LOVE: After Further Review
The best position battles entering LSU Fall Camp
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
Following a haunting summer for NCAA football with nightmarish headlines and storylines that just wouldn’t stop, we’re finally on the doorstep of LSU Football Fall Camp, a point of positivity.
Players are scheduled to report to campus next Wednesday, Aug. 3, with the first practice on the Ponderosa slated for the following day, Thursday, Aug. 4.
One of the things Tiger fans are always excited about this time of year is watching players, especially newcomers, duke it out in practice for the chance to earn a starting role.
It may be a stretch to call these competitions “position battles,” largely because LSU can platoon multiple players at so many of these spots, but it is interesting, nonetheless, to forecast the areas where the competitions are the most heated.
Some of the identified battles below are for openings left by graduating seniors/departed juniors from the 2010 team while others simply involve increased competition for ‘10 starting incumbents.
Without further ado, here are my top-five position battles entering LSU Fall Camp.
Of the five position competitions, this one is the most predetermined heading into August, which is why it’s ranked the lowest. Faulk (6-6, 316), a redshirt sophomore who started two SEC games a season ago, is the starter at left tackle, replacing the NFL-bound Joe Barksdale, as LSU goes into Fall Camp. He manned that position during spring practice, and O-Line coach Greg Studrawa was quite pleased with his progress.
But, as Studrawa pointed out to Tiger Rag Radio this summer, Collins (6-4, 315) will certainly spice up the competition and is expected to vie for snaps once the season begins. The true freshman mauler from Redemptorist is a big part of the offensive line of the future for LSU. The question is how soon will the future come?
Prediction: Faulk wins the job, but Collins plays meaningful time subbing in at both tackle spots in 2011
A quick bonus addition to my No. 5 pick - watch out for the battle at left guard. Senior Josh Dworaczyk (6-6, 295) has been the presumed starter, reprising his 2010 role, but after missing all spring recovering from a scoped knee, Dworaczyk has competition in the form of fellow senior T-Bob Hebert (6-3, 280), according to Studrawa. Hebert is a capable back-up at three O-Line spots: both guard positions and center.
Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard, both kicking off their junior seasons at LSU, return to fill starter’s shoes at the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receiver positions. The Tigers also have the luxury of flexing out athletic senior tight end Deangelo Peterson to fill a void in the slot. But Les Miles and position coach Billy Gonzales will be looking to a flock of talented freshman and sophomores for at least one more player to emerge from the wide-out pack (especially if Shepard is ruled out of the opener vs. Oregon, something Miles said Wednesday he didn’t expect to happen).
The leading candidates to step up at receiver: Sophomores Kadron Boone (6-0, 202) and James Wright (6-2, 197) as well as true freshmen Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11, 175) and Jarvis Landry (5-11, 190). Landry, the five-star physical receiver from Lutcher, will have to overcome a stress fracture in his foot, which will likely keep him out the first two to three weeks of Fall Camp. There have been rave reviews on Beckham Jr. thus far in team 7-on-7 drills, so expect him to compete for time in the slot with returning players Boone and Wright, each of whom saw time (catching a combined six passes) in 2010.
Prediction: All four play in 2011, but the most consistent impact players are Boone and Landry (though don’t sleep on Wright catching the occasional deep ball)
With Kelvin Sheppard and his 311 career tackles off to the Buffalo Bills, it’s time for someone to step up and stake claim to the middle linebacker position at LSU. Minter (6-1, 225), a redshirt sophomore, was tabbed the first player with the opportunity to do so beginning in the spring. He’s a stout run defender who could help plug holes in the middle, but Minter does lack the speed and mobility necessary to play either outside ‘backer position.
Barrow (6-2, 221), on the other hand, is a more fluid player. In his redshirt freshman campaign a season ago, Barrow has the preferred fourth option at linebacker, occasionally coming in to spell Stefoin Francois on the strongside. Exiting spring drills it appeared Barrow, who was also cross-training to work some in the middle, would be the next option in line at Mike linebacker should Minter falter. The closer Fall Camp gets, the more it seems Barrow is gaining on Minter. John Chavis like Barrow a lot. It’s really just a question of whether to line him up in the middle or on the strongside (where he’d be competing with Karnell Hatcher).
Prediction: Minter starts the season in the middle, but Barrow makes more noise in the LB corps in 2011
Like the No. 3 wide receiver position, there are four guys who will legitimately fight for one spot (opposite sure-fire starter Michael Brockers). Unlike the third wide-out role, which is somewhat of a novelty in a run-first offense, an every-down defensive tackle is one of the most important gaps LSU must fill this fall. The good news? Here, more than any other position, the Tigers can platoon players in, using the experience and toughness of junior Josh Downs (6-1, 278) on passing situations and then employing the sheer size and brute strength of freshman Anthony Johnson (listed at 6-3, 294, but heavier) against the run.
Ferguson (6-3, 286), a redshirt freshman, and Logan (6-3, 280), a redshirt sophomore, provide two additional options in the effort to replace graduating seniors Pep Levingston and Drake Nevis. When Downs was unable to play in the Spring Game with an ankle injury, it was actually Logan who stepped in as a starter next to Brockers. Platoon-style may ultimately be the name of the game for this bunch, but the competition to get over on the next guy will be highly evident this Fall Camp.
Prediction: Downs wins the starting role and will stay there all year if he can remain healthy, but Johnson and Logan - in that order - will play frequently, spelling Downs
This is the best of LSU’s position battles in Fall Camp 2011. Both are jacked-up, strong guys, who in a lot of places might be given a look as outside linebackers. Both can run to the football with tremendous downhill speed. And both gained invaluable experience in the latter half of 2010 when they filled in for the injured Brandon Taylor
Taylor is now back from his foot injury and will man one safety position. The question remains who will line up across from the senior in the back. The answer, ultimately, is that both Loston and Reid will see significant snaps, but on paper there’s only one starting spot. Loston (6-2, 200) ran with the ones throughout spring drills, but that’s due in large part to the fact that Reid (6-2, 207) tweaked an ankle in the opening practice of spring. It should be fun to watch these two versatile players compete for time this Fall Camp in a secondary that ranks as LSU’s deepest, most-talented unit.
Prediction: Reid wins the starting role as a slightly better cover guy, but both he and Loston play with regularity throughout the entire season
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Not Receiving Votes: Most of the time, when a poll ends, you see the “Also Receiving Votes” category, meant to denote teams on the brink of entering the rankings. This brief note is quite the opposite, merely debunking the myth of a “position battle” many believe exists that in all actuality is more of an understood partnership.
The notion that true sophomore cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu (5-9, 180) and Tharold Simon (6-3, 190, pictured left) are battling for just one spot (and that only the winner will play this coming fall) is a foolish one, and I’ve heard it too much since spring ball ended. Both are extremely gifted, though distinctly different players who will play in concert with one another in 2011.
Mathieu’s pedigree as a true lockdown corner enables him to play well on the outside, and, as he proved in 2010, he can be an unparalleled disruptive force on the inside. Simon has the unique ability to run well and keep stride deep with receivers for a player with long arms who is bordering on 6-4. Combine these two elements, and LSU fans should expect to see a lot of Mathieu and Simon together on the field at the same time when the Tigers go into nickel, dime and Mustang packages. Which, given down and distance, should be a lot.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.