5 seniors to watch

Countdown to kickoff: TSD takes a look at the group of Tigers entering their final season who could have a big impact.

Part nine in the "Countdown to kickoff," offers a look at five seniors who must have an impact this season for LSU:

P.J. Lonergan

1. Josh Dworaczyk: Weren't we here once before? Yes, Dworaczyk went into the 2011 season as one of the Tigers' key seniors, but he never stepped on the field because of knee and ankle injuries. Now he's back for another shot and will be a vital cog on the offensive line – either as the starter at left guard or as the jack-of-all-trades sixth man that has been so valuable to LSU the last few seasons. Regardless of which role he winds up in, Dworaczyk also looms as a coach on the field (or sideline) after serving that role last season.

2. P.J. Lonergan: All the offensive linemen have a major role up front, but Lonergan is the most indispensable since now there is not a backup who has been on the field for a ton of snaps as the center. Elliott Porter will be the backup and walk-on Ben Domingue is the only other center listed on the roster. So, yeah, keeping Lonergan healthy is pretty important. Also, getting Porter, Dominque and anybody else who has been cross-trained at center some playing time will be useful when the Tigers have games in control.

Alex Hurst

3. Alex Hurst: Sensing a trend here? Yep, the veteran LSU o-line is going to play a major role in the offense's success this season. Hurst will be the road-paver on the right side teaming with Josh Williford to give the Tigers' the biggest side of a line in the SEC. While the LSU offense has never been prone to leaning on one side more than the other, the right side is always a favorite for the quick hitters – especially with Spencer Ware and Kenny Hilliard's bulldozer-style. If Hurst can duplicate what he did last season or improve on it, the Tigers' running game will be very healthy.

4. Chase Clement: It's been since 2008 that an LSU tight end has hauled in more than 21 passes in a season and snatched more than 2 touchdown passes, as the position evolved out of necessity into more of a blocking role in Richard Dickson's season and stayed that way – much to DeAngelo Peterson's chagrin – the last three years. Clement's best quality is as a physical blocker, but he is also deceptively athletic and has shown a knack for big plays if defenses don't pay attention to him. If he can improve his hands, Clement looms as a nice security blanket underneath for quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who won't be able to use his feet to elude trouble as much as Jordan Jefferson was capable of doing.

Russell Shepard

5. Russell Shepard: Maybe this is what Shepard has been waiting for all along – a chance to flash a flair for the dramatic. For most of his three years, we've waited for the former 5-star recruit to explode, at least consistently, and be the kind of dynamic player everybody thought he had a chance to be on Day 1 when he stepped on campus. His road has been nothing if not interesting and he did the absolute right thing by coming back for his final season. In three years, he has touched the ball 136 times and has scored 9 touchdowns -- not a bad ratio, but not the stuff of legend. A great team leader and spokesperson for sure, it would be a huge boost for the Tigers if Shepard can fill a role as a slot receiver and be a reliable weapon on short passes where he can unleash lighting in a bottle. With Mettenberger not having the kind of wheels that Jefferson had, could it also be in the cards for Shepard to be a wildcard QB again? Stay tuned…

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