Zach Mettenberger and the LSU offense put on an impressive display during Saturday's spring game in front of approximately 33,000 fans and a host of big time recruits. Tiger fans were refreshed to see some competency and big plays out of the passing game, something that was mostly lacking for the last four years.
Rather than just review the spring game, I thought we'd recap the entire spring. Back in my spring previews, I proposed a few key questions for each position group. I thought I'd revisit those and see if spring helped us answer any of them.
1.) Can Zach Mettenberger develop as a leader and earn the coaches' trust?
Mettenberger absolutely took on a leadership role this spring, and it showed. It appears that he has really matured and has taken ownership of this offense. LSU has plenty of leaders along the offensive line, but Mett seems to be a guy that the skill players look up to, and that's a good thing. Did he show enough as a passer to earn the coaches' trust so that LSU will pass the ball a bit more this fall? If the spring game is any indication, then absolutely.
2.) Who will win the backup job?
Stephen Rivers has a lock on the backup job right now. He was the clear number two guy by the end of spring. I thought Rivers looked good in the spring game, despite his less than stellar stat line (6 of 17 for 75 yards and an INT). He showed improved mechanics and plenty of zip on his passes. His decision making seemed about a second too slow on many occasions, but that will hopefully come with more time. Remember that Rivers faced LSU's #1 defense in the spring game and did not have the luxury of throwing to the Tigers' top receivers. Rivers looked like a guy that could start at LSU one day and do quite well. But if he has to play this fall, expect some growing pains.
3.) Will Miles implement a series of plays for Jerrard Randall?
The thought was that Les Miles may utilize Jerrard Randall for a few play a game to run some option or gimmicky type stuff like he did with Ryan Perriloux in 2007. But it doesn't appear that Randall is in the plans for 2012 right now. Randall did not play one snap in the first half of the spring game; although, he did play very well when given the chance in the second half. Randall has a ton of talent and a big arm. If he develops his touch and accuracy, he could really be a weapon in the future.
1.) Can Spencer Ware regain some of his quickness and in the process, regain his #1 spot on the depth chart?
That's exactly what happened. Ware reportedly lost 10 pounds, down to 224, and has regained some of the quickness that he seemed to lose in 2011. Les Miles mentioned as much:
"It has made a difference that he has lost some weight. He's down 10 pounds or so. He's quicker, makes a cleaner cut." (Times Picayune)
Ware's extra quickness was evident at the spring game and he rushed for 51 yards on eight carries. It looks like Ware is atop the depth chart heading into the summer.
2.) Will Kenny Hilliard's late season success carry over into the spring?
Hilliard certainly has not slowed down. In what is a very crowded depth chart at running back, LSU has a number of guys who can carry the load and Hilliard is one of them. He will be a big part of LSU's running game in 2012, even if he's not the primary ball carrier every single week.
3.) Can Jeremy Hill and/or Terrance Magee make a move and crack the Top four of the depth chart?
Terrance Magee battled some injuries in spring ball and was unable to finish. However, Hill took advantage of injuries to Magee and Michael Ford and made a statement this spring. He improved a good bit from the beginning of spring and Les Miles recently said that he would not redshirt. When Michael Ford returns from his injury, I'm not sure if Hill will be in that top four, but he seems to have moved ahead of Magee for now. As for Magee, I wonder if he could be headed for a redshirt this season with possibly five capable players ahead of him.
1) Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready to be a big time go-to receiver?
Absolutely, yes. Beckham looked great as a freshman in 2011, and he is even better now. He looks ready to be that guy to match up agains the opponents' top corner and to make big plays when needed. While he spent most of his time in 2011 catching shorter passes, he caught a couple of deep balls in the spring game and could also be the deep threat that LSU needs.
2) Will Jarvis Landry step up, as expected, to earn a starting role?
Yes. Landry did step up this spring and heads into the summer as the clear starter on the other side of Beckham. While not always flashy, Landry is a reliable route runner, pass catcher, and blocker. Landry had a great spring game with six catches for 120 yards.
3) Will James Wright or Kadron Boone prove that they need to be on the field?
Kadron Boone unfortunately missed most of spring with an injury but should be back in the fall. However, James Wright had a fantastic spring and should play a lot. As one of LSU's biggest and most physial receivers, he'll certainly see the field to contribute as a blocker. But he's also making a big push to be LSU's third receiver on the field ahead of Russell Shepard.
4) What does Paul Turner bring to the table?
I was very curious to see if Paul Turner would make a splash after a redshirt season. However, Turner did not really make any waves. He's still very young, having only completed his first spring practice. But he runs the risk of getting lost on the depth chart if some newcomers pass him in the fall.
1) Will Chase Clement step up and be a consistent contributor?
That remains to be seen. Clement is clearly the team's top tight end and he'll play a whole lot. But whether he produces as part of the passing game is still in question. In the spring game, the team favored throws to the running backs as secondary options rather than the tight-end.
2) Who will step up behind Clement and earn playing time?
