By Andrew Alexander
Rabid fans, hundreds of the media personnel and a few football coaches and players sounds like the recipe for an idyllic autumn Saturday in the Southeastern Conference, right?
Mix all those ingredients together and the result is Southeastern Conferemce Media Days in Hoover, Ala. – a.k.a. four days of organized media chaos with a shopping mall and food court in the background. This year, a trio of LSU seniors – running back Terrence Magee, offensive lineman La’el Collins and linebacker D.J. Welter – accompanied head coach Les Miles to the heart of Alabama last week.
The Tiger contingent fielded questions on everything from the future starting quarterback to Les Miles’ penchant for eating grass. Between the lighthearted moments, here are just a few of the things LSU fans learned about the Tigers as the season opener slowly approaches.
1. The LSU quarterback race is still up in the air.
Nobody, including Miles, is certain who will start for LSU against Wisconsin on August 30, but all four of the Tigers agreed it is going to a hotly contested race between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris.
“I think we are in a great situation at quarterback at LSU,” Magee said. “Throughout the summer I’ve seen both of them learning and taking tips from each other and both progressing very well. They are making it a tough decision for coach Cam (Cameron) and Coach Miles on who is going to the starter for game one.”
Added Miles: “It will be a very competitive event from the start to the finish. You’ll see how well a freshman can execute at quarterback.”
2. Leonard Fournette will be special.
Drawing comparisons to NFL star running back Adrian Peterson was the easy part. Living up to the expectations during his time at LSU will be a tad more difficult.
But it seems the Tiger veterans are already quite enamored by the newest addition to the LSU backfield.
“Just from his attitude, I’m loving him already,” said Collins. “He acts like he’s been here for three years. He works hard, he’s humble, he’s coachable and he’s a guy who wants to be successful. When you have all those want-tos and you have all that God-given talent, it’s not going to be hard for you.”
It’s one thing for a veteran lineman to laud the performance of a star freshman running back he’ll be blocking for this season, but not many senior running backs would openly praise a youngster who is competing with them for playing time.
“I still get the ‘wow’ effect watching him catch the ball and run away from guys,” Magee gushed. “It’s amazing how quick he catches on to things and the vision he plays with. Who wouldn’t want to play in the same backfield as that guy?”
Even with the ringing endorsement of two well-respected veteran Tigers, it’s not everyday an incoming player gets compared to NBA legend Michael Jordan by his head coach.
“(Fournette) expects himself to be something very special,” Miles said. “I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to better than anyone.”
3. Besides Fournette, expect major contributions from a few freshman Tigers.
The Tigers lead the NCAA in early draft departures with eight the past two years, leaving some big holes to fill on both sides of the ball. But LSU recruited the second nationally ranked class this year, and Miles is expecting his new Tigers to be quick learners.
There’s a fifty percent chance the Tigers will have a freshman quarterback lining up under center this fall, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities to envision Harris passing to freshman wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn or handing the ball off to freshman running back Leonard Fournette.
And that’s just the offense.
“We’re a team that will expect some of these freshmen to come in and play,” said Miles. “Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre, C.J. Garrett and Brandon Harris, to name four freshmen that we would expect to have a great impact on our season.”
Magee said young players understand the expectations of coming to LSU.
“We have a sign in our team room that says, ‘Young guys be prepared to play early and play big roles,’” Magee said. “I think they are going to play big roles for us this year and step right in and fill the shoes of the guys who left.”
Collins believes his veteran offensive line should help ease the transition for the young Tigers on offense.
“The game starts up front,” Collins said. “We have to set the tone on how we want the season to go, and I believe if those guys buy into the program and buy into everything that we’ve done at LSU then they’ll be OK.”
4. Last year’s defensive growing pains will pay dividends this season.
The Tigers returned only two defensive starters from 2012’s squad because of a mass-exodus to the NFL draft. The result was uncharacteristic for a John Chavis-led defense last season, but the experience gained and the depth created by the numerous defenders who saw the field will be invaluable in 2014.
“Chief has done a great job of teaching and everyone has really come together coming off last season,” Welter said. “We aren’t short-handed. We’re going to be a much better, more cohesive unit.”
Welter will lead the Tiger defense the season as the Mike (middle) linebacker, with Kwon Alexander starting at Will (weakside) and Lamar Louis at Sam (strongside). Sophomore Kendell Beckwith and freshman Clifton Garrett are expected to play big roles for the linebacking corps this season as well.
“We’re going to have speed and ability there,” Miles said of the linebackers. “When you change the formation, that linebacking corps is challenged. That will be a great group for us.”
From defensive end to safety, the Tigers have a healthy mix of veterans and freshman that should restore to luster to LSU’s defense.
5. Do not rule the Tigers out of the conference title hunt.
LSU does not even know who’s starting at quarterback in the season opener, but crazier things have happened right?
Miles seems to think so.
“Who’s picked? I would be willing to bet that not many picked Auburn a year ago,” he said. “We understand that doesn’t mean that we’re in the immediate talk, but if we continue to do the things we’ve done in the past, we’ll earn our way.”
The Tigers do have a little bit of history going for them. Alabama was picked by the media to win the SEC in 2014, and in the past 22 years, we’ve only correctly predicted four winners.
Now, LSU just has to contend with the other thirteen schools in the conference.