QUESTION: At which non-QB position will LSU benefit the most from bowl practice time for youngsters?
Ben Love: While it's hard to argue with Hunter's pick below, a compelling case could be made that this is the time for a number of young defensive linemen to put up or shut up before another talented class comes in 2014. Four freshmen heading for redshirts, in particular, have the opportunity to make cases for next season, including Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore at tackle as well as Frank Herron and M.J. Patterson at end.
And with the possibility that both Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson leave following their junior seasons, position coach Brick Haley is continuing his evaluation of what's next in line at defensive tackle. Freshman Christian Lacouture has garnered playing time this season, as has redshirt sophomore Quentin Thomas, when healthy. Bain and Gilmore fall in line after those two, and they'll have an opportunity to learn more from a technique standpoint this bowl season and, more importantly, get more practice reps than they have been since August.
At end LSU has already worked Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal into the back end of the rotation, but players like Herron and Patterson have a proving ground, too, in these practice sessions. What's interesting about this position selection is that hardly any of these guys listed will even play in the bowl game, but, in terms of adding know-how and experience for players that will have a chance to form the 2014 two-deep, the progress of LSU's young defensive linemen this holiday season is paramount.
Hunter Paniagua: With three freshmen possibly starting or at least receiving significant playing time, the group of first-year defensive backs should benefit the most from these bowl practices. While Tre'Davious White, Rickey Jefferson and Rashard Robinson have all spent parts of the season near the top of the depth chart, this Outback Bowl will provide them with an opportunity to end the 2013 season on a high note as they'll enter the 2014 campaign with hopes of earning a spot in the starting lineup. As with every unit on the defense, nobody in the secondary has earned a starter's role next season and these practices leading up to Iowa could pay dividends down the road for these players.
As of the most recent depth chart, Tre'Davious White is still lined up as the No. 2 CB opposite Jalen Mills, who is also listed as the backup safety to Craig Loston. Mills spent most of the Arkansas game at safety in relief of Jefferson, who struggled in his first career start. Still, Jefferson is tied with Ronald Martin for the starting safety spot opposite Loston, and Robinson is considered the No. 3 CB. Mills said this week that he's still practicing some at safety, so it's definitely possible that LSU opts to play the two freshmen corners for most of the game if the coaches deem Mills the better solution at safety.
But with so much uncertainty in the defensive backfield, these practices will have added importance as the coaches will be making thorough evaluations to find the best combination. The players should elevate their game as a response to that pressure, which will in turn set them up for next season. LSU has spent a major focus on the secondary in recruiting, so this current batch of DBs will have plenty of competition for playing time next season. But they'll have a significant advantage in experience and these bowl practices are a big part of that.
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12/11 – Most disappointing player in 2013
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12/16 – How will the offense change with Jennings at QB?
12/17 – Grading out the 2013 offensive line
12/20 – LSU's receiving corps in 2014