Editor’s note: This column is the first in a two-part position prediction series for the 2014 LSU football season.
With the LSU football team set to start fall practice in less than a month, it’s a perfect time to start previewing the 2014 season. All the biggest question marks center on the offense, which lost five starters to this year’s NFL draft.
Quarterback: Anthony Jennings
It wouldn’t be July in Baton Rouge without a quarterback controversy.
Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris have been talking points since spring practice, and the competition was heightened when Harris clearly outplayed Jennings in the spring game. Though the pair will probably split playing time throughout the season, Jennings’ comeback drive against Arkansas and bowl game experience should give him the edge to start the season opener against Wisconsin.
Running back: Terrence Magee
No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette will get his share of carries in coach Les Miles’ multi- running back system, but he’ll have to wait. Magee blossomed behind Jeremy Hill in 2013, rushing for 626 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior is a tough but quick running back who adds a wrinkle to the passing game after playing wide receiver in 2012.
Fullback: Connor Neighbors
Fullbacks are an endangered species in the current era of football, but not in Miles’ offenses.
Neighbors emerged to split time with J.C. Copeland last season and has the starting spot locked down for 2014. While he’s not functioning as a lead blocker, Neighbors will get a decent amount of targets in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s West Coast system.
Wide receivers: Travin Dural, John Diarse
LSU’s returning pass catchers accounted for less than 16 percent of the Tigers’ receiving yards last season, making the receiving corps the toughest void to fill. Dural secured the No. 1 spot with a 130-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game, but the rest of the pack is tightly contested.
Senior Quantavius Leslie ran reps with the first team in the spring, but Diarse’s frame and physicality should allow him to rise up the depth chart and be a possession receiver in the same vein as Jarvis Landry. Freshman phenoms Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn will also see serious playing time.
Tight end: Dillon Gordon
This spot is a toss-up between Gordon and sophomore DeSean Smith, depending on the formation and game plan. Gordon instantly improves LSU’s run game because his size and skill set makes him a de facto sixth lineman, whereas Smith is athletic enough to be a viable target for the Tigers’ young quarterbacks.
Offensive tackles: La’el Collins, Jerald Hawkins
LSU returns four starters on the offensive line, and Collins is the cornerstone. He’s started 25 games for the Tigers and has developed into arguably the best left tackle in the nation.
Hawkins can hold his own on the right side after earning Second Team Freshman All-America recognition last year. If he continues to progress and works on bringing his pad level down, Hawkins may soon be as highly touted as Collins.
Offensive guards: Vadal Alexander, Hoko Fanaika
At 6 feet 6 inches, Alexander is oversized for a guard. But he and Collins make a fearsome combination on the left side of the line, and Alexander is one of the more experienced linemen with 22 consecutive starts. Fanaika gets the edge because Miles favored him in the spring, but the right guard position battle with Evan Washington may continue well into the season.
Center: Elliott Porter
Miles was high on sophomore Ethan Pocic during spring practice, but Porter still has the starting spot wrapped up. Porter may have the toughest job on offense — he’ll have to get comfortable with the cadences and quarterback-center exchanges of both Jennings and Harris.
Marcus Rodrigue is a 21-year-old mass communication senior from Thibodaux, La.