Baton Rouge -- The Tigers are getting used to early offseason starts, kicking off last year’s spring practice on March 1 before moving to a March 11 start this season.
“I kind of like it, because everyone has been doing their conditioning drills and 7-on-7 workouts and now we are ready to put the pads back on,” said rising senior Karnell Hatcher.
The media wasn’t allowed inside the fences of the Ponderosa on Friday, seeing Miles close opening day in an afternoon practice that stretched until 6 p.m.
On Saturday things change when Miles opens the gate and allows the cameras to roll in and, for the first time since last fall, film his team as they work through practice.
After catching up with a few players following Friday’s session, here are some notes to take into the spring.
1) Karnell Hatcher, who started at safety as a junior, has officially been moved to outside linebacker, working on the strongside and splitting reps with Stefoin Francois, who started every game at the position last fall. Hatcher, now up from 210 to 225 pounds, said that defensive coordinator John Chavis first approached him about the move a little over two weeks ago. “He was telling me that the position really fits me,” Hatcher said. “Instead of going nickel all the time we can stay in our base fronts. I am athletic enough to play those coverages.”
2) Ryan Baker will stay at weakside linebacker, meaning a first-time starter will fill the void left by Kelvin Sheppard. The lead horse according to Baker and Hatcher was Kevin Minter, who took reps with the first-team on Friday. Lamin Barrow backed up Minter, and D.J. Welter worked in the third spot.
3) Zach Mettenberger has already made his impression on the receivers during 7-on-7 drills, which has benefited them in getting to know the Junior College transfer’s throwing style, a certain change of pace from Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. “Zach is somebody who has a long release, and it flings off real quick,” said Russell Shepard. “It’s something that as receivers it takes a while to get used to, but we definitely got used to it.”
4) Offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk did not practice on Friday and won’t be with the team during the first half of spring. “I hope to be back sometime before it ends, that’s the goal,” he said. “It’s my left knee that is bothering me, and really it is just wear and tear from the long season. I’m trying to keep working and get back to full strength as soon as I can.” T-Bob Hebert, who started at right guard last season, has stepped into Dworaczyk’s left guard spot for the time being.
5) Defensive end Sam Montgomery, who went down with a knee injury in the Tennessee game last season and missed the entire season, said that he does not plan to practice with contact this spring. “There is no point in me rushing it, because that’s risking me getting hurt and then that would hurt LSU,” he said. Montgomery plans to continue with conditioning and weight lifting workouts, as well as a number of no-contact workouts with defensive line coach Brick Haley. Montgomery is expected to return to full contact by fall camp.
6) Spencer Ware returned from his stint with the baseball team to lead the running back group on Friday, though the sophomore said that he is hesitant to put the label of starter on at this stage. “I think it’s wide open, and that’s how I want it because it makes us all work hard,” he said. “We all took even reps (Friday), so it’s up to us to see who wins out.” Alfred Blue, Michael Ford, Jakhari Gore and Kenny Hilliard are the other running backs in contention for playing time. J.C. Copeland, who spelled walk-on James Stampley at fullback in 2010, worked with the first-team on Friday. “I think I’m in line to get the start,” said Copeland, a former defensive lineman. “I miss the other side of the ball, but this is where my path has taken me. I have to make the most of it, and that’s what I’m doing.”