Spring Questions Revisited

Before spring ball began, TSD took a stab at answering five big questions on the Tigers. Now, three weeks into LSU spring practice, it's time to re-examine those important topics.

With the university on spring break this week, Les Miles and the LSU football team will adjourn spring practice for 10 days before returning to action next Tuesday, continuing to build toward the spring game on Saturday, April 20.

The Tigers have already gone through three weeks and two scrimmages this spring, making this the perfect time to revisit my five pre-spring questions surrounding the early edition of the 2013 Bayou Bengals.

Here are those questions again, along with links to my previous answers (projections, really) and more updated answers today with the benefit of having seen LSU in action on the Ponderosa.

1. Who's going to start at left tackle?

CLICK HERE for my answer from March 4.

On my first crack at tackling this query, I approached it by process of elimination. For various reasons I was able to cross off the list of realistic candidates the following names: Vadal Alexander (better fit on right side), Ethan Pocic (too young, plus he's being groomed at center as well), Jonah Austin (trying his hand more at guard) and Josh Williford (a career-long guard).

That left La'el Collins and Jerald Hawkins. I concluded there was no clear-cut answer prior to spring ball as the coaches had indicated they'd be willing to move Collins out to left tackle, but that needed to be seen to be believed. Well, almost a month later, consider it seen … repeatedly. Collins has been the only player taking first-team reps at the position this spring. If the Tigers had to go to battle today, No. 70 would be their guy at left tackle. No questions asked.

Now, that doesn't mean Hawkins, a redshirt freshman, has been placed in moth balls. On the contrary he spent much of the past week and a half as LSU's starting right tackle as Alexander has been out with an undisclosed injury. Also, at Miles' most recent press conference, the coach issued the utmost confidence in Hawkins, saying the staff loves his athleticism and would be comfortable with Hawkins playing and even starting at either tackle spot once the season arrives. Still, the resounding answer to this question is Collins.

2. How will the new-look defensive line fare?

CLICK HERE for my answer from March 5.

The one thing I quickly noted then that remains true now is how much turnover there is on the defensive line from the 2012 season. Even knowing that going in, it's been remarkable to watch how new the defensive line is. And, according to Jordan Allen in a recent interview, the approach by position coach Brick Haley has changed as well. Haley has spent much more time in meetings and on the field explaining how different things the D-Line does fits into the overall scheme of what the defense is trying to do. It's a major learning period for a lot of young players.

Perhaps no player has been scrutinized more and pushed to learn more than end Danielle Hunter. Penciled in pre-spring as a starter opposite Jermauria Rasco, Hunter has relinquished his first-team spot to Allen, a more experienced player who's also been playing the run better in practice by all indications. Haley is sending a message to Hunter and, presumably, all of the young D-Linemen coming in: If you don't master your technique, you will be passed up on the depth chart.

The tale of Hunter so far this spring perfectly exemplifies, in my mind, how this 2013 line will fare. There are some veteran leaders with skins on the wall (Rasco, Anthony Johnson) who will carry the unit, but the young guns will have to prove they belong and push this group to the next level before the defensive line can again be considered great or elite.

3. What alignment will Chavis go with at linebacker?

CLICK HERE for my answer from March 6.

What this question was really asking was: Who's going to play in the middle? The debate before spring practice kicked off was between Kwon Alexander and Lamin Barrow. I put forth then that there really was no question as to who the best three ‘backers are (Alexander, Barrow and Tahj Jones), and that Barrow probably made more sense at Mike LB with his size (17 pounds heavier than Alexander) and experience (three more years on campus).

Well, three weeks in, John Chavis is sticking with an all-veteran crew and throwing a minor wrinkle into the proceedings … at least for now. Chief has redshirt junior D.J. Welter as the starting middle linebacker with Jones and Barrow flanking him. He's content to make Alexander – who by the way is lining up as an outside ‘backer, not in the middle, with the second team – earn his stripes and playing time.

Welter's opportunity is a legitimate one, even if many externally feel it's time for some of the young linebacking talent from the Class of 2012 to emerge. The fourth-year player from Crowley has drawn praise from Miles in the press this spring, and the job is currently his to lose. I am still of the opinion that Alexander is way too talented to keep off the field, but with Chavis, these are the kind of "good problems" he relishes solving. LSU's LB corps will be in very good hands in 2013, but perhaps the positional development of the spring so far is that Barrow appears to be exclusively repping on the outside.

4. Who will step up as leaders on this 2013 team?

CLICK HERE for my answer from March 7.

My lead candidates then: RB Jeremy Hill, DT Anthony Johnson, LB Lamin Barrow, K James Hairston and the combination of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Three weeks later, I still feel as though all are very worthy candidates to fill the leadership roles vacated by last year's vocal (Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan) and non-vocal (Eric Reid, Kevin Minter) leaders.

There are, however, a few additional names I feel safer throwing on the pile after having watched practice in recent weeks. They are, in no particular order: S Craig Loston, LB D.J. Welter and DE Jermauria Rasco. Loston and Rasco aren't as loud, but they're pretty clearly being followed at their positions by young players since both are veteran presences at otherwise young spots. I feel Welter belongs on this list for now because of his communication skills. As the current starting middle linebacker, he's tasked with putting a lot of people in place and making checks. So far he's been up to the task, making his voice heard.

Then there's QB Zach Mettenberger. I'm not prepared to tell you he's making leaps and bounds in this department, but I can honestly tell you he looks like he's trying. Mett is more involved in riling teammates up and having fun, usually with Anthony Johnson, during Big Cat drills. He's responded very positively to the faster pace Cam Cameron is mandating and, in my opinion, is owning more of the offense around him, not just his position. For now, five months before the Tigers will ever play a game, that's enough positive steps in the right direction.

5. How will Cam Cameron's presence affect the offense?

CLICK HERE for my answer from March 8.

I have no problem telling you that my projected answer to this question was probably more off-based than on any other of the four questions. Prior to the spring I figured LSU's new offensive coordinator would be primarily a consultant, fine-tuning what the Tigers were already doing and providing more practical solutions for the way the quarterback, offensive line, etc., had been doing things.

He's been a heckuva lot more than that through three weeks. Cameron has been a major agent of change. He's changed the tempo of practice, making the quarterbacks go through drills faster, squeezing more from the limited time the team has and forcing the offense to learn how to perform under duress and time constraints. He's changed the verbiage, adding his own terminology and giving the players something really new to adapt to for the first time since Gary Crowton game aboard more than half a decade ago.

Cameron has also changed how Miles approaches practice. Miles is notorious for stalking around the practice fields, monitoring different units (mostly the offense with the heaviest lean on the offensive line). Not this spring. He's been much more hands-on, and exclusively with the O-Line. Miles, seemingly comfortable to let Cameron run the QBs and skill players however he wants, is in the trenches with the line every day, teaching technique and helping Greg Studrawa bring along a lot of young players. The results will be hard to quantify as there are no games yet, but I assure you the Cam effect has been a positive one to date.

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