LSU's spring drills will be in full swing in just a couple of weeks. These sessions will give everyone a peek inside the 2013 football campaign.
There are a few areas on the depth chart where the maturation of a handful of players is paramount to avoid a drop-off this fall.
With the defection of so many key players from last season's roster, many true freshmen and redshirt freshmen will be counted upon to ratchet up their game a few notches.
A few additional prospects are at the stage in their college career where the upcoming season may be their last. This opportunity is not only affording them a chance to lift their team to the elite level in college football but could prove to be an audition for countless NFL scouts whose binoculars will be trained on their every move with the 2014 draft in mind.
With the arrival of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Zach Mettenberger will certainly have even greater expectations as a senior. Yet, there are a number of candidates vying for the backup role and playing time.
One player of intrigue is senior Rob Bolden. He has now digested the LSU offensive expectations. With a year in the system since arriving from Penn State last summer, Bolden (6'4-214) has a unique skill set that is unmatched among his Tiger counterparts.
Bolden has two years of starter's experience while with the Nittany Lions and the abilities of a dual threat behind center. It would be a mild surprise if the offensive staff doesn't install a specific package to utilize his talents. I'm not predicting a two-quarterback system, but Bolden has earned the confidence of the coaches with his patience and work ethic since joining the program.
Meanwhile, most are ready to anoint sophomore running back Jeremy Hill as the starter, but keep in mind that the 2012 opening day starter is a true 'blue' talent as well. Alfred Blue returns with a truckload of skill and a point to prove following his injury-shortened season. He and Hill are almost 1A and 1B on the depth chart if Blue can return to full strength. A relentless warrior who uses every ounce of talent he has everyday, the Hahnville alum has a bright pro future.
With Michael Ford and Spencer Ware moving on to pursue NFL careers, the carries could also increase for junior Kenny Hilliard. Don't discount the contribution that junior Terrence Magee can make with reps increasing for every back. Wunable to break through in recent seasons because of the numbers game with the Tigers, Magee could be a special player in most other offenses.
Junior tight end Travis Dickson recorded just six grabs for 2012, making a couple of cameo appearances as the season wound down. More will be asked from the brother of former LSU start Richard Dickson. Yet one player who might be stepping into an excellent spot is 2013 JUCO transfer Logan Stokes. Already on campus as an early entry recruit, the 6-foot-4, 250 pounder is still a novice at the position, having moved over from defensive end a year ago. Stokes possesses the toughness and desire required to man the spot. His productivity in spring will have a profound affect on the tight end position moving forward.
The offensive line will be under close scrutiny. A player that teammates affectionately call "soldier" because of his toughness , will be a key to the line's success. Junior center Elliott Porter flashed ability in spot duty last fall. Since he lines up in such a key spot, his improvement and leadership is vital.
Senior OG Josh Williford (6'7-324) returns to the field after his concussion issues last season and is ready to reclaim his starter's role. However, sophomore Trai Turner represented himself well during Williford's absence. With the former St. Aug product in the lineup, there was little noticeable drop-off.
Another player I believe will be a factor with the starting five in the trenches is JUCO arrival Fehoko Fanaika. It appears that the 6-foot-6, 340-pound mauler is exactly what the coaches are seeking at one of the guard spots.
Unless I'm way off base in my assessment, you can expect to see La'el Collins get many meaningful reps at left tackle. He is the best athlete with the best skill set to step into that key role. But one new player that I feel you will see a lot of this spring is redshirt freshmanJerald Hawkins, who has great potential to be the long term answer on the edge. New signee OT Ethan Pocic arrives with a barrel full of talent and physical skills to potentially make an immediate splash if veteran options do not step up to the plate.
Most every Tiger fan is anxiously awaiting the emergence of more playmakers at wide receiver. A pair of juniors, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry, along with senior Kadron Boone have arrived at a point in their collective careers where it is time to display consistent, game-changing skills.
Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Travin Dural, who was ready to jump into the fray last season until an injury short-circuited that plan. Also, JUCO arrival Quantavious Leslie is being compared to former LSU playmaker Demetrius Byrd. Both could step into the lineup right away to provide deep-threats.
On defense, three players that I expect to hear a lot about during spring drills are sophomore DE Danielle Hunter (6'4-245), junior DT Ego Ferguson (6'3-308) and a 2013 signee, early arrival Christian Lacouture.
Hunter has, quietly, demonstrated the talent to be a solid contributor, if not more, with impressive physical attributes. Lacouture (6'5-290) is expected to be afforded opportunities at both DE and DT due to a solid mix of strenght and quickness with a hot motor. Ferguson steps into a spot where there is a pressing need. He has seen minimal playing time the last two seasons behind Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan. The much-heralded 2009 signee out of Frederick, Maryland in line to start with a chance to justify all the previous lofty expectations.
Hopefully, senior LB Lamin Barrow will assume the leadership baton from Kevin Minter. The former John Ehret product has made a steady ascent since he stepped foot on the campus in 2009. He will be heavily counted upon not only by contributing with on field statistics, but more importantly, as a team leader. Prior to last season, Barrow was a spot player with his primary contribution coming on special teams. He could move into Minter's vacant middle linebacker spot.
Debo Jones was a special teams dynamo in '12, demonstrating playmaking skills periodically on defense when given spot duty. Fellow sophomores Lamar Louis, Ronnie Feist, Kwon Alexander and Lorenzo Phillips join Jones in a young group with a bevy of athletic talent and speed necessary to build a national top ranked defensive unit.
Despite losses in the secondary like Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon, the '13 version could prove to be equal, if not better in the long run.
Sophomores Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins man the corner spots, with senior Craig Loston expected to carry on the tradition of outstanding safeties produced in Tigertown. Sophomore safety Micah Eugene has apparently only scratched the surface and could emerge as a gladiator that attracts accolades nationwide. He has special skills. Ronald Martin is another sophomore who far exceeded expectations in 2012 and will be a key component in the defense's improvement this spring.
Two 2012 signees, cornerback Dwayne Thomas and safety Corey Thompson, gained more experience last fall on special teams, but both are said to be ready for the next step.
Thomas (6'0-178), an O.P. Walker High product, is extremely confident with playmaking skills and a 'Honey Badger' swagger on the field. Thompson will receive ample opportunity to showcase his talent at safety this spring. He has top speed (4.5) with a 39 " vertical yet brings a physical presence and a football I.Q. to the table.
Not yet on campus though may be the most talented member of the LSU secondary. Tre'Davious White from Green Oaks High in Shreveport is described as a natural cornerback with the ability to change games. It would not be a shock if he forces his way into significant time as a true freshman despite the established youth already at that spot. But he cannot make his mark until August.
The rest of the 2013 incoming class, expected to arrive in June, along with the players previously mentioned will make the prognosis for the perhaps underrated current Tigers even more enticing for 2013.
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