Putting the pieces together

TSD publisher Ben Love lists the five biggest takeaways from LSU's turn at SEC Media Days, including several important pieces to the 2014 puzzle and how they're beginning to fit together.

Another rendition of SEC Media Days has come and gone, and as per the usual, there’s plenty to discuss on the LSU front two days after Les Miles & Co. hit the talking circuit in Hoover.

Below are my five biggest takeaways/questions from a Tiger perspective, diving deeper into what was said and, at times, the subtext of Miles’ comments.

You can sound off with your responses and questions on these topics by clicking the link at the bottom of the story.

1. Miles says LSU on the cusp, but exactly when is that?

For my money it was the most fascinating quote from LSU’s tenth-year coach during his time at The Wynfrey Hotel.

”We’re a team that’s really on the cusp of an opportunity to win championships.”

That proclamation, made by Miles during the team overview portion of his opening remarks, raised eyebrows as it goes in contrast to what we’ve come to expect from him. More often than not The Hat likes to remind that LSU is a program built to compete for championships and that’s the attainable goal every single season.

Now, do I believe for one second that Miles and the LSU staff are punting on the 2014 season? No, not at all. But I do believe, reading between the lines, that was his way of saying ‘We know there will be a lot of teaching and a learning curve for youngsters this season, especially on offense, but we’ll have this thing back to where we’re used to having it in 2015.’

In declaring LSU “on the cusp,” Miles didn’t quite go full-Saban, but he went more in that direction than is typical of his style. The Nick-tator, of course, issued his annual missive yesterday that Alabama’s not as good as the media thinks.

Saban: “We’re in a little bit of a rebuilding situation, even though we played a lot of young players that have the right attitude and character to improve and be more consistent players. There still is some question marks about how our defense comes together … We’re a team that has a lot of question marks.”

Truth be told both men may be right to an extent. Their teams are backfilling an awful lot of key personnel losses, including two big-time quarterbacks. I guess it’s just a little more abnormal to hear Les not gushing with an invincible confidence that his team is ready to be a world-beater.

Perhaps, for once, he’s echoing what many in Tiger Nation are thinking: 2015 will be LSU’s year.

2. No pressure, Leonard, just your standard MJ comparison.

Continuing the theme of “things Les doesn’t normally do,” we pick up with the Michael Jordan name-drop Miles made on two separate occasions when talking about the development and approach of freshman running back Leonard Fournette.

Heaping expectations on green players isn’t how Miles usually rolls, but then again that’s likely his way of relaying to the media that Fournette isn’t your average signee. Here was Miles’ exact quote to that end while in the main room Wednesday.

“Leonard Fournette is doing exactly what he should be doing,” said Miles. “He’s getting in the weight room, running, getting in great shape. Pursuing the classroom, got great grades. He’s quiet. He’s not assuming. He’s humble in his approach.

“I think it’s exactly where he needs to be. He expects himself to be something very special. I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any.”

I totally understand what Miles was saying, comparing the two on an internal-drive basis, but man did he pick a doozy of a sports icon and legend to toss out there. The bar continues to be set higher for Fournette than for any freshman I’ve ever witnessed on the collegiate level. That Fournette has already been dealing with this type of hype and acclaim for three-plus years is the only thing that may equip him to handle it.

Still, his name was a hot one at SEC Media Days. Fellow back Terrence Magee made sure to let reporters know Fournette has been superb in 7-on-7 this summer, and the senior expects Founette will be “electrifying” this fall. All he has to do now to live up to MJ comparisons is do the equivalent of what Jordan did his freshman season at UNC – hit the game-winning shot in the national title game.

3. QB battle still ongoing, but did Miles tip his cap?

LSU’s head coach didn’t say anything earth-shattering when it comes to the starting quarterback battle between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings. But he did say some things that to me revealed a preference. I’ll throw his comments on the quarterbacks up against the wall here, and you can gauge them for yourself.

Take One: “Offensively, quarterback will be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. It will be a very competitive event from the start to the finish. Cam Cameron, a guy who’s made a career mentoring quarterbacks, is our offensive coordinator, will do the exact right things with those guys. You’ll see how well a freshman can execute at quarterback.”

Take Two: “The approach, we got a real quality young freshman, a nice sophomore at quarterback. We’re going to bring him on in a way that he can execute and do the things that benefit our team.”

Take Three: “Well, the key piece is he [Harris] throws the ball well. I mean, he is a guy that has real strength. He’s innately accurate. He’s got great footwork. He can extend a play, get out of the pocket, move around. But probably the best thing about him is he anticipates that great play, too. He has the opportunity to see it and has the arm to get it there. There are some real advantages with him.”

I’ll stop short of saying it’s clear as day, but it’s clear enough in my opinion that they deem Harris the better of the two. Look at the last sentence of the first quote . . . look at the way he referred to Harris (“real quality”) compared to Jennings (“nice”) . . . look at the last sentence of the third quote, one fully devoted to effusively praising Harris.

It’s July and there’s still plenty of competition to go, I know, but for this time of the year, I think that’s as big of an endorsement as Miles is going to give a guy in this situation. I’ll reiterate what I’ve been saying the past few months: I’ll be surprised if Harris doesn’t take the majority of the snaps at quarterback this season.

4. Latest rumblings foretell possible shakeup in LB rotation.

Since spring practice, when Kendell Beckwith moved back to linebacker, all the talk has been about him playing in the middle, giving competition to returning starter D.J. Welter. Well, the latest scuttlebutt is that Beckwith could end up more on the strongside, potentially supplanting Lamar Louis and forming an appetizing trio of Alexander-Welter-Beckwith.

Now, I’m not sour on Louis. I think John Chavis likes him and will give him an opportunity to hold onto that Sam spot, but this is an interesting notion. It’s a way to keep the brains of the operation (Welter) on the field while also making good use of a 6-foot-3, 246-pound physical freak who’s already been on campus for a year and more or less sat in line.

The biggest remaining question: Is Beckwith too big (and perhaps not fast enough) to man an OLB spot that demands lateral movement and the ability to track sideline-to-sideline? Of course on the other hand he would do wonders in run support at that position.

Click on the link below to discuss this topic already on the TSD premium board.

5. Safety picture sans Mills starts with Jefferson and Martin.

If you’ve kept up with your summer reading on TSD, it will come as no surprise that Ronald Martin is considered a no-doubt starter at safety no matter what happens with Jalen Mills’ legal situation. As Miles alluded to at SEC Media Days, Martin, a strong safety, has slimmed down this offseason and enjoyed a “great summer.”

In slightly more surprising news it’s Rickey Jefferson, not Corey Thompson, that was listed as the other starter on LSU’s initial depth chart released this week. I did write back on June 11 that it would be difficult to envision Martin and Thompson starting together, but this still constitutes news.

Jefferson, a sophomore, played in seven games, starting once, as a freshman while finishing with six tackles and a pair of pass breakups. He struggled when thrust into the starting lineup in the Arkansas game, eventually pulled in favor of moving Mills to the back (an idea that obviously stuck). Coming into 2014 Jordan Jefferson’s little brother will have to show a lot of improvement to hold onto that gig, considering Jamal Adams and John Battle are entering the fray, Thompson is lurking and Dwayne Thomas is capable of slotting in at the back as well.

But, at least as things stand in mid-July, he’s the answer to the question of who replaces Mills at safety should Mills miss a stretch of games.

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