LSU went unbeaten in the 2011 regular season and won the SEC crown.
Since then the Tigers have dropped from first to second (2012) to third (2013) to fifth (2014) in the SEC West standings.
The coaching in the division has gotten significantly more competitive and LSU has struggled at key positions — like, say, the quarterback.
There is loads of talent on this roster and a head coach who has led his team to two national championship games. But make no mistake, this spring is critical for Les Miles to answer key questions about his roster.
5 Storylines to Watch in LSU’s Spring Practice:
1. Wide-open QB competition
Improving the passing game is a must this offseason for Miles. This unit was awful in 2014, averaging just 140.6 yards passing per game in SEC tilts. With that in mind, Miles has opened up the competition this spring. Both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris struggled mightily last year and both know that they could be the key to an LSU resurgence. Jennings completed less than half of his passes, as the Tigers finished dead last in the SEC in passing offense. Competition can be very healthy and Miles is hoping an open battle will fix his signal-caller woes.
2. Create a pass rush
The defensive end position is one of pride for most LSU faithful, as the track record for elite-level playmakers rushing the QB in Baton Rouge is impressive. Except, that wasn’t the case last year as LSU finished 103rd nationally with just 19.0 sacks. Both Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are gone, so establishing a pass rush might be new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s first order of business — with the help of D-line guru Ed Orgeron. Per usual, there are plenty of talented bodies but someone in the law firm of Bower, Clark, Teuhema, Patterson and Neal needs to step up and become a star. Of course, depending on the scheme, a pass rusher could be found in the form of a linebacker.
3. New-look defense
After two years at Alabama, Steele now has full control of one of the best defensive units in the nation. The biggest question surrounding his arrival is concerning the scheme he will implement this spring. Steele has a 3-4 background, but LSU has been a very traditional 4-3 for as long as Miles has been in charge. The tealeaves indicate that the Tigers will use multiple fronts this fall but there is no reason for Steele to tip his hand until the season begins. Steele has a star in the making with the emergence of Kendall Beckwith as well as a solid collection of potential breakout players at linebacker. How many can Steele get on the field and in what down-and-distance situations remains to be seen.
4. Playmaker depth
There’s no doubt running back Leonard Fournette will be one of the nation’s leading rushers in 2015. But with the departure of Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to restock the depth behind Fournette this spring. At receiver, Travin Dural produced plenty of big plays a year ago but LSU needs to develop a consistent No. 2 and No. 3 pass-catching option. This is a big spring for Trey Quinn, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse at receiver. Lastly, no tight end on the roster caught more than seven passes and the one who did is gone.
5. Find the five best blockers
Miles wants to get the best five blockers on the field and that potentially could mean playing some guys at new/different positions. All-SEC guard Vadal Alexander will move to tackle and take on a bigger role this fall. Ethan Pocic, who might be better suited at tackle, looks like he will stay put at center because of team need. Jerald Hawkins will man the other tackle spot. That leaves Josh Boutte, K.J. Malone, William Clapp and Garrett Brumfield vying for the two guard positions and key reserve roles.
Pre-Spring Outlook on LSU:
As long as Miles is in charge, LSU will enter every season stacked with talent at most positions. But this team is trending in the wrong direction as the rest of the division continues to improve. The Tigers have issues at quarterback and have swapped SEC vet John Chavis for Steele and Orgeron on defense. The talent is still there to challenge in the West but the schedule is downright nasty. This staff will need to get work done this spring to move up the standings.