All this week, with LSU spring football approaching quickly on the horizon, TSD will tackle a question a day surrounding the 2013 gridiron Tigers.
Today's Question: Who will step up as leaders on this 2013 team?
It's amazing, but almost every relevant question you could ask about LSU football heading into spring ball 2013 ends up tying into how the team responds to lost talent.
For several days now the answers to these questions have centered on how to replace those NFL-bound players on the field. Today's query attempts to measure how LSU will backfill for them in the locker room.
Gone from the 2012 squad are four of the Tigers' most noteworthy leaders – two of the vocal variety in Bennie Logan and Sam Montgomery and two of the quiet, lead-by-example types in Kevin Minter and Eric Reid.
It will come as no surprise to close observers of the program in recent years that all four of those players lined up on the defensive side of the ball. The closest thing LSU had to leaders on offense a season ago was the collection of veteran offensive linemen, but one of them got hurt early in the year (Chris Faulk) and another flew the coup midseason for personal reasons (Alex Hurst).
It's pretty clear then that there's a lot of room for leaders to emerge on both offense and defense in 2013 beginning this spring. Here, in one man's opinion, are the most likely candidates to do so.
RB Jeremy Hill
Outside of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, Hill was arguably the most accomplished freshman in all the SEC in 2012. The true freshman was an after-thought through LSU's first six games, playing only in garbage time, before bursting onto the scene against South Carolina (17 carries, 124 yards, 2 TD). Hill went on to lead the Tigers in rushing (142 carries, 755 yards, 12 TD), posting those totals in basically half a season.
The Redemptorist High product enters 2013 as one of LSU's most recognizable stars. With all that cache Hill is in prime position to parlay his status into a leadership role amongst his peers, even as a sophomore. He'll undoubtedly be the biggest cog in the Tiger offense this coming fall. That alone makes him someone to whom players will listen and respond. And, since going through a trying legal situation that delayed his entry to the team for a year, all indication is that Hill has been a model citizen. He's ready to shoulder more than just additional carries.
DT Anthony Johnson
Freak is a guy who will never have to be pushed to be a leader. It's something that just flows through his DNA, a characteristic he's intrinsically possessed for years now, going back to his prep-school days. The only thing that enhances his leadership role now as compared to seasons past is the fact Michael Brockers, Josh Downs and Bennie Logan are no longer around.
Johnson, who definitely falls more in the vocal category, is now the man on LSU's defensive line, with no upperclassmen left that he has to be deferential to or let have their say first. It's his turn to lead on the field as well as behind the scenes and in the locker room. Multiple people in the know have commented to me in recent weeks that Johnson knows that and relishes the opportunity. Tiger fans may notice when they visit the official LSU football roster that there currently is no No. 18 listed. Freak would certainly be one of the real possibilities to take over the coveted jersey in the fall.
LB Lamin Barrow
The redshirt senior from Marrero could very well pick up right where Kevin Minter left off in 2012 for the linebacking corps and LSU's defense as a whole. Minter was never the rah-rah type, instead choosing to lead by example and then speak a very humble game in the press, always assuming blame personally for any lapses shown by his unit.
Barrow is cut from similar cloth, not a fiery player by appearances but someone who will certainly represent LSU the right way and have the undivided attention of his defensive peers. His play last season – 104 tackles (fifth in the SEC), 7.5 for loss – dictates as much. Finally, with the distinct possibility that Barrow could move inside to play Minter's former position at middle linebacker, he'll have even more on his plate in terms of assuring everyone is in proper position and knows their assignments.
K James Hairston
Yes, you're reading that right. A kicker. Those who've been on board here at TSD and were active members of the message board during the 2012 football season will remember the story told about Hairston giving an emotional speech the night before the South Carolina game that lifted the team. The Dallas native has also reportedly been a vocal player in practice, not above barking at his teammates when he sees anything less than maximum effort.
Hairston represents all that's good (a player, even at a lesser position, who fights as if he has to defend his job every single day) and real (a player who fearlessly demands accountability from his peers despite lacking their size and blue-chip background) about college football. He gets it, and his teammates know it. This is your 2013 special teams leader for LSU.
The junior wide receivers
Of every player/players listed in response to today's question, this grouping is the most "projected," based more on the status of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and the proper positioning for leadership, not necessarily on past pedigree in the department. Hill could almost be lumped into this category, but his star shines brighter than Beckham's or Landry's, and, by all accounts, he appears to be on the right track toward being a team leader on offense.
LSU's junior wide-out duo still has a way to go, but that doesn't mean they won't get there. On an offense where much of the line is baby-faced (with the exception of Josh Williford), the quarterback isn't a noted leader and most of the tight ends are new to the two-deep, Beckham and Landry are all but forced to be accountable for more than just picking up yards and touchdowns. They've watched Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard walk through that door. The time for both players, on and off the field, is now.
Schedule for pre-spring preview stories
Tuesday, February 26: Spring Preview - New names to monitor
Thursday, February 28: Spring Preview - Two-deep depth chart
Monday, March 4: Spring Question 1 - Who's going to start at left tackle?
Tuesday, March 5: Spring Question 2 - How will the new-look defensive line fare?
Wednesday, March 6: Spring Question 3 - What alignment will Chavis go with at linebacker?
Thursday, March 7: Spring Question 4 – Who will step up as leaders on this 2013 team?
Friday, March 8: Spring Question 5 – How will Cam Cameron's presence affect the offense?
Monday, March 11: Video – Offense Preview
Tuesday, March 12: Video – Defense Preview
Wednesday, March 13: Video – Early Enrollees; What to Watch: Staff Picks
Spring Question: Who will become leaders?
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