There’s never a time when a team’s depth chart stands pat.
Whether it’s the offseason in spring or fall camp, 7-on-7 drills in the summer or even during the course of the season, there’s a constant ebb and flow that takes place within offensive and defensive two-deeps. Players get injured, players elevate their stock, players underperform and sometimes an opponent’s scheme can even change the order in which personnel comes to the field.
Bearing that in mind, I’m going to run a two-part series prior to this Saturday’s ULM game detailing the evolution of LSU’s depth charts on offense and defense from this summer (technically late-May) until now.
I’ll first list my projected stab at the two-deep (sometimes deeper) from late-May and then go into where things are now. And the current depth chart isn’t a reflection of what the LSU Sports Information Department hands out every Monday; it’s based off what the coaches are showing us on the field with order of playing time and amount of playing time.
Below it all will be some notes on what’s changed and why as well as where things could go next.
LT: La’el Collins, Josh Boutte
C: Elliott Porter, Ethan Pocic
QB: Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris
RB: Kenny Hilliard OR Leonard Fournette OR Terrence Magee, Darrel Williams
FB: Connor Neighbors, Kenny Hilliard, Melvin Jones
WR (X): Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, Quantavius Leslie
WR (Z): Trey Quinn, John Diarse
LT: La’el Collins, K.J. Malone
LG: Vadal Alexander, Josh Boutte
C: Elliott Porter, Ethan Pocic, Andy Dodd
RG: Fehoko Fanaika, Evan Washington
RT: Jerald Hawkins, Jonah Austin
- The biggest change of course is at the most important position – quarterback. The thought process going into this summer from the staff, and it wasn’t exactly a secret, was that they hoped Harris would come in and win the job in August, carrying forward his positive momentum from the spring. He does after all possess a stronger arm and can be a more explosive runner. But it never quite happened that way. Harris is still catching up to the playbook, despite being an early enrollee, and credit must be given to Jennings for staying, as Les Miles likes to put it, “even keel.” That demeanor of Jennings’, coupled with a knack for finding Travin Dural deep, has kept him ahead of his competition at quarterback. Heading into the third game of the season, it’s not a QB battle anymore. Jennings is the guy unless injury strikes or something unexpected occurs.
- At running back the revelation has been Hilliard. After running over and through the competition in his freshman season of 2011, we knew what the Patterson native could do. Now trimmed down and more focused than ever, Hilliard appears to be back … and he will be LSU’s lead back for the foreseeable future. Yes, Fournette and Magee will garner a lot of carries, but Hilliard is the closest semblance to what Jeremy Hill was later year. Perhaps most surprising is Magee’s diminished workload to this point. It will almost have to rise in the coming weeks. Then there’s the “other” freshman back, Darrel Williams. He had a memorable second half versus Sam Houston State, giving Frank Wilson even more ways to spread the love come SEC play to keep legs fresh.
- Neighbors is still the man at fullback, but we’ve seen that Jones isn’t a slam-dunk backup at the position. LSU brought Hilliard and Williams to the field at the position this season before Jones, and that’s even with Neighbors suffering two different injuries. For that matter we even saw a decent chunk of walkon John David Moore in the SHSU game. The takeaway: after Neighbors, look for Wilson to turn to Hilliard (and possibly some Williams) at fullback for schematic advantages versus certain opponents. Hilliard looked awfully good lined up in front of Fournette on Saturday night.
- At receiver Quinn turned enough heads this summer and into August on the Ponderosa to put his stamp on a starting position. As I’ve written recently, Quinn probably has the most secure playing time of any true freshmen on the team at this point, including Fournette. He’s looked polished and poised, making sideline catches, nabbing a critical two-point conversion and filling a needed void. After Quinn in the receiving corps, the other note I’ll add is mainly positional. Dural has featured more often than not at the X-receiver position, but I believe the emergence of Dupre – which I still believe is coming now that he’s healthier – will free Dural up to play more in the slot, giving him even more desirable matchups and occasionally allowing Cam Cameron to get one of his team’s best playmakers the ball behind the line of scrimmage (jet sweeps, bubble screens, etc.).
- Jeter came to the Tigers as more of a pass-catcher at tight end, but to date he’s clearly shown them he’s a capable blocker, especially in a pass-protection role back by the quarterback in Shotgun sets. He’s moved into a more regular playing role, after Gordon and Stokes. The guy who has some climbing to do to regain preseason status: Smith. His wide-open drop on a crossing route versus Wisconsin hasn’t gone over well.
- Finally, on the offensive line, not much has changed with the starters now that Porter is back from a two-game suspension. And the second five, frankly, is hard to piece together considering how much LSU likes to cross-train its guys at multiple positions. Perhaps the biggest note to pass along with those next-up big uglies: Should injury strike to a starter, Miles has said Washington would come in at virtually any position (with the possible exception of Pocic at center).