TSD has been previewing the Tigers from several different angles. We’re still counting down our top 10 returning players, hitting senior offensive lineman Vadal Alexander on Monday at No. 5.
Each day this week we’re also going to tackle individual storylines facing LSU in the spring. Yesterday’s first installment zeroed in on potential scheme changes defensively under new coordinator Kevin Steele.
Today the topic shifts to the team’s four early enrollees and the importance of getting several of them ready for an immediate – and needed – impact in their freshman campaigns.
It’s become an annual rite of passage for select signees around the country, and LSU is no exception. Every program is bringing in as many early enrollees as its roster can accommodate, trying to bring along the players of tomorrow, today, speeding up the learning curve.
This spring the Tigers welcome aboard four early enrollees – fullback David Ducre, quarterback Justin McMillan, tight end Hanner Shipley and cornerback Kevin Toliver II. For several of the newest Tigers, the next six weeks are vital in their quest to plug holes in the LSU two-deep and, in some cases, possibly emerge as first-year starters in 2015.
Toliver (6-2, 192) is the biggest name at a position of need. With Jalen Collins soon to be drafted and Rashard Robinson no longer with the team, position coach Corey Raymond has to identify a new staring corner opposite Tre’Davious White. The word is Raymond will leave Jalen Mills in the back at safety, meaning there’s a confidence he can find his man between Toliver and Edward Paris, a sophomore.
LSU has had no problem turning the reins over to freshmen at cornerback in the past, from Patrick Peterson to Tharold Simon to Tyrann Mathieu to Mills and all the way up to Robinson and White. But many of those guys broke in to starting jobs during the season. Toliver likely won’t have that luxury, putting even more emphasis on this spring and how he competes amid a veteran secondary. His skill set will certainly be developed, but the bigger issue is acclimating to a new system and new teammates that are much more familiar with that system.
Ducre (6-0, 239), like Toliver, is going to be called upon to play for the Bayou Bengals right away in his freshman season. How much or how little could depend on the aptitudes he shows this spring, when he’s likely to be shown the ropes at two different positions – running back and fullback.
The plan is for Ducre to play fullback, but, as we’ve seen plenty before with LSU camps, the numbers will be low this spring at running back (Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams are the only two scholarship runners on campus). So look for Ducre to help balance out the load for position coach Frank Wilson, taking time at running back as well. Still, with a starting fullback job available, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be drilled and worked out there often. Cross-training will be the name of Ducre’s game this spring.
McMillan (6-1, 177) is taking the torch from his predecessors in each of the last two seasons, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, both of whom were early enrollees in their respective classes. It’s almost become a non-negotiable at LSU for quarterbacks to show up a semester early, getting time in huddles and on the Ponderosa with Cam Cameron before the rest of the signees arrive.
The expectation is McMillan will redshirt, so his priorities this spring are a bit different than that of either Ducre or Toliver. For McMillan the aim is soaking things up on the mental side and beginning to commit certain actions taught by Cameron to muscle memory, making them second nature when his time comes in the future.
Shipley (6-5, 284) comes in as the heir apparent to a tight end like Dillon Gordon, who has some athleticism but is more or less a sixth offensive linemen. In fact it remains possible that Shipley could out-and-out become an offensive tackle before his time at LSU is expired.
One look at the LSU depth chart at tight end shows a logjam in 2015, from Gordon to Desean Smith to Colin Jeter to Jacory Washington. That means Shipley could potentially head the redshirt route like McMillan, so his spring is also about development for the future. And, with Gordon entering his final season this fall, the Tigers are going to need a stalwart regular blocking tight end beginning in spring 2016.