LSU DEPTH CHART: Our best guess

Throughout the month of August, we have had countless people calling our office, posting on the message boards and sending letters asking about LSU's preseason depth chart.

In Nick Saban's eyes, the words "depth chart" is considered a faux pas. That is a word considered to be the biggest no-no around the ole ball coach whether in a press conference, on the practice field or even when Saban is visiting with fans at his weekly radio show on Wednesday nights. Those words are just downright profane around LSU football.


But we are going to take our best stab at who we think is going to line up where when the Tigers tee it up against Oregon State on Sept. 4. We will was on our predictions, but shhhhhh… don't tell the coach we told you.





Although this topic has been analyzed from just about every angle, we will discuss it one last time before the season opener.


Saban has done an excellent job of keeping the words "quarterback controversy" from surfacing throughout the last seven months, especially over the last three weeks. Saban has been very clear when stating the fact Marcus Randall is, and will be the starter in the season opener.


While backup signal callers JaMarcus Russell (who we feel is No. 2) and Matt Flynn are talented enough to lead this team, it's Randall's job to lose right now. The good thing is it seems Russell and Flynn are patiently waiting their turn for playing time and are in support of Randall at the helm of the offense.


Randall is bigger, stronger, more athletic and has a better grasp on the offense than he did during his stint as the Tigers starter in the second half of the 2002 season. He has more poise in the pocket and seems more aware of game situations. Aside from a steady crop of wide receivers, the Tigers possess a punishing ground attack that will take a great deal of pressure off Randall's shoulders.





Although the field was narrowed down a bit with the departure of Barrington Edwards, the Tigers are loaded at running back with SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Justin Vincent leading the way.


Vincent, who has a pretty good strangle hold on the starting spot, became the Tigers first 1,000 yard rusher in 2003 since Kevin Faulk in 1998.


Beyond Vincent though, Joseph Addai, Shyrone Carey and Alley Broussard rival the Auburn backfield as one of the SEC's, possibly the nation's best.


Addai has been seeing split time at running back and wide receiver. Carey will be used for special situations while Broussard (in our opinion) is true second-string running back. His bruising running style is a joy to watch and a nightmare for defenders.





For those keeping score at home, Kevin Steltz, who recently received a scholarship, is probably the penciled in starting fullback.


However, look for tight end David Jones to see most of the work sliding from his end position to the backfield, much like Joe Domingeaux during his final year at LSU.


Steltz, the strongest man on the team with a bench press over 600 pounds, is an excellent blocker and is backed up by Shawn Jordan.



Wide Receivers


Where do we begin?


For those of you mourning the loss of Michael Clayton, dry those tears because sophomore Dwayne Bowe is poised to become the next great receiver at LSU. With great size and athletic ability, Bowe can control the tempo of the passing game with his physical play. While his speed isn't blinding, he is still a star in the making.


Skyler Green returns for year number three in purple and gold and is now the granddaddy of the receiving corps. A shifty pass catcher, Green is going to contribute on punt returns and don't forget about those end arounds (i.e. Sugar Bowl TD).


If we had to make a guess on the second string wide receivers it would probably be Craig "Buster" Davis and Amp Hill. Addai is going to get reps probably as a slot back (more than most people think).

As for the freshmen, Early Doucet is the odds on favorite to be the first frosh to touch the field. Xavier Carter and Lavelle Hawkins haven't made as much progress as Doucet, but don't worry, all three will play in 2004.



Tight Ends


It is a grab bag at the tight end spot.


It all depends on what you want – a blocker or a pass catcher.


Junior David Jones is the best receiving tight end on the team having hauled in the most passes at the position a year ago. But Jones is not the best blocker on the team.


Demetri Robinson is probably the best blocking tight end LSU has on the roster, but after he missed most of spring drills it looks like sophomore Keith Zinger has moved past him.


Also in the wings are redshirt freshman Andrew Wright, a mammoth tight end standing at 6-7. Plus junior Kory Hebert is still acting in a backup role.



Offensive Line


One would think with two preseason all-Americans on the offensive, this would be the most stable and talented position on the team – not so fast.


While center Ben Wilkerson is on everybody's preseason lists and is regarded as the best center in the nation and Andrew Whitworth is a darling for NFL scouts standing 6-7, the offensive line has been brooding with controversy throughout fall camp.


When Terrell McGill showed up badly overweight and out of shape and Rudy Niswanger drew some criticism from Saban in the early stages of fall camp, both guard position became the topic of discussion around most water coolers.


After the first scrimmage, although injured, Will Arnold donned a red jersey and stepped in on the first team at left guard. He has yet to relinquish that position and looks to be headed into the season opener with the one's.


Niswanger appears to be settling in at right guard after Saban said he has improved since the early stages of two-a-day workouts.


We don't even have to talk about Wilkerson at center and Whitworth at left tackle. Heck, there is little to say about Nate Livings at right tackle either after he showed up at camp in the best shape of anyone on the entire team.


The most intriguing debate right now is the second string spots on the offensive front. Terrell McGill and Brian Johnson are predicted to be the second stringers at both guard spots, but defensive tackle turned offensive lineman Brandon Washington has looked good in his new role and is in the mix as well.


