Tigers want to put title game behind them
LSU's spring practice was all about taking the first steps toward finishing the job that the Tigers failed to finish in January.
After setting a school record by going 13-0 in the regular season, winning the SEC championship, and being ranked No. 1 most of the season, LSU came up short of its ultimate goal when it lost to Alabama, 21-0, in the BCS Championship Game.
The Tigers have enough key starters returning, enough quality depth, and enough talented newcomers to expect to make another run at the BCS title -- and perhaps win it if they get another crack at it.
"Anytime you end a season when you didn't finish the last game the way you liked, frankly you look forward to getting that feeling behind you," LSU Coach Les Miles said. "So, the next time that you take the field, it's as good a feeling for you as there is."
The quarterback position is a lot less complicated than it was last season when Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee shared the position. The job clearly belongs to junior Zach Mettenberger, who started his career at Georgia.
"Zach just needs reps," Miles said. "He has command of the huddle and it appears that he has anticipation as to where the ball is going. He's throwing it pretty well."
Mettenberger appears to be a more efficient passer than both Jefferson and Lee, and he'll have a similar supporting cast to what they had -- a strong, experienced offensive line, a deep stable of running backs and a talented though relatively inexperienced group of receivers.
LSU's defense has to replace five starters in cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor, linebackers Ryan Baker and Stefan Francois and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. The Tigers' depth has left them with multiple experienced players competing on the line and in the secondary, though the linebackers will lean on younger players.
The special teams are in good shape with outstanding kickers returning in place-kicker Drew Alleman and punter Brad Wing. Tyrann Mathieu will return punts again and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will compete to replace Claiborne as the primary kickoff returner.
-G Josh Dworaczyk, who missed last season because of a knee injury, is back after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.
-Les Miles had to replace wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, who left to become offensive coordinator at Illinois. Miles replaced him with former Oakland Raiders tight ends coach Adam Henry.
-Secondary coach Ron Cooper left to take a similar position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Miles replaced him with former LSU defensive back Corey Raymond.
WR/KR Jarvis Landry -- The sophomore appears ready to take on a more prominent role in the passing game. He was slowed in preseason camp last season by a broken foot and contributed primarily on special teams, but he's in the thick of a five-man rotation at receiver.
OL La'El Collins -- The highly regarded freshman recruit had trouble getting on the field last season as he learned to play guard in addition to his natural position at left tackle. He shouldn't have any trouble getting playing time this season and has a chance to start at left guard.
C Elliott Porter -- Miles said Porter will challenge for playing time at center. With P.J. Lonergan in his last season, Porter is being groomed to replace him.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Les Miles says LSU will throw the ball downfield more this season because of Zach Mettenberger's passing skill, but Miles is still a coach who likes a power running game that sets up the play-action pass. The Tigers are even deeper at running back with six talented runners who will operate behind a strong, experienced offensive line. Mettenberger should be able to generally operate in favorable down and distance situations, which should help a relatively young receiving corps develop.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: LSU will be strong, athletic and deep once again. Tyrann Mathieu is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country at cornerback and nickel back. Eric Reid appears ready to emerge as a star at safety as a junior. The young linebackers might have some growing pains, but a disruptive and deep line will make their job easier.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: This was a big strength for the Tigers last season and should be again next season with Drew Alleman's accuracy on place-kicks and Brad Wing's strong leg on punts leading the way. Mathieu was a Heisman finalist in part because of his explosiveness on punt returns. Miles likes to put offensive and defensive starters on special teams so the Tigers should again be loaded on their coverage units.
-LB Kwon Alexander (Oxford High School, Oxford, Ala.) -- A consensus four-star recruit despite missing most of his senior season due to a knee injury, will have to compete for playing time. But he comes in at a position where the Tigers lost three seniors and are looking for true freshmen to contribute.
-QB Jeremy Liggins (Lafayette High School, Oxford, Miss.) -- Rated as the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com and the No. 19 quarterback by Scout.com, Liggins has chance to be the primary backup to resumed starter Zach Mettenberger. Liggins is more mobile than Mettenberger and Stephens Rivers, who redshirted as a freshman last season. Cutter rushed for 1,832 yards in 10 games and saved his best for last -- a 223-yard, three-touchdown game in the 4A title game.
-LB Lorenzo Phillips (Patterson High School, Patterson, La.) -- Ranked the No. 24 linebacker in the country by Scout.com and No. 29 by Rivals.com, Phillips has a similar opportunity to Alexander. He has the speed and athleticism to contribute on special teams while he competes for playing time on defense.
-DT Josh Downs finished the spring as the player most likely to inherit Michael Brockers' starting position, though Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will also get significant playing time in the rotation.
-Les Miles praised freshman RB Jeremy Hill, who took advantage of Michael Ford's absence (knee) during the spring to make his mark.
-RB Kenny Hilliard, who emerged as one of the top running backs late in his freshman season last year, has lost about 10 pounds as he tries to add greater quickness to his power.
-RB Spencer Ware, who saw his playing time shrink the most amid Hilliard's emergence, has also lost about 10 pounds to try and improve his quickness.
-S Craig Loston, who's expected to replace Brandon Taylor as the starting strong safety, missed some time due to ankle injury. It wasn't a serious injury, but it raised some concern because Loston's first two seasons have been hampered by a variety of injuries.
-WR Kadron Boone missed nearly all of spring due to a shoulder injury, but he should be healed before the start of preseason camp.
-LB Tahj Jones, who's expected to start on the outside, missed some time due to an ankle injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Basically, it's like getting five
numbers of the Powerball, but not getting the Powerball number. You
still had a great season, but you just didn't get that last one." -- LSU
OL Josh Dworaczyk on LSU's 13-1 season that ended with a loss to
Alabama in the BCS title game.