10 questions for spring

What are the burning questions for spring practice? TigerSportsDigest.com takes a look at what topics will dominate spring football.

1. How will Zach Mettenberger handle the starting quarterback duties?

There's no battle under center this spring, meaning no energy spent arguing which quarterback best suits LSU's needs to make it back to the National Championship Game.

The stage is set for Zach Mettenberger

After a year spent sitting behind Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, and more importantly learning the playbook under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe, Mettenberger takes the reins with a bit of steam.

By all accounts, Mettenberger has the consistent combination of confidence and ability that seemed to elude both Jefferson and Lee. With an experienced offensive line, a stable of elite running backs and a crop of talented young wide receivers, the offense seems set for success.

Of course, despite stops at two SEC schools, Mettenberger has yet to log any significant minutes in a conference game, which makes spring practice – an opportunity for Mettenberger to get his first reps with the first-team – paramount for one of the SEC's most promising passers.

2. What running backs will jump to the front of the rotation?

The most burning question from this group has to be about Spencer Ware. Has the one-time heir apparent to the go-to running back tag fallen out of favor with the staff?

With the emergence of rising sophomore Kenny Hilliard, it appears that is the case.

Hilliard broke onto the scene with 340 yards on 62 carries (5.4 yards per carry) last season and tied Ware for a team-high rushing touchdowns (8) despite 115 fewer carries.

If Hilliard is the flavor of the week as far as bigger backs go, how does running backs coach Frank Wilson deal out the rest of the carries?

In the run to the BCS Championship Game, Michael Ford led the team in yards (772) and scored 7 rushing touchdowns. The other veteran piece, rising junior Alfred Blue, recorded the best yards per carry mark (6.9) of any of the backs, rushing for 543 yards and 7 touchdowns on just 78 attempts.

And what about rising sophomore Terrance Magee and incoming freshman Jeremy Hill, a pair of dark horses in a crowded backfield?

Magee got his feet wet with 136 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries last fall. Hill, who sat out from football last semester after being ranked by Scout.com as the top Louisiana running back prospect in the 2011 class, will likely not be redshirted, meaning touches should come Hill's way early in his freshman campaign.

3. What will the front five on offense look like?

Chris Faulk is set to start on the blindside

As expected, with an experienced offensive line, there are some givens.

With 24 starts under his belt, the center position belongs to rising senior P.J. Lonergan. Chris Faulk has proved his worth at left tackle, and Alex Hurst, one of Miles' favorite names to drop when talking the big men up front, will likely return to his post at right tackle.

Predicting the starting guard spots is where things get tricky.

If Miles and Studrawa go back to the look from last fall, expect Josh Williford at right guard. In 2011, the 6-foot-7, 324-pound Williford bucked fifth-year senior T-Bob Hebert from a starting spot on the right side, teaming up with Hurst to give the Tigers 664 pounds to run behind on the right side.

But will it be sophomore La'el Collins or sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk at left guard?

Dworaczyk provides experience, a veteran guard who logged 26 straight starts before going down with an injury last offseason, which kept him sidelined all of 2011. At the same time, he missed an entire season and hasn't participated in an offseason camp since 2010.

Collins, one of the top-ranked prep linemen in the 2011 class, provides promise for the future, but hasn't logged any minutes outside of mop-up duty in a non-conference bout last fall.

With Dworaczyk set to miss all of spring practice as he continues to rehab, this is a chance for Collins to take the starting spot and run with it.

4. With Rueben Randle gone for the NFL, which receivers will emerge as Mettenberger's go-to targets?

There is a new wide receivers coach in town, meaning the crop of receivers in Baton Rouge get a chance to wipe the slate clean with first-year assistant Adam Henry.

Senior Russell Shepard flirted with the idea of putting his name into the NFL Draft, but quickly backed away from the notion and reaffirmed his decision to return to school for a fourth season.

With only 190 yards receiving in 14 games, Shepard quietly scored four touchdowns on 14 catches last fall. LSU offensive coaches have long promised to get Shepard more involved, but could the arrival of Henry bring a voice that helps the fourth-year quarterback turned receiver find more touches?

With a pure passer under center, the wide receivers will likely have more of a role in 2012, and the depth behind Shepard comes down to a pair of juniors vs. a pair of sophomores.

Is this the year Russell Shepard breaks out?

Kadron Boone and James Wright have been in the program two seasons, but any favoritism gained working under former wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales is now out the window.

Given the pair combined for only 12 catches last fall, the door could be open for Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, two Louisiana-born wide receivers who saw playing time as true freshman last season.

Regardless of the order the aforementioned get to the field, Mettenberger shouldn't have any shortage of targets, an offensive strength that should shine through during spring workouts.

5. Who replaces DeAngelo Peterson and Mitch Joseph as the pass-catching and blocking tight ends?

In what was widely considered a disappointing senior season, Peterson caught 18 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, leaving armchair offensive coordinators wondering how the Tigers managed to allow an athlete in the mold of Peterson slip through the cracks during conversations of offensive game plan.

The immediate replacement appears to be Chase Clement, though Clement has always been labeled as more of a run blocker than receiver – which shined through last season when Clement shared duties with Joseph, the chief blocking tight end headed into 2011.