Doug Planchard will step in behind Wilkerson at center and Peter Dyakowski and Paris Hodges we feel are the backups at the tackle spots. However, you would likely see Saban shuffle Niswanger to any vacant spot if an injury was to occur due to his knowledge of every spot on the offensive line.


Don't be surprised if true freshman Brett Helms gets some playing time somewhere. Helms, a native of Arkansas, drew praise from Saban in fall camp as a potential early particpant.


As for big Herman Johnson, the fact he missed most of August practice fighting an infection in his leg, don't expect him to play right away. He trimmed down from the hefty 400-plus pounds at which he reported, but it is still unclear what he contribution will be a as true freshman.



Defensive Line


Many people have been whispering it under the breath, but few people want to (or actually can) believe when analysts say the LSU defense may be better than it was a year ago.


The defensive unit as a whole is bigger and faster than it was a year ago. But replacing Marquise Hill and Chad Lavalais on the defensive line is quite a tall task. However, Saban just might have pulled it off.


With the emergence of junior college defensive tackle Claude Wroten, the big man from Bastrop, La. may be just the answer to replace Lavalais. At 6-3, 315, Wroten is a manchild and has drawn high marks from the Tiger coaching staff.


But how could we talk about the LSU defensive line without drooling about senior defensive end Marcus Spears. Turning his back on the big bucks of the NFL to complete his career at LSU, Spears is shooting for his best season yet as he enters his final year in Tiger Town regarded as one of the top two defensive ends in America.


Linemate Kyle Williams came on strong down the stretch a year ago and is a solid compliment to Wroten at defensive tackle.


As for the defensive end position, Melvin Oliver has had a solid camp. Seemingly bigger than a year ago, Oliver appears to be in the best shape of his life. And while his fall camp experience has been one of misery with a pending court battle over a battery charge against his ex-girlfriend, Oliver may be playing with a chip on his shoulder come this fall coming out with something to prove.


Saban has given Oliver his vote of confidence stating he believes Oliver is innocent. And most Tiger fans out there have a hard time disagreeing with Saban and what he thinks.


As for backups, a host of players will be subbed in to follow Wroten and Williams. Carnell Stewart and Sean Merrill are the likely suspects, but also be on the lookout for true freshmen Glenn Dorsey and Marlon Favorite as well as Jarrod Carter.


At the end positions, the trim-fitted Kirston Pittman is no doubt a backup at one side as a pass rusher. Brian West will see time at the other end cap along with freshmen Tim Washington and Tyson Jackson.





At the linebacker position, the Tigers return two starters in Mike linebacker Lionel Turner and Cameron Vaughn at the Will.


A big debate has arisen over the Sam linebacker spot as junior college transfer E.J. Kuale has quickly arisen through the ranks and slipped past favorites Dominic Cooper and highly touted freshman Ai Highsmith.


It seems now Kuale and junior Kenny Hollis are duking it out for that spot as Highsmith, Cooper, Alonzo Manuel and Willie Demps are all positioning themselves for any reps they can find at the moment.


True freshmen Quinn Johnson got complimented by Saban for his intensity and Saban added he will play this season whether it be on linebacker or on special teams. Luke Sanders is a talented freshman that has gotten a few mentions from Saban through fall camp.


Senior reserve linebacker Dorsett Buckles got the biggest compliment of all from the head man when Saban said last week he was having the best fall camp of any linebacker and that he was proud of Buckles for hanging with the program for so long and being patient.


Does this not sound like another Eric Alexander success story in the making? We shall see.



Defensive Backs


The strength of the Tigers entire team is the defensive backfield.


Let's just say, teams are going to be hard pressed to throw on this secondary. Built out of the image of Saban himself, the fifth year head coach has assembled the nation's top unit with three returning starters highlighting the rotations.


All-American Corey Webster may be the best pure athlete in all of college football. A former high school quarterback, Webster has played wide receiver at LSU before settling in as one of the top two premiere cover corners in all of NCAA football.


On the other side, Travis Daniels has emerged as the right partner for Webster at corner. A former safety, Daniels has flourished in his role opposite of Webster and gives LSU the best cornerback tandem anywhere.


At free safety, LaRon Landry is only a sophomore, but he is regarded as one of the top safeties in America. Starting a year ago as a true freshman, Landry grew up in a hurry and is grooming sophomore Jessie Daniels to be the next great strong safety as he steps in for the departed Jack Hunt.


In terms of backups, Ronnie Prude and Mario Stephenson are projected to follow up Webster and Daniels. Stephenson comes to LSU as one of the best junior college defensive backs in the country from a year ago.


There are a host of other defensive backs that will factor into the mix as the corps nucleus goes as deep as it is talented. Nick Child, Daniel Francis, Jonathan Zenon, Keron Gordon will all see time at some point. And don't count out true freshmen Jeffery Jack, Craig Steltz, Curtis Taylor and Chevis Jackson. Saban is not afraid to throw any one of these players into the fire early.

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