Summer Session: Difference Makers

TSD is cranking out 30 stories on the 2014 Tigers in the coming weeks. Today's Summer Session: Which players can make the difference between a rebuilding and reloading year for LSU?

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 July 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.

TODAY'S SESSION: DIFFERENCE MAKERS

By the 23-day mark of these sessions, there's bound to be at least some overlap. The subject of today's story is similar in nature to this one from June 10, in which I listed five players expected to make the leap in 2014.

The subtle alteration in "Difference Makers" is now I'm identifying those players – and position scarcity around them is a critical factor – whose performance can make the difference between this season being a rebuilding one and a reloading one for LSU.

In no particular order . . .

1. The three offensive freshmen – Dupre, Fournette and Harris

- It's really a no-brainer to have the Tigers' big three from the Class of 2014 on this list. As we've discussed all summer their individual talents are part of it, but it also weighs heavily that LSU lost starters at all three of their positions from a season ago. Brandon Harris is being given every shot to take over the reins at quarterback while Malachi Dupre is almost being penciled in as a starter in the revamped receiving corps. Then of course there's running back Leonard Fournette, the top player in the country in his class who I projected yesterday to lead LSU in carries this fall. If those three play at a veteran level, and the offense doesn't lose too much oomph from a year ago (even if it looks and operates a little differently), this won't be a rebuilding year in Baton Rouge. It'll be the start of something special.

2. Either Fehoko Fanaika or Evan Washington

- So the saying goes on offensive lines and really anything team sports-related: You're only as good as your weakest link. LSU's O-Line, one of the true strengths of the '14 team, brings back four starters – left tackle La'el Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins. It's the right guard spot where new position coach Jeff Grimes is yet to identify a starter. Leaving spring Fanaika and Washington were the two combatants, and Grimes was pleased with the progression of both and the fact they'd continue pushing one another into and through Fall Camp. Trai Turner left a pair of awfully big shoes to fill, and the development of whichever of these two wins the job is paramount in the Tigers having a trustworthy line from top to bottom.

3. Lamar Louis

- Defense projects as the stronger of the two sides of the football this campaign. There's returning experienced talent at basically every position save defensive tackle. But instead of picking on one of those guys, I'm going to tab a player from a different position grouping – linebacker. If the ‘D' is to perform as well as it looks on paper, Louis will need to have a big year. Yes, middle linebacker is important in John Chavis' scheme, but with questions at the position (D.J. Welter's there mentally but not always physically and vice-versa for Kendell Beckwith), Louis will have to pick up a lot of the slack on the strongside opposite Kwon Alexander. Particularly with new DTs trying to plug the middle, LSU's ‘backers will have to take ball-carriers down swiftly and make their presences felt at the point of attack. Louis, a converted Mike linebacker, is capable of doing that. Now we just need to see it game-in and game-out, or else the linebacking corps may be a little more average than anticipated.

4. Ronald Martin

- The more time passes this summer, the more I believe Martin, a senior, will be one of LSU's starting safeties no matter the outcome of Jalen Mills' legal situation. That makes him a key cog in the Tiger secondary, one that appears to be on the rise in 2014 after two subpar seasons by its lofty standards. Martin has been around the program for a while, making his way to starter at the beginning of last season before giving way to Corey Thompson in the midst of a secondary-wide shake-up following the shootout in Athens. Now that he seems poised to regain his spot, Martin will not only have to take on additional leadership responsibility (possibly usurping Mills' role as primary communicator, putting players in spots) but also improve some of the technical aspects of his game from last season (namely taking better angles). How high he can climb may make the difference between a solid season in the defensive backfield and a great one.



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