-receiver sets, but having a pair of vets who have shown they can be threats is a boon. Redshirt Travin Dural, a 6-2, 180-pound prospect out of Breaux Bridge, appeared to be recovered from a knee injury in spring and hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Rivers in the spring game.
WAITING ROOM: The addition of freshmen John Diarse and Kevin Spears along with junior college product Quantavius Leslie amply stocks the reserves. Diarse, a 6-0, 200-pound Neville graduate, shows potential as a running back but will start here. Spears, who is 6-2 and 191, can glide and read coverages. Leslie failed to qualify after signing with West Virginia out of high school, and he landed at Hinds Community College. But if he polishes his raw skill set, he can be a downfield threat.
TOP OF THE CHART: Injuries created a hole that needed to be filled last season but seasoned the bodies up front. Sophomores Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander can anchor the right side. La’el Collins takes over after left tackle Chris Faulk left early for a spot in the NFL. Josh Williford, who missed time with a concussion last season, also is back. The only position of intrigue is at center, where early enrollee Ethan Pocic is pushing Elliott Porter for the starting job.
BIDING TIME: Say this much: The Tigers have three capable stand-ins with versatility. Junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika can be swapped in at either guard position. Sophomore Jerald Hawkins is a good understudy for either tackle spot. The question is whether Pocic, a freshman, supplants Porter. Regardless, LSU has two capable options. If a rash of injuries breaks out, there’s enough depth to handle it.
WAITING ROOM: The depth chart lists these vets, but left tackle Jonah Austin, a redshirt sophomore, hasn’t seen action, and left guard Evan Washington sat out last season after being deemed academically eligible. Freshman guard Josh Boutte, whom 247Sports listed as the nation’s No. 8 prospect at his position, is athletic but could use refined technique. Fellow freshmen Andy Dodd and K.J. Malone need to shore up pass blocking skills before they can make an impact.
TOP OF THE CHART: No starters return, but the unit isn’t filled with novices. The middle of the line, with junior tackles Ego Ferguson and preseason All-SEC pick Anthony Johnson, was set by promotion after the duo has appeared in 53 games combined. Defensive end is where potential doubt looms. Junior Jermauria Rasco’s apprenticeship is over, and he’ll be counted on to notch more than two tackles for loss and no sacks. Opposite Rasco, sophomore Danielle Hunterresembles departed Barkevious Mingo, but he was relegated to special teams last season.
BIDING TIME: Defensive coordinator John Chavis has enough raw material to roll two lines through. Freshman Christian LaCouture (6-5, 290) showed up in January and seems slated for early duty after an impressive spring. Sophomore Quentin Thomas holds the other tackle spot. The end position is stocked with prospects in Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal and Frank Herron; each could be in line for early reps this season.
WAITING ROOM: The next month will sift out who lands here, but the process should be fun to watch. Herron, a 6-5, 245-pound Memphis native, is explosive and stout in the run game but needs to refine his pass rush moves to match his physical skill set. Bower, who is 6-5 and 241 pounds, flipped from Auburn to LSU on signing day and might be more technically advanced than Herron in pressuring the quarterback. Both have the build to add weight, set the edge or move inside when asked to rush the passer.
TOP OF THE CHART: The second level isn’t as depleted with seniors Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones, who was academically ineligible last season. But the hole left by Kevin Minter, who had 130 tackles at middle linebacker, remains unfilled. In spring, junior D.J. Welter, who also was academically ineligible, got a crack at the job only to finish with two assisted tackles in the spring game. Barrow has been a company man on the outside, but if Welter can’t produce, they could swap out.
BIDING TIME: Chavis is pleased with who he has waiting in the wings. Sophomores Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis, started a combined seven games last season and can serve as veterans. Fellow sophomore Deion Jones saw action as a reserve in every game on the weak side but was a solid hitter on special teams. Chavis has said it’s as talented a group of youngsters as he has had in Baton Rouge.
WAITING GAME: East Feliciana product Kendell Beckwith played quarterback in high school and is listed as an athlete, but the four-star product will be a linebacker. Based on pedigree alone, he might be in line to see action. Fellow freshmen Duke Riley out of John Curtis and Melvin Jones from Washington-Marion also arrive in preseason camp, but they might be headed for special teams duty. There’s talent, but it may have to wait its turn.
TOP OF THE CHART: This is where Chavis’ job gets interesting, considering the early departures of Tharold Simon — a big, physical corner — and free safety Eric Reid to the NFL. Sophomores Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills, who started every game last season, are the presumed starters at cornerback. A slew of talented freshmen arrive and could push for reps at nickel corner. Craig Loston, a preseason All-SEC choice, holds down the strong safety position. A position battle looms to replace Reid among junior Ronald Martin and sophomores Corey Thompson and Micah Eugene.
