got a big shot in the arm in that regard Tuesday afternoon, when starting left tackle La'el Collins announced he would return for his senior season, joined by defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen as well as running back Kenny Hilliard and center Elliott Porter.
The announcement, presided over by head coach Les Miles, came as a statement of sorts on who the new regime of leaders will be for the 2014 Bayou Bengals, without seven productive underclassmen that have already declared for the NFL Draft.
Below, TSD's Ben Love and Hunter Paniagua take a position-by-position look at which players will backfill for the seven departed starters and contributors, not as much in terms of leadership as on-field role and playing time.
Who's leaving: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry
John Diarse, Kevin Spears and Avery Peterson will have expectations of competing for playing time in their second years, while there's also an opening for the new batch of receivers that will hit campus this summer. If LSU lands Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR for 2014, he could certainly factor into the offense immediately. So what LSU lacks in experience it makes up for in talent, and it will be a matter of who shines most in practice to determine who steps in for the departed.
The next guys up: The surest pick to click, and play, if he can remain healthy is Dural. LSU's offensive staff has raved about his abilities since he arrived on campus two years ago, and the whispers about big efforts and production from him grew loud in Fall Camp scrimmages this past August. Dural is yet to translate it to game play on a consistent basis, but he's the starting ‘X' receiver for this team when healthy. After that, the player that drew the most consistent praise from camp (the last time he really saw a field) was Diarse. He's got a big frame and is a very instinctual football player with good athleticism. Consider Diarse and Dural the leaders in the clubhouse heading into this spring. Next is a grouping of four receivers – Leslie, Spears, Dupre and Quinn – that will compete for the starting third receiver spot. Whoever emerges stands a chance to make a nice contribution in 2014, and the expectation from many is that Dupre has the tools to possibly be that guy right away out of high school. Falling in line after these players is Peterson.
Who's leaving: Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue
So LSU still has plenty of horses in its RB stable with the new toy in Fournette joining the mix this summer. LSU has prided itself on a by-committee approach, even with a feature back like Hill on the roster. That won't change in 2014 as Frank Wilson and the offensive coaches will have plenty of options to choose from.
The next guys up: The majority of the touches and time will go to Fournette and Magee. Both are exceptional pass-catchers while Magee is a bit more fast-twitch and Fournette more overpowering while toting the rock, providing a nice contrast and one-two punch for Wilson to deploy. There will also be room for Hilliard in short-yardage and goal-line situations as well as at fullback, where the Patterson, La., native can help spell starter Connor Neighbors. Fourth in line is another true freshman – Darrel Williams from John Ehret HS. He's a big, physical back that likely would've been redshirt-bound had Hill stuck around. Now, for depth concerns, expect Williams to be part of the plan, though near the back of it, in the Tigers' rotation.
Who's leaving: Trai Turner
Fehoko Fanaika was listed as Turner's backup throughout the season, and he would serve as an experienced option as he'll enter his fourth season of collegiate football in 2014. Jonah Austin and Evan Washington are a pair of veteran backups that do lack in playing experience, though Washington did get significant playing time at tackle this past season. LSU also has some younger options in Ethan Pocic, who was LSU's backup center as a freshman but has the versatility to play multiple positions, and Josh Boutte, who was listed as a tackle but received rave reviews for his power during camp. Like with the other position, LSU has some talent to choose from but their options are mostly limited to some inexperienced players.
The next guy up: This is the most difficult one to project because there are a minimum of four legitimate replacement options. In a very early stab, before a position coach has even been named, I'll say either Austin or Boutte sounds the most plausible. Austin (6-6, 324) was the backup left guard all season while Boutte (6-4, 333) was probably the best-looking freshman linemen after Pocic (and just ahead of Andy Dodd, also a consideration for Turner's vacated spot). What's interesting is that with Collins and Jerald Hawkins back at the two tackle spots, and Porter back at center, LSU will be seeking somewhere to find time for the talented Pocic. He seems best fit for tackle and out of place at guard, but there may end up being no denying that he belongs in LSU's best five offensive linemen, regardless of position, in 2014. Fanaika (6-6, 348) fits the ‘big' quotient Miles & Co. like for a right guard, but he's not nearly quick enough to do all the pulling they like. It's hard to get a read on the staff's plan for Washington, who primarily filled in at tackle, but he currently projects as (an experienced) backup tackle. Finally, don't forget about the two incoming freshmen – Garrett Brumfield and Will Clapp. Brumfield probably deserves the early nod of the two.
Who's leaving: Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson
The next guy up: Barring a major shock or injury, it will be LaCouture and Thomas in the starting lineup when LSU laces it up against Wisconsin in Reliant Stadium. But they'll need at least two more bodies to play regularly, providing some depth and a legitimate, SEC-ready rotation for position coach Brick Haley. Heading into camp Bain and Gilmore enter neck-and-neck as the next two in line, but there's certainly a chance for a talented newcomer to step in and overtake one of these two, both of whom are unknowns on the collegiate level. One final note: for attrition sake, or to add to the competition on the inside, LSU could also throw redshirt freshman end Frank Herron into the mix, sliding him inside. At 6-5, 275, Herron fits the profile, and the Tigers now have more experienced depth at end with Allen and Rasco back (along with Danielle Hunter).
Discuss LSU's next wave of starters with the TSD crew