I'm not sure that anybody has stepped up to this point. Tyler Edwards and Travis Dickson both bring something to the table, but nobody made the kind of move that you would have hoped for.
1. How much will Josh Dworacyk participate this spring?
It turns out that Dworacyk participated a lot more than anyone expected. He wore the green no contact jersey for the first couple of weeks of spring but then took it off and was a full participant. He played a lot in the spring game and looks healthy. He's currently running with the second team at left guard but should play a lot in the fall.
2. Is Evan Washington healthy?
Yes. Washington was a full participant in spring practice which was great to see. There were some rumblings that his injury may have been more serious than originally thought. Back in action for the first time in a year, Washington spent much of spring getting back into football spring and knocking off some rust. He'll be counted on for depth in 2012.
3. Is Elliott Porter ready to the backup center?
It's tough to say but LSU's staff seems to be pleased with his progress thus far. On a few occasions, Miles has named Porter as one of the players who has impressed him this spring. LSU also signed a junior college offensive lineman who will show up this summer, and some have rumored that he may practice at center too.
4. Who is the fourth tackle?
With Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst entrenched as the starters, it looks like junior Chris Davenport is the third tackle. Who else would play tackle? Redshirt freshman Jonah Austin practiced at right tackle with the second team for much of spring. But true freshman Vadal Alexander, who practiced at both guard and tackle, started the spring game at right tackle for the purple team (second team). But having said all that, I suspect that La'El Collins would slide outside to play tackle with Josh Dworacyzk stepping in at left guard in the event that a starting tackle go down to injury.
5. Of four freshmen guards, who will make a move?
Between Trai Turner, Corey White, Jonah Austin, and Vadal Alexander, I figured at least one guy would step up and seperate himself. It appears that both Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander really improved this spring. Alexander is just a true freshman and is already making noise. Turner was a constant with the second team throughout spring.
1) Is Keke Mingo ready to become an every down player?
That remains to be seen. Mingo worked with the starters throughout spring ball, but will he be on the field when it's first and ten and the opponent shows two tight-ends and a fullback? I still have my doubts, and I think we'll see Lavar Edwards in those situations. But expect Mingo to be on the field more often than he was in 2012, and that is scary for opposing quarterbacks.
2) Is Freak Johnson ready to step in and become a star?
Everyone expected Johnson to slide right into the starting spot vacated by Michael Brockers. However, he ran with the second team throughout spring and was unable to unseat senior Josh Downs. Johnson definitely has the talent, and I believe the coaches are trying to push him as much as possible by not handing him anything. He'll play a lot more than he did as a freshman.
3) Will some of the young guys (Rasco, Maclin, Ego, Q.Thomas, etc) show they belong on a SEC field and provide outstanding depth?
A lot of young guys along the defensive line have proven themselves this spring, including JermauriaRasco and Ego Ferguson. Rasco is in the two-deep and will play a lot this fall. Ferguson is also in the two deep and could end up playing starters' minutes. Jordan Allen also made a move this spring, showing that he may see some minutes and be a factor in the future.
1) Is Kevin Minter ready to take the next step?
It sure seems so. Minter really came on at the end of 2011, and now looks like LSU's most reliable linebacker. If John Chavis continues his track record for developing linebackers, then Minter could be in for a breakout season.
2) Who will win the job on the weak side?
Lamin Barrow held the early edge over Luke Muncie early in spring ball. After Tahj Jones went down with an injury, the staff moved Muncie over to the strong side to cross train in Jones' spot. I took that as a clear indication that Barrow will be the guy on the weak side and that Muncie will be the fourth linebacker, ready to step in at either outside position.
3) Can either of the true freshman make a serious impact and compete for early playing time?
Both Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis found themselves on the second team at linebacker this spring, but it was Feist that really made a name for himself. It took several attempts for the coaches to find someone that Feist could not completely dominate in the Big Cat Drill. But Feist also held his own on the field. In the spring game, he had seven tackles including 1.5 behind the line while going against LSU's starting offense. Look for him as a guy that may not redshirt this fall.
1) Will Craig Loston hold down the strong safety spot and finally fulfill his enormous potential?
To be determined. It seems that Loston is far and away the team's best option at the other safety spot next to Eric Reid. Part of the reason that Loston has not yet lived up to his five star status during his recruitment is due to injuries. And unfortunately, the injury bug found him again late in spring. Hopefully he'll be injury free this fall.
2) Who will emerge between Ronnie Vinson, Jalen Collins, and David Jenkins for the #3 corner spot?
This was one of the bigger questions on the team heading into spring, and it looks like Jalen Collins has taken the lead in this race. He ended spring as the third corner, and many of LSU's receivers have had great things to say about him. Watch out for Ronnie Vinson as LSU's dime back.
3) Will any of the young safeties make a serious push for playing time?
Ronald Martin started spring as the team's third safety, but Micah Eugene finished spring there and started the spring game with the first team defense. Martin is certainly next in line with Sam Gibson behind them.
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