Impact of Returning Underclassmen on 2015

With the expected announcement Friday that Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Jalen Mills will return in 2015, TSD explores the impacts on next year's LSU team across the board.

Les Miles and LSU are expected to announce Friday in a press conference held at 1:30 p.m. that a trio of on-the-fence underclassmen are returning for their fourth seasons in Baton Rouge.

Following in the footsteps of La’el Collins a year ago are safety Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins, all three of whom did not put their names in for the 2015 NFL Draft by yesterday’s underclassmen deadline.

So, what are the impacts of these decisions on LSU next season from personnel and leadership standpoints? TSD explores.

- Miles, Cameron can keep it simple and physical on offense

With respect to Mills, who’s only started in every game for LSU over the last three years, the bigger coup is getting the two hog mollies to come back. Given the uncertainty at quarterback and the offensive staff’s clear reluctance to pass with signal callers they don’t fully trust (Miles even admitted Wednesday that he wasn’t too keen on chunking it with a 48% passer this fall), returning Alexander – your most physical run-blocker – and Hawkins gives tremendous peace of mind. It also allows offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and especially Miles to fall back on their preferred approach: run first and run often behind a big, physical line and with a stable of backs among the most talented in the country. LSU has shown time and again it has no problem just trying to be a bully on offense. Now, with three of five offensive linemen returning, the Tigers have that capability.

- The offensive line of 2015 is now more or less set for Tigers

There will of course be competition in spring ball and into Fall Camp this August, but, with Alexander and Hawkins back along with rising junior Ethan Pocic, three of five starters are a virtual lock – although you can count on at least one of them shuffling places. Look for Hawkins, who will be a redshirt junior, to swap sides from right tackle to left tackle. From there Alexander is expected to reprise his role at left guard while Pocic is likely to return at right guard. That leaves openings at center and right tackle. Andy Dodd, entering his third year in the program, will compete for the starting center gig with redshirt freshman William Clapp, and early money is on the seasoned Dodd. As for right tackle the leader in the clubhouse seems to be K.J. Malone. Another alternative that position coach Jeff Grimes has: pushing Pocic out to right tackle and going with someone else, possibly Josh Boutte, at right guard.

Publisher's Note: At the Friday afternoon press conference, several hours after this piece was published, Alexander and Hawkins spoke about their roles heading into 2015. CLICK HERE to read the players' takes on how the next LSU offensive line is unfolding.

- Secondary has its veteran/communicator in place

Mills is a proven playmaker and, more importantly, is probably the most versatile weapon in DBU’s arsenal. He’s started almost two full seasons’ worth of games at corner, a third campaign at free safety and all the while has been arguably the team’s most effective nickel back, particularly in coverage. But the area where he’ll be needed most next fall is in communicating and lining up everyone else. Ronald Martin was a big part of that process this past season, but the senior from White Castle has moved on from the program. So it’s great news for position coach Corey Raymond that the burden will be handed down to a player who’s ready for it in Mills, not one of the other up-and-coming safeties (who although talented are pretty inexperienced compared to Mills). He’ll be the heartbeat of a secondary that should be downright dynamite next season.

- Logjam at safety will make it hard to secure P.T. for all

Good problem to have, right? But for Raymond and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, it is a real thing they’ll have to contend with in the months leading up to the season and even into the slate of games. Here’s a look at the safeties now on the depth chart for 2015: Mills (senior), Corey Thompson (redshirt junior), Rickey Jefferson (junior), Jamal Adams (sophomore), Devin Voorhies (sophomore), John Battle (redshirt freshman/sophomore, played in only one game early in 2014), JuCo transfer Jeremy Cutrer (who has three years to play two) and Dwayne Thomas (a redshirt junior who can play both safety and corner). What’s odd is that Mills’ return effectively causes a logjam in the back at safety and in the box for those seeking nickel/dime snaps. Best way-too-early guess: Mills and Adams start at the safety positions with Jefferson replacing either when they go in the box and Mills/Thomas being the two most frequent nickel and dimers. Man, some really talented players are going to be riding the pine. LSU will be in tremendous shape in the event of injury, or foul trouble should a basketball game break out.

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