Five Takeaways from Spring Ball

Spring football has become mostly a dog-and-pony show, but TSD publisher Ben Love looks past all the Big Cat drills for five meaningful observations to date from LSU spring ball.

The LSU football team may be on spring break, but TSD is still breaking down the Tigers more than halfway through an important spring football period for the program.

Already, in less than month of practices, there have been a few surprising developments and noteworthy trends worth committing to memory when it comes to projected starters and young players making moves.

Here are the five biggest observation so far from LSU spring practice.

1. Edward Paris is in line to start at cornerback.

There was a lot of buzz coming into spring ball surrounding freshman early enrollee Kevin Toliver. And while Toliver will play a lot of football at LSU in the coming years, Paris is showing him so far this spring that he’s been there, done that a year before Toliver arrived on the scene. The experience Paris got being in Toliver’s shoes as an early enrollee this time last spring is paying off, as the sophomore, who excels in press coverage, looks noticeably more comfortable going through drills and initiating contact with receivers.

Both of those are areas where Toliver is still clearly adjusting to the college game, particularly the physical part (receiver Travin Dural taught Toliver a lesson here). It’s possible that Toliver factors into six-DB dime packages this fall, but for now Paris is entrenched as LSU’s second cornerback starter, opposite Tre’Davious White.

2. Lewis Neal is surging past sophomores at defensive end.

When players move back and forth among positions, especially as a non-starter, it can be easy to lose them in the shuffle. Think back to Terrence Magee moving from running back to receiver and back to the backfield. Until his junior season there was no reason to expect much from the journeying Magee, who was really just helping fill low numbers at specific positions in certain years.

That guy is now Neal, and LSU’s hoping his final two years in TigerTown resemble Magee’s once he re-focused on running back. Neal is a defensive end by training but moved inside to tackle as a speed rusher last year to help with numbers. Now back at end, Neal is impressing new position coach Ed Orgergon. He’s taken the lead over sophomores Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema, both of whom logged minutes last fall as true freshmen. Count on both to remain in the rotation, but Neal, a shorter player with long arms that gets outstanding leverage, is taking on the look of a starter, opposite Tashawn Bower.

3. Young guns getting first crack at filling O-Line vacancies.

There are so many combinations along the line for second-year coach Jeff Grimes to select, and he likes it that way. Although it does make it a cumbersome chore to decipher who the starters will be, several players have shone through all the cross-training. Redshirt freshman Garrett Brumfield (right guard) and redshirt sophomore K.J. Malone (left guard) are atop that list, and if the season began today it’s reasonable to assume they’d start at those spots, along with returning starters Jerald Hawkins (left tackle), Ethan Pocic (center) and Vadal Alexander (right tackle).

Brumfield is a favorite of the staff’s, having played at U-High with several sons of current LSU coaches. But he’s displayed a toughness that informs why he was so coveted as a prep player. Malone is competing primarily with redshirt freshman William Clapp, and there’s cause to believe both will play this fall. Currently, however, Malone is the preferred option, owning one more year of experience. Even though there are older players in the fold – Jonah Austin, Jevonte Domond – the younger guys are sticking out, speaking to the promise of LSU’s line for the next few seasons.

4. Receiver D.J. Chark might be heard from in 2015.

Speed is a commodity LSU has always enjoyed getting to the field in mass quantities. Chark, a 6-foot-2, 184-pound sophomore, has that in spades. This spring the Alexandria native has parlayed his fleet-of-foot ways into a few head-turning performances in scrimmages. Les Miles made it a point to single out Chark after one scrimmage for a multiple-touchdown effort. He’s reportedly made an impact both catching the football and taking jet-sweeps, probably the understudy to Dural, who terrorized Texas A&M with that play in November.

Chark also has the ability to feature as a returner on special teams, an area where he made several highlight reels as a prepster. As for his spot on the receiver depth chart, that’s a line getting long in a hurry. Dural and Malachi Dupre are the returning headliners with John Diarse and Trey Quinn also back as producers from 2014. Set to hit campus this summer are freshmen Derrick Dillon, a player in the mold of Chark, and Tyron Johnson. So it won’t be easy for Chark to dent the top four, but if he can build on this spring, he’ll have a chance. Speed always gives you a chance to play.

5. Position moves could impact depth, playing rotation.

Every spring coaches move players around, testing their skill sets at different positions to find the best fits for the team’s needs. This spring has been no exception for LSU, which has shuffled several players around to places where, in most cases, the guys are expected to stick. Redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch is making the transition from receiver to fullback. That’s not one you hear often, but it makes a lot more sense when you consider H-back/tight end was always where the staff envisioned him out of high school. He’s competing with for a vacant starting job with early enrollee David Ducre.

On the defensive side two players have moved to the second level, linebacker, to bolster a core that may be undergoing a transformation over the coming six-to-12 months (to more of a 3-4 front). Devin Voorhies has moved down from safety while M.J. Patterson has moved back from defensive end. Both are getting a look at outside linebacker, a position that will graduate Lamar Louis and Deion Jones after this fall. Finally, Maquedius Bain is working at defensive end this spring, not tackle where he was recruited and has toiled on the bench these past two seasons. Given all the newness at the position, Bain would be a welcome addition to the two-deep, if he can get there.

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