Who else fills in when LSU goes to its' usual two-tight end sets?

Redshirt sophomores Travis Dickson and Nic Jacobs jump to the forefront of the conversation this spring, with Dickson representing the H-back option and Jacobs playing the role of pure pass blocker.

In fall camp last August, Jacobs showed off the results of two years spent under strength and conditioning coordinator Tommy Moffitt, flashing big-time strength and a transformed body. Headed into spring ball, Jacobs likely holds a slight edge over the field.

6. Which young Tigers will step into the open spots on the defensive line?

LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley has helped sign some impressive talent in the trenches, and now it's time for those prospects to turn into players in his the rotation.

With 12 tackles and a sack in spot duty as a freshman, Anthony Johnson is set to replace Michael Brockers as the starting defensive tackle alongside junior Bennie Logan.

Who steps in opposite Sam Montgomery at defensive end?

Barkevious Mingo has proven his worth as a reliable pass rusher, and he should be the other defensive end in Haley's starting lineup.

Jermauria Rasco, who recorded 17 tackles and two sacks as a freshman, is another lead candidate, filling in ahead of seniors like Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards.

Mingo will likely line up opposite of Montgomery at DE

It's also worth keeping an eye on sophomores Justin Maclin and Jordan Allen, though the pair was silent in 2011 when they combined for just three stops.

On the inside, Haley likes to go at least four deep with his rotation of tackles, meaning the race is on for the two spots behind Logan and Johnson.

Senior Josh Downs is an experienced body in the middle, and given his abilities to get into the backfield on the pass rush, he should secure time in the rotation.

The spring should decide who else works themselves into Haley's favor. Other candidates: sophomore Ego Ferguson and redshirt freshmen Mickey Johnson and Quentin Thomas.

7. Will current scholarship linebackers hold off the crop of incoming freshmen?

Seniors Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois entered last season as the starting three linebackers, though junior Kevin Minter eventually supplanted Hatcher – a converted safety – at middle linebacker.

If Minter remains a starter, who are the outside linebackers that defensive coordinator John Chavis goes with first?

Spring practice will be huge for the current scholarship linebackers, because come June, seven linebackers who signed with LSU in February will be on campus and with the team for workouts. Two of those linebackers – Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis – are already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.

While there are no seniors in the group, Chavis has a handful of linebackers that have been working with him for at least two seasons.

Juniors Josh Johns, Luke Muncie, Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones have gotten a majority of their practice reps at outside linebacker, and the starting pair will more than likely come from the group.

8. Who is next in line at cornerback?

When Patrick Peterson checked out of LSU after his junior season, the Tigers transitioned with ease last offseason, bumping Morris Claiborne to the No. 1 cornerback spot and Tharold Simon to the No. 2 cornerback spot, which allowed Tyrann Mathieu to remain as an extra defensive back in nickel and dime sets.

If Chavis has any intent on allowing Mathieu to continue to roam free, recently hired defensive backs coach Corey Raymond will have to go searching for a No. 2 cornerback to replace Simon, who would be bumped up to the top cornerback slot.

Redshirt freshmen David Jenkins and Jalen Collins have the high school hype behind them, and both have filled out physically considerably since arriving to campus last summer. More than likely, the race this offseason will be between the two.

If Mathieu stays in one of the top two cornerback spots, keep an eye on redshirt freshman Micah Eugene, a Mathieu-like high school player who was known for his physical nature during a Class 5A state title run with Acadiana in 2010, to step in as an option in nickel and dime.

Can Ronald Martin make a push at Craig Loston's SS spot?

9. Is Craig Loston the future alongside Eric Reid at safety?

Though he played in 11 games last fall, Loston didn't record a single start in the secondary and totaled only 14 stops during the reps he was given.

After Loston entered the program three seasons ago as a five-star prospect, the junior hasn't found his way in the LSU system, a player often missing from action just as quickly as Miles and the defensive staff hype him up after a midweek practice.

Fellow junior Eric Reid's spot at free safety is likely as locked up as anyone's on the defensive side, meaning it's on Loston to fend off any competition at strong safety.

While incoming freshman Corey Thompson is set to step in and compete in fall camp, the spring will give sophomores Sam Gibson, Ronald Martin and Ron Vinson a chance to make their first impressions on Raymond, who arrived to the LSU campus and was introduced to the players on Wednesday.

10. Can the group overcome Jan. 9?

This one is simple.

Instead of a marquee opener like North Carolina or Oregon, LSU will be motivated by what happened in its' last game, a 21-0 shutout by Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.

The buzz outside the program the month after the Jan. 9 title game seemed mostly negative, from recruits heading to other programs to current Tigers leaving for the NFL.

But with a new quarterback, two new assistant coaches on board and a chance for the team to catch its collective breath, there's a sense of positivity back in Baton Rouge – which isn't unfounded given LSU will likely enter next fall with the a top-5 ranking in tow.

Can the players shut out all memories of that January night in hopes of creating better memories in Miami come the same time next season?

Those answers will start becoming clear over the next month.

Tiger Blitz Top Stories