LSU coach Les Miles hasn’t had a team fall short of double-digit victories since 2009.
For the Tigers to win at least 10 games for a fifth straight season, it will require more help from new players at key positions than at any time in the past half-decade.
“This is a new team,” said senior running back Terrence Magee, one of the few elder statesmen on the Tigers’ offense. “There is a lot of youth.”
The offense in particular, will require major contributions from players with little or no previous regular season experience. Several of the candidates to take over starting roles are true freshmen, including Brandon Harris, who is challenging sophomore Anthony Jennings to start at quarterback. Whoever wins that job will replace current Tennessee Titans rookie Zach Mettenberger, who last season passed for more than 3,000 yards at LSU.
That would be a tough enough void to fill on its own, never mind the fact that the Tigers also sent a pair of 1,000-yard receivers to the NFL: Odell Beckham Jr. to the New York Giants and Jarvis Landry to Miami.
“If we can get the quarterbacks to facilitate and function, we’re going to be good on offense,” Miles said. “I say that with the idea that young players are going to play. I say that with the idea that they’re talented and they were recruited to that void.
“We’re going to coach them hard. We’re going to make sure that we try to anticipate mistakes and avoid them,” Miles added. “I’m not anticipating just terrible growing pains there.”
There will be more experience on defense, and coordinator John Chavis also believes some young players on his unit have the talent to push for playing time at certain positions.
“Athleticism will usually overcome experience if you’re working in the right direction,” Chavis said. “Athleticism is a big part of what we do.”
5 Things to watch during Auburn’s upcoming season:
QB CONTEST: Miles does not appear to be in any rush to announce a starting quarterback in advance of the season opener against Wisconsin in Houston on Aug. 30. Jennings has a slight edge in experience. He was forced into action when Mettenberger was injured in the second half of LSU’s 2013 regular season finale against Arkansas and led a game-winning touchdown drive. He then started the Outback Bowl but played inconsistently in the Tigers’ 21-14 victory over Iowa. “The naming of a starter at quarterback will be when one separates himself from the other. … We’re not there,” Miles said Sunday.
STYLE POINTS: Coaches say LSU’s offense will probably look a lot different, stylistically, than it did a season ago. Mettenberger was a tall, strong-armed prototypical pocket passer. Jennings and Harris, meanwhile, both count running with the ball, be it scrambling or running the option, as a significant part of their game. “The constant theme with our quarterbacks is that they’re athletic. They can all run, which is a positive,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said.
VETERAN DEFENSE: LSU has most top play-makers returning to its the defensive backfield, including Tre’Davious White, Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills. Two starters return at linebacker and defensive end. But a recent hole has emerged at defensive tackle because of a biceps injury to Quentin Thomas, who is out indefinitely.
FOURNETTE’S FOCUS: The return of both Magee and Kenny Hilliard give LSU two seniors in its running back corps, but there’s a chance that true freshman Leonard Fournette could emerge as the No. 1 back. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back from New Orleans was the most coveted running back recruit in America after finishing his high school career with 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns rushing. Fournette said his immediate goals include rushing for 1,000 yards and being recognized as a Heisman Trophy candidate. “I am fast and I am a north-south runner,” a confident Fournette said. “I have great hands for a running back and I can block.”
YOUNG RECEIVERS: Sophomore Travin Dural, who had only seven catches last season, is now the most experienced receiver on the roster. True freshman Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshman John Diarse appear primed to emerge as regulars as well.
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