Summer Session: Making the Leap

TSD is cranking out 30 stories on the 2014 Tigers in the coming weeks. Today's Summer Session: Which returning players will be asked to shoulder a heavier load in 2014?

30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.

TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through June 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.

TODAY'S SESSION: MAKING THE LEAP

Already we've covered TSD's picks for the top 10 impact freshmen for 2014. Today we're looking at the players who've been around the program for at least a season and are moving into starting or more prominent roles this fall.

In no particular order . . .

1. DE Tashawn Bower

- Sometimes prospects hit campus and just look the part of future stud. From a physical standpoint Bower (6-5, 243) has been one of those guys since he arrived in Baton Rouge. The New Jersey native was at times the fourth defensive end in the rotation as a true freshman in 2013, but he only played in six games, making three total tackles. This season, after Jordan Allen transferred out to Arizona, Bower is third on the pecking order, behind returning starters Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. The latter is a breakout star in the making, but the former is still making his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. So while Bower is prime to play in bunches as a platoon guy, it wouldn't surprise if he made a number of starts before the upcoming campaign ended.

2. WR Travin Dural

- I know what you're thinking. Dural, the same guy who made a monumental play to beat Arkansas, has been around and made some plays already, hasn't he? The answer: yeah kinda, but not as many as you probably think. After redshirting with injury in 2012, Dural hauled in only seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns (the other came against Alabama and spawned this bit of awesomeness) in 2013. So while he's been involved in the offense, Dural hasn't been asked to shoulder much of the load with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry in the fold. Now that they're in the NFL, Dural's role is expected to grow exponentially. His readiness for that leap and ability to stay off the injury report are crucial for the Tiger offense.

3. DT Quentin Thomas

- Big Q is a good example of how many interior defensive linemen progress in big-time college football. He took a redshirt season in 2011, played in only three games in 2012 and a year ago featured in 11 games, totaling nine tackles, 0.5 for loss, two pass break-ups and a fumble recovery in the bowl game. Now, with Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson gone, Thomas is moving up into starter's shoes. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder should be much better equipped to handle the responsibility as a redshirt junior. Fellow projected starter at defensive tackle Christian Lacouture could just as well be on this list, but as a true sophomore his path to the field has been more rapid than that of Thomas. It's time for the Breaux Bridge native to leave his mark before a new wave of talented DTs take over.

4. TE Desean Smith

- Here were the stats Smith accumulated during his true freshmen season in 2013: one catch for 14 yards and one assisted tackle. The LSU staff (and Tiger fans) will look for a lot more from the former Barbe star in year two in Tiger Town. Yes, there's still a logjam at his position with two seniors – Travis Dickson and Logan Stokes – and a junior, Dillon Gordon, in the mix, but Smith is far and away the best pass-catcher of the bunch. Especially given the young quarterback play LSU will have in 2014, it seems like a no-brainer that this hybrid tight end/slot receiver will be a safe, sure-handed target over the middle of the field. All those catches from OBJ and Landry last season have to go somewhere, and it's important to remember they won't all go to wide receivers.

5. QB Anthony Jennings, RG Evan Washington, LB Kendell Beckwith, S Rickey Jefferson

- Call this the list of "maybe making the leapers." Each of the above four has major competition at his position, making the projected jump more of a question than known entity at this juncture. Jennings is battling with freshman Brandon Harris; Washington and Fehoko Fanaika ("Hoko") are entrenched in a duel for the starting right guard spot; Beckwith trails D.J. Welter at middle linebacker, a new position for the former; and Jefferson has a slew of contenders at safety. So while it's not safe to declare any of the four starters, or really to tab them for significant playing time yet, here's guessing at least two end up playing major roles in the 2014 season. With injury and the need to rotate bodies, that's just the way the game goes. These guys will have to be ready to do more than they did in 2013.



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