LOVE: Projecting the starters for 2011
An early look at who’s back and who fills in the holes
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
It’s true that some things in life - marriage, judgment, celebration - can be rushed into too quickly. Done too early.
Thankfully, when it comes to football in the South (and in particular Louisiana), there is no such thing as too early.
With that in mind, it seems the timing is right to drop Tiger Rag’s projected depth chart and starting 22 for 2011, a campaign in which ball will not meet toe for 275 more days (Sept. 3).
But before LSU can get to Dallas to take on the Oregon Ducks, there are a plethora of hurdles and checkpoints in the interim.
First up is the bowl game to cap off the 2010 season. Then, the team will finalize its incoming recruiting class on National Signing Day the first Wednesday in February. Spring practices, 7-on-7 ball in the summer and fall camp in August round out the agenda prior to kickoff in Jerry World.
All of these events will uniquely shape the starting line-up and depth chart given below.
- The offense is listed in an I-formation set with one tight end and two wide receivers.
- The defense is listed in coordinator John Chavis’ traditional 4-3 base line-up.
- In the offensive and defensive depth charts, players separated by commas indicate movement from first to second string and second to third and so on. Any time players are connected by the capital word “AND,” I’m projecting those two will split time starting or rotate in together with the first team.
- Offensively, the depth chart includes several players predicted to sign with LSU in the ‘11 recruiting class. Some are current verbal commitments (like La’el Collins) while others are not (like Butler Community College QB Zach Mettenberger and his wide receiver at Butler, Marcus Kennard, who LSU has offered as well), and I am merely speculating on their signatures based on the latest I’m hearing.
- Ditto defensively. Although verbal commitment Anthony “Freak” Johnson out of O.P. Walker is the only player I feel certain will crack the two-deep in ‘11 from the current crop of recruited defenders.
- I’ll provide some brief notes after each section, detailing some variations in the starting line-ups and how certain players could be shifted around.
DEPTH CHART: OFFENSE
QB - Jordan Jefferson AND Zach Mettenberger, Jarrett Lee
FB - Spencer Ware, Brandon Worle, James Stampley
HB - Stevan Ridley, Michael Ford, Jeremy Hill
WR (X) - Rueben Randle, Marcus Kennard, James Wright
WR (Z) - Russell Shepard, Chris Tolliver, Kadron Boone
TE - Deangelo Peterson, Chase Clement
LT - Chris Faulk AND La’el Collins
LG - Josh Dworaczyk, Matt Branch, Evan Washington
C - P.J. Lonergan, T-Bob Hebert, Will Blackwell
RG - Will Blackwell, Josh Williford, T-Bob Hebert
RT - Alex Hurst, Greg Shaw
STARTING LINE-UP: OFFENSE
I’ll start with the most important position: quarterback. Anyone who follows LSU football knows the Tigers are making the hard push to land former Georgia signal caller Zach Mettenberger. While many feel he could be the “savior” of sorts at the position, there’s not much in Les Miles’ background which shows he anxiously rushes first-year quarterbacks onto the field (unless his hand is forced because of something like the Perrilloux debacle). Given that, I feel Miles’ loyalties to Jordan Jefferson will shine through and No. 9 will enter the season as the starter, splitting time with Mettenberger. Is that how Miles should handle it? Maybe not. Is that how I predict he will handle it? Yup, there’s little doubt in my mind. Only one thing changes the above sentiment, and that is if Mettenberger comes in during the spring and blows the doors off the competition. Then and only then might Jefferson - who will be a senior, mind you - take a back seat.
Looking for an impact true freshman on offense? Start with tackle La’el Collins. It’s entirely possible Collins steps into Joe Barksdale’s left tackle position from game one and doesn’t leave until he deems it’s time to go pro. That wouldn’t surprise anyone, which tells you how good the Redemptorist product is. For my money, though, I believe O-Line coach Greg Studrawa and the offense begins with Chris Faulk at the position, but rotates Collins in with regularity. Essentially, Faulk, Collins and Alex Hurst (and to a lesser extent, Greg Shaw) are the main guys at the tackle positions. Hurst won’t play on the left side, so the battle between Faulk and Collins should be an interesting one.
DEPTH CHART: DEFENSE
DE - Ken Adams, KeKe Mingo, Ego Ferguson
DT - Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan, Chris Davenport
RT - Anthony Johnson AND Josh Downs, Dennis Johnson
RE - Sam Montgomery, Lavar Edwards, Chancey Aghayere
WLB - Ryan Baker, Lamin Barrow, Justin Maclin
MLB - Kevin Minter, D.J. Welter
SLB - Stefoin Francois, Tahj Jones, Luke Muncie
CB - Mo Claiborne, Ron Brooks, Ryan St. Julien
CB - Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon, Ronnie Vinson
SS - Brandon Taylor, Craig Loston
FS - Karnell Hatcher, Eric Reid
STARTING LINE-UP: DEFENSE
The defense, replacing stalwarts Drake Nevis, Patrick Peterson and Kelvin Sheppard, has more variables than the offense. The most interesting to me is the phenomenon that is Tyrann Mathieu. While there’s no questioning his cover skills (he was tabbed one of the best pure cover corners to come out of Louisiana in some time), we all found out in ‘10 that the guy is a beast coming off the edge as a nickel or dime-package blitzer. Seriously, as far as I’m concerned, that was the defensive revelation of the year. That’s something I believe Chavis and the ‘D’ aren’t exactly anxious to hang up by putting Mathieu strictly on his own Peterson-like island. My point: Don’t be surprised if the likes of Ron Brooks, Tharold Simon or Ronnie Vinson are playing opposite starter Mo Claiborne a lot at corner, while Chavis continues to find interesting ways to use Mathieu on the interior, lined up on slot receivers. Don’t get me wrong, Mathieu will take a ton of snaps at cornerback, but I think his flexibility gives Chavis a number of options.
Earlier, on offense, we talked about the possibilities of La’el Collins lacing up first-string shoes at left tackle in year one. On defense, his equivalent is Anthony “Freak” Johnson. With Nevis and Pep Levingston departed at tackles, Johnson’s opportunity to take snaps off the bat is there. Sure, Michael Brockers projects as a starter at one defensive tackle position, but after that, Josh Downs is the only returning player who will compete with Johnson. I think the two - Downs and Johnson - will split time as the curtain rises on the season. Also, don’t be shocked if Lavar Edwards slides down and plays some tackle, too (a similar transition to the one Levingston made this season).
Finally, at safety, there’s been talk for over a year of Karnell Hatcher moving down to a linebacker position (channeling his inner-Harry Coleman), but I’m not sure the trigger’s ever gonna get pulled on that one. If so, Hatcher would most likely step in for Stefoin Francois at Sam linebacker. For now at least, don’t expect it. Expect Hatcher and Brandon Taylor to reprise this year’s starting safety tandem - for the times when both were healthy, that is - and give LSU two seniors in the back. Out of the next two in line, Craig Loston and Eric Reid, I think Reid has the current leg-up as a more complete player against both the pass and run.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.