BIDING TIME: Parsing Miles’ statements, this is where LSU’s three-year cycle of developing players might be most apparent. Martin missed the spring game with a shoulder injury, but Eugene saw time in sub packages while Thompson was a stalwart on special teams last season. Expect to see elite freshmen Tre’Davious White and Jeryl Brazil get in the mix, too, along with second-year players Dwayne Thomas and Derrick Raymond.
WAITING GAME: There’s no quibbling that LSU stocked up on signing day. White, who is 5-11 and 170, has a lean build to put on weight and the athletic tools to emerge as a cover man. But it was his return skills that dazzled during the Army All-American Bowl in January. Scouts peg Brazil as more of a cover corner adept at jumping underneath routes. Oh, and there’s four-star prospectRicky Jefferson, too.
TOP OF THE CHART: The duty of place-kicker is the only real point of disagreement. Junior James Hairston, freshman Trent Domingue and redshirt freshman Colby Delahoussaye are vying for the job, but none of them has kicked a field goal or extra point in a game. Jamie Keehn replaces fellow Aussie Brad Wing at punter after averaging 43.7 yards on 12 boots. Beckham took back two punts for scores and has the job again. Jarvis Landry replaces Michael Ford returning kickoffs.
BIDING TIME: The losers in the three-man kicking derby will watch and wait. In all likelihood, Hairston will handle kickoffs, while Domingue and Delahoussaye scrap for the top spot. Until they leave Baton Rouge, the roles of Beckham and Landry seem solidified.
WAITING GAME: Freshman cornerbacks White and Brazil have been lauded as sparks in the return game. Brazil isn’t big, but his speed is an asset you can’t cultivate. White broke off a 51-yard kick return in the Army game — one he nearly took in for a score.
LB Kendell Beckwith: One of the top prospects in Louisiana for 2013, Beckwith (6-foot-3 and 225 pounds) has the size and speed to play defensive end but likely will start his career at outside linebacker. He had 91 tackles and 17 sacks at East Feliciana in 2012.
CB Jeryl Brazil: Brazil has the speed to play anywhere on the field — and get there in a heck of a hurry. He’s been clocked at 6.25 seconds in the 55-meter dash, and his 6.27 mark in the event was the nation’s best time in 2013. The 5-9, 181-pound Loranger native projects at cornerback and kick returner.
G Garrett Brumfield: Brumfield will only have to take his game a few yards from where he currently plays for University High to the LSU practice fields once he becomes a Tiger in 2014. The 6-4, 285-pound blue-chipper is ranked as high as No. 91 nationally by Rivals and is a consensus four-star prospect.
WR John Diarse: Louisiana’s Mr. Football in 2012 projects as a wide receiver, but don’t rule out him being pressed into service as a running back if Jeremy Hill can’t play. As Neville’s quarterback last season, Diarse threw for 1,685 yards and ran for 1,327. For good measure, he had three interceptions as a defensive back his junior year.
QB Brandon Harris: Want to know the future of LSU’s offense? Dual-threat quarterback Anthony Jennings is poised to be Zach Mettenberger’s prime backup this season, and Harris, out of Bossier City’s Parkway High School, is in the same mold. Harris (6-2, 186) can run and throw, and he’ll be coming to LSU in 2014.
WR Quantavius Leslie: The name evokes memories of Demetrius Byrd. We’ll see if Leslie can have the same kind of year the former junior college standout had in 2007. Leslie (6-4, 190), out of Hinds (Miss.) Community College, was supposed to be here for spring practice, but grades held him back.
S Edward Paris: Currently the top-rated prospect in LSU’s 2014 recruiting class, Paris (6-0, 201) earns five stars from 24/7 Sports and a No. 26 national ranking. Though he hails from Arlington, Texas, he grew up in Louisiana, making his commitment appear to be solid.
WR Avery Peterson: It took a while for him to get to LSU, but Peterson (6-1, 180) hopes to prove he’s worth the wait — and can live up to the name. The younger brother of former LSU All-America cornerback Patrick Peterson, Avery spent last year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, getting his academics in order.
CB Tre’Davious White: The five-star Shreveport Green Oaks prospect didn’t enroll early at LSU for spring practice, but there are still strong expectations that White (5-10, 170) will challenge not only for immediate playing time at cornerback but possibly a starting role. He’s related to former LSU All-America cornerback Morris Claiborne.