Spring practice begins today
Tiger Rag’s guide to all things LSU football as spring ball begins
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
For many in south Louisiana, today marks the first Friday in Lent. And while you may have to give up meat, the good news is there’ll be a big helping of LSU football on the way to satisfy your cravings.
First up on the menu is Friday’s afternoon practice (tentatively set for 4 p.m.), the first of 15 spring practices Les Miles will put his Tigers through leading up to the Spring Game on April 9.
Here’s the practice schedule over that span:
Week 1: March 11, 12
Week 2: March 15, 17, 19
Week 3: March 22, 24, 26
Week 4: March 29, 31, April 2
Week 5: April 5, 6, 7, 9 (Spring Game)
Also, LSU will host its annual Pro Timing Day on Monday, Mar. 14, which will feature 2010 Tiger seniors as well as juniors Patrick Peterson and Stevan Ridley, both of whom have declared for April’s NFL Draft.
Back to the current edition of LSU football.
The last time the team was in action in the public eye was during the Jan. 7 beat down (41-24) of Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Since then, a lot has changed.
The two aforementioned juniors tossed their names in the hat for the NFL Draft, although Peterson’s decision was more expected than Ridley’s. The end result is a team which will now have to backfill at cornerback and running back (more on this in a bit).
Of course, as some players exit the revolving door, others enter in the world of college football. The annual re-stocking day for teams around the country, National Signing Day (on Feb. 2 this year), was very good to LSU. The Tigers gained 22 signees in 2011, and three - JuCo QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Kenny Hilliard and DT Anthony Johnson - are early enrollees, having been on campus since January and now able to practice with the rest of the squad.
Here’s a more in-depth view of LSU’s Class of 2011, complete with sizes, 40-times, high schools attended, interviews with high school coaches, etc.
Joining the new faces under the helmets will be a couple of new mugs on the sidelines, namely those of offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.
Kragthorpe, who was hired Jan. 20 to replace outgoing coordinator Gary Crowton (who took the same position at Maryland), will lead an offense which has been dreadful through the air the past two seasons. Both he and head coach Les Miles have indicated one of the primary goals of this spring is to work toward becoming “more efficient” in the passing game, particularly the quick-strike vertical attack.
CLICK HERE to read more from Kragthorpe’s first press conference in Baton Rouge.
McGaughey, who served the last four seasons as assistant special teams coach for the New York Giants, is a more recent addition. Just this week, Miles tabbed the former University of Houston player to replace Joe Robinson (who is now the defensive line coach at UNC). Among McGaughey’s first challenges in purple and gold will be grooming Drew Alleman to replace Josh Jasper and Derek Helton and finding the right players to fill in for Peterson in the return game.
With Kragthorpe and McGaughey in the mix, LSU has now filled all of its vacancies on the coaching staff.
CLICK HERE for the full list of LSU coaches for the upcoming 2011 season.
Other happenings in the last two months or so: RB Spencer Ware has joined the baseball team, but will be back in pads for the entirety of spring football practice before re-joining the team after April 9 … LSU proposed salary bumps for a number of assistants, including Steve Ensminger, Brick Haley, Tommy Moffitt and Greg Studrawa, many of whom were sought after by other programs following the Cotton Bowl … Miles announced Karnell Hatcher is likely making the move from safety down to outside linebacker … Moffitt has put the players through offseason work-outs, and the team has also conducted its customary 7-on-7 drills (on their own accord, coaches can’t attend or view) … Finally, and undoubtedly the biggest moment since Jan. 7, Miles ultimately decided to return for his seventh season and beyond in Tiger Town.
As for the make-up of the 2011 team, I’ve written two articles in the recent past projecting the starters and the depth chart. I’ll share those with you again now.
Obviously, from the December write-up to the one in January, a lot changed. Certain high school/JuCo prospects opted to commit (and ultimately sign) elsewhere while players like Ridley decided to turn pro. Still, it’s interesting to view this thing as an evolution, spying who moves up the depth chart and who moves where, position-wise, as the 2011 season approaches.
I touched on a lot of that with my column on Tuesday of this week, telling you what to expect from LSU spring practice, particularly in the early going with several players out (Mo Claiborne, Sam Montgomery, Brandon Taylor) due to injury.
Here’s a complete view of the 2011 LSU Football roster, with heights and weights coming directly from the LSU Sports Information Department.
Finally, here’s some lagniappe on the Tigers and college football at large as spring football finally kicks off in Baton Rouge.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Most interesting position battle: For now, it’s QB. But come fall, when La’el Collins joins the team, it’s left tackle as the Redemptorist product competes with redshirt sophomore Chris Faulk.
Most interesting position battle Pt. 2: How about the battle to see who gets the inside track at DT? Michael Brockers figures to be a given in the starting line-up, but it’ll be interesting to see how Josh Downs, Ego Ferguson, Anthony Johnson and possibly even Chris Davenport compete in the race to line up next to Brockers.
Most improved position from last season: May be a toss-up between safety and wide receiver. First, let’s go to the defensive side. Once everyone’s back to full strength in terms of injury, it’ll be fun to watch the pairing of Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid (my pick to be the two starters come season’s beginning). Taylor was injured in the latter portion of last season and Hatcher was hurt at the beginning and struggled toward the end, so there’s new life at safety in 2011 (where Craig Loston also lurks). At wide-out, the improvement may simply be due to new blood slinging them the pigskin at quarterback. Of course, that depends on how Mettenberger fares against his competition. Also, Jarvis Landry coming over in the fall certainly helps the receiving corps a great deal.
Biggest drop-off, position-wise, from last season: Until proven otherwise, linebacker. The loss of senior Mike ‘backer Kelvin Sheppard is huge, emotionally and from a sheer production standpoint. Returning emerging 2010 star Ryan Baker helps the cause, but the Stefoin Francois/Karnell Hatcher combo has to step up, as does whoever fills the shoes in the middle (Kevin Minter or D.J. Welter, most likely).
Five players flying under the radar: 1. Ego Ferguson, DT; 2. D.J. Welter, LB; 3. Chris Tolliver, WR; 4. Tharold Simon, CB; 5. Craig Loston, S
TIGER RAG PRE-SPRING TOP 25
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.