After a brief offseason following the 2014 Outback Bowl, LSU football gets back in action next Friday, March 7, with the first of 15 practices leading up to the spring game.
Before the Tigers hit the Ponderosa, TSD is taking a look at every position on both sides of the ball, previewing where LSU stands and discussing the biggest storylines. Yesterday we examined the quarterback position.
Today we'll turn our attention to the team's offensive skill players – running backs, fullbacks and wide receivers.
RB: Terrence Magee (Sr.), Kenny Hilliard (Sr.)
FB: Connor Neighbors (Sr.), Melvin Jones (So.)
WR: Quantavius Leslie (Sr.), Travin Dural (R-So.), John Diarse (R-Fr.), Avery Peterson (R-Fr.), Kevin Spears (R-Fr.)
- It's a contrast of outlooks for LSU in the backfield and in the receiving ranks, with the former slim in numbers but long on experience and the latter in the exact opposite position – young and green but replete with depth.
Beginning in the backfield, where there are less question marks, the Tigers bring back a productive rusher from a season ago in Magee (5-9, 214). The Franklinton native, playing second fiddle to Jeremy Hill, toted the rock 86 times for 626 yards (7.3 ypc) and eight touchdowns. A solid pass-protector and even better pass-catcher, Magee provides Cam Cameron a versatile option that can play on all three downs. After Magee on the depth chart comes fellow senior Hilliard, who at 6-0, 233, can play a little tailback and fullback for LSU in 2014. A short-yardage and goal-line favorite, Hilliard rushed for 310 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. He's scored at least six touchdowns in each of this three campaigns in purple and gold, although his average yards per carry dropped to a career-low 4.6 ypc this past fall.
At fullback Neighbors (5-11, 239) will be the preferred option after playing some in 2012 and a whole lot a season ago in concert with NFL-bound J.C. Copeland. The former walkon, granted a fifth and final year of eligibility, has surprisingly good hands and will provide both a proficient blocker and capable pass-catcher for a young quarterback in 2014. Behind Neighbors is Jones, a 6-3, 245-pound former linebacker. He saw limited action in his true freshman season but may have to absorb more snaps now that Copeland has exited the timeshare.
Moving onto receiver, it becomes more difficult to project which players will start and make plays for Cameron's offense – after all only one guy, Dural, has seen legitimate playing time prior to this season. The two most likely candidates, based on reports from last Fall Camp and throughout the season, are Dural (6-2, 182) and Diarse (6-1, 207). Dural hauled in seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, including a big touchdown at Alabama and the game-winner versus Arkansas. He has big-play ability and tons of hops, but Dural has been hampered with injuries since he arrived in TigerTown. Diarse, a former high school quarterback, possesses a solid mix of strength, athleticism and football smarts. He seems to be the safe option to be LSU's number two, at least of the group that'll be in attendance this spring.
The slightly riskier projection, but with a lot of upside, is Spears, a 6-3, 189-pound redshirt freshman. A late take for LSU in the Class of 2013, Spears, a former basketball player, is a great athlete and has the best size of any of the non-true freshman wide-outs. Rounding out the crew in tow this spring are Leslie, a 6-4, 175-pound senior, and Peterson, a 6-2, 189-pound redshirt freshman. One is a former JuCo transfer, and the other is a guy it took an extra year to get on campus. Both have slight frames and are question marks heading into spring ball.
RB: Leonard Fournette (Fr.), Darrel Williams (Fr.)
WR: D.J. Chark (Fr.), Malachi Dupre (Fr.), Trey Quinn (Fr.), Tony Upchurch (Fr.)
- None of the above additions are early entrants, hence you won't see them in pads at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility until August. They're listed just so that the scope of LSU's depth for 2014 can come into focus. Two potential position notes from this group: Upchurch (6-2, 228) has been rumored by the coaching staff to be a possible H-back in LSU's offensive system going forward while Williams (5-11, 209) could slot into a role as fullback if needed.
Who's better than everybody realizes yet at wide receiver?
- It happens every spring at a different position. When LSU has a hole to fill, a player nobody expected (or projected) steps up and stakes claim to the vacancy, impressing the masses once given a chance at increased reps. The best example from recent years remains Bennie Logan, who took Michael Brockers' former starting DT role by the horns in the spring of 2011, coming virtually out of nowhere. The question this year is who will do that at wide receiver, where the Tigers have a ton of production to replace with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry foregoing their senior seasons.
The list of applicants: Leslie, Peterson and Spears. There seems to be some semblance of acknowledgement that Diarse and Dural are reliable options, but one of those other three has a huge platform to step forward before the likes of Dupre and Quinn hit campus this summer. If one can, and my pick to click is Spears, LSU's corps will be in much better shape pre-Fall Camp. If none make that leap or show that type of potential, position coach Adam Henry will have to turn to a newcomer in his top three. That's by no means a death sentence, but it would mean LSU will have to begin to recruit the position hard again in 2015. Basically, the question becomes, just how much will the Tigers ultimately get from their deep 2012 receiver class?