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Spring Practice Primer: LSU

By Matt Smith
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For a second consecutive offseason, LSU is dealing with a mass exodus of underclassmen.

2013 Record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC); defeated Iowa in Outback Bowl

Offensive Returning Starters: 5 (TE Dillon Gordon, LT La’El Collins, LG Vadal Alexander, C Elliott Porter, RT Jerald Hawkins)

Defensive Returning Starters: 7 (DE Jermauria Rasco, DE Danielle Hunter, LB Kwon Alexander, LB D.J. Welter, CB Tre’Davious White, CB Jalen Mills, S Ronald Martin)

First Practice: Mar. 8

Spring Game: Apr. 5

Three Storylines

1. Adieu, Bayou – Early defections to the NFL are nothing new at LSU. The six this year is down significantly from 10 after the 2012 season. But the backfield and outside positions have been completely gutted with Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Hill and Jarvis Landry all leaving early along with seniors Zach Mettenberger and J.C. Copeland. The three departing juniors accounted for 35 touchdowns last season.

The Tigers are not completely green under center, as sophomore Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl after Mettenberger tore his ACL and led the team to a victory. Sophomore receiver Travin Dural needs to take a major step forward after catching seven passes as a freshman, most notably the game-winning touchdown in a thrilling victory over Arkansas on Black Friday. No other returning wide receiver had more than one catch last season.

2. Freak Out – After a bit of a slow start to his college career, defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson produced a second-team All-SEC junior season, helping the Tigers again finish in the top 15 in the nation in total defense. Johnson and fellow mass of humanity Ego Ferguson left early for the NFL, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the LSU defense.

The good news? The Tigers had a similar problem a year ago when they lost starters Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. Who can do this year what Johnson and Ferguson did last year? One likely “next man in” is sophomore Christian LaCouture. Between his size (6’5”, 300 pounds) and last name, LaCouture is a perfect fit for an LSU defensive tackle. He played in all 13 games last season after enrolling in January. As for the other tackle position, keep an eye on Greg Gilmore, who redshirted last year.

3. Identity Crisis – What were the 2013 LSU Tigers? They looked so good at times, handing Auburn its only regular-season loss in dominant fashion. Every NFL Draftnik’s criticism of Johnny Manziel begins with how he fared against LSU in a 34-10 loss. But then there was the loss at Ole Miss against a Rebels defense playing without half of its starting defense. The Tigers needed a miracle to defeat 3-9 Arkansas just six days after the trouncing of Texas A&M.

The hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator last year made perfect sense given the pieces with which LSU had to work. Things are much different now, as the Tigers look to reload at the offensive skill positions. Cameron doesn’t have the tools that he had a year ago. Will head coach Les Miles desire a return to the more conservative approach of the pre-Cameron years? The LSU offense is at a bit of a crossroads as spring practice commences.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.