LSU depth chart starts to take shape as season nears

Two-a-day practices are finished. All three preseason scrimmages are finished.

Beginning Thursday, the LSU football team will be full-speed ahead in its TCU-specific preparations for the Aug. 31 season opener, and the players have done about all they can do to make their case for playing time.

Coach Les Miles and his staff are piecing together the depth chart, though Miles said after Tuesday’s final scrimmage that he has a better idea of who will play than of who will start.

So when Miles releases the depth chart next week, expect it to have a least a few “or” designations, meaning some spots are still too close to call — or that at least Miles doesn’t want to make the calls public.

Scrimmages were closed to the media, as were practices, except for a few minutes of individual drills during the first week of camp. So a fair amount of tea-leaf reading has to go into any evaluation of the depth chart.

Nonetheless, here’s how the Tigers seem to be shaping up, beginning with the defense, where LSU returns just three starters from last year’s team and where various packages blur the lines between the first and second teams:

Defensive line

Jermauria Rasco should be ready to go at one end for the opener after being limited in contact work because of offseason shoulder surgery. Jordan Allen, who bounced back from knee surgery last season to have a strong camp, is likely to be the other starter, but Danielle Hunter will get plenty of playing time. Tashawn Bower had the best camp among the freshman ends, and junior Justin Maclin is battling for a spot in the rotation.

Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson have held on to the starting tackle spots, and Quentin Thomas has claimed the next spot after an impressive camp. Christian LaCouture appears to be next in line, though fellow freshman Greg Gilmore could get into the mix.

Linebackers

Lamin Barrow is the centerpiece of the group, even though he starts on the strongside. He’ll be an every-down player who can handle any spot in various packages. D.J. Welter has had a very strong camp to hold off a push from Lamar Louis in the middle, and Tahj Jones has held on to the strongside spot. Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander will be the first ones off the bench on the outside and can play either side.

Freshmen Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley are caught in the logjam at linebacker, but should see plenty of action on special teams.

Secondary

Senior strong safety Craig Loston is the leader of the secondary, and Ronald Martin is the free safety. Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson are next in line, with freshman Rickey Jefferson bidding for playing time, and Miles said he expects Jefferson to get some.

Returning starters Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins remain the top corners, and freshman Tre’Davious White has impressed enough to be the top reserve. Dwayne Thomas and Derrick Raymond are next in line.

Offensive line

Perhaps the tightest battle for a starting position has been at center, where Elliott Porter appears to have held off freshman Ethan Pocic — but don’t be surprised if Pocic, whom Miles said might be athletic enough to play tight end, sees the field in the opener. The rest of the starting unit consists of left tackle La’El Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Jerald Hawkins, who has had an impressive camp.

Tight ends

First-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to use the tight ends in the passing game much more than LSU has in the past, which left this spot wide open entering camp.

Travis Dickson and Dillon Gordon figure to get the most opportunities, and freshman DeSean Smith is likely to get some playing time as the Tigers employ multiple-tight-end sets.

Wide receivers

The depth took a hit when Avery Peterson (ankle) and Armand Williams (leg) were lost indefinitely, but the top of the depth chart is unaffected, beginning with Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Travin Dural, who missed the first two scrimmages because of a sore knee but caught a touchdown pass in the third one, appears to have grabbed the third spot. Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright are still in the rotation, and freshman Kevin Spears is pushing for an opportunity. Another freshman, John Diarse, is back from an ankle injury and trying to find a niche.

Running backs

Little has changed since Jeremy Hill was reinstated and placed behind Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard on the first day of camp. Blue has had a solid camp coming back from knee surgery to reclaim the starting spot he had before being injured early last season. Miles has been vague about whether continued punishment for Hill will include sitting out the opener. In any event, Hill will be in the mix soon enough, though Hilliard is still in a strong position.

Terrence Magee’s versatility could earn him a few snaps, and don’t be surprised if freshman defensive back Jeryl Brazil gets his hands on the football occasionally to take advantage of his record-setting speed, which he honed as a high school sprinter.

Fullbacks

Cameron likes involving the fullbacks as he does the tight ends, who can line up in the backfield. Veterans J.C. Copeland and Connor Neighbors remain one-two, but freshman Melvin Jones was moved from linebacker to see if this might be an avenue to get his athleticism on the field.

Quarterback

Freshman Anthony Jennings has edged sophomore Stephen Rivers to be the primary backup to Zach Mettenberger and might even get a few snaps in the early going. Mettenberger, by all accounts, has been confident, sharp and comfortable with Cameron’s scheme.

Special teams

Colby Delahoussaye won the place-kicking job, though kickoff man James Hairston and Trent Domingue might get opportunities to try very long field goals. There was never any doubt that Jamie Keehn would be the punter, Reid Ferguson is the incumbent snapper and Seth Fruge is the holder.

Beckham will handle kickoff and punt returns, though Brazil might be back with him on kickoffs, and Dural could get an opportunity on punts.