Schedule: The Tigers will open spring practice on Friday at 5 p.m. ET and conclude the spring with their National L-Club spring game on March 31 at 1:30 p.m. ET. LSU will honor the 2011 team with an SEC championship celebration in Tiger Stadium prior to kickoff of the spring game.
What’s new: Former LSU player Corey Raymond was added to the staff this week as defensive backs coach. Raymond, who coached the Nebraska secondary last season, takes over for Ron Cooper, who left to take a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Adam Henry is the new receivers coach after spending the last five seasons on the Oakland Raiders’ staff. He replaces Billy Gonzales, who left to become co-offensive coordinator at Illinois.
Key battle: With Michael Brockers leaving early for the NFL, there should be some serious competition at the defensive tackle spots. The good news for LSU is that there will be plenty of bodies from which to choose, and just about everybody has some experience. Junior Bennie Logan returns as the starter at one tackle, but senior Josh Downs and sophomores Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will all be attempting to nail down that other starting spot. Johnson showed flashes last season as a true freshman, and there’s a reason his nickname is “Freak.” He has everything it takes physically to be a dominant interior lineman in this league.
New faces: Even though LSU is loaded at running back with four returnees who could play for anybody in the SEC, keep an eye on 6-2, 225-pound freshman Jeremy Hill. After signing last year with LSU, Hill got into trouble off the field, went through the legal process and joined the Tigers in January. He has that blend of power and speed that all teams seek. LSU also welcomes four other early enrollees from the 2012 class -- linebackers Ronnie Feist and Lamar Louis, offensive guard Vadal Alexander and deep snapper Reid Ferguson. Feist and Alexander were both ESPNU 150 prospects.
Looking for linebackers: The Tigers lost three of their top four linebackers. Junior Kevin Minter returns in the middle, but the outside spots are wide open. Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator John Chavis takes a look at a safety at linebacker similar to what he did with Karnell Hatcher and Harry Coleman. A lot of times last season, Ryan Baker was the only linebacker on the field in certain situations. Chavis is looking for speed and more speed. This will be a big spring for Tahj Jones, Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie, all juniors. The Tigers also signed five linebackers in this class, and two of them -- Feist and Louis -- are in school and will participate in spring practice.
Breaking out: One of the priorities this spring will be finding more playmakers in the passing game, especially with Rueben Randle turning pro. A year ago, there were a lot of predictions that Jarvis Landry would be the breakout receiver as a true freshman. As it was, Odell Beckham, Jr. turned out to be the breakout freshman. Landry made his mark on special teams with several memorable hits. Look for him to also make his mark at receiver next season. He’s already a solid route-runner and has the size and speed to be a key contributor in the Tigers’ passing game in 2012.
Don’t forget about: Despite the loss of All-SEC guard Will Blackwell, the Tigers should be just as strong up front offensively in 2012, especially with guard Josh Dworaczyk being granted a sixth year of eligibility. The Tigers return four starters, and Dworaczyk was considered by many to be their best lineman entering last season before he injured his knee. Senior Alex Hurst and junior Chris Faulk return at the tackles. Junior Josh Williford returns at guard and senior P.J. Lonergan at center. In addition, sophomore La'el Collins was one of the Tigers’ highest-profile signees last season. He saw action in seven games as a true freshman and can play both guard and tackle.
All eyes on: LSU coach Les Miles has said the Tigers will throw it more and look to make more plays down the field in the passing game next season. Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has a big-time arm, but doesn’t have any game experience in the SEC. Miles is never going to shy too far away from the run, especially with so many linemen and backs returning. But it sounds like the Tigers are serious about opening up the passing game with Mettenberger taking over at quarterback. He could be the missing piece for an offense that struggled to generate a consistent passing attack for much of last season. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a first-year starter in this league, but Mettenberger is eager to take his shot after what he called a long and winding journey since starting his career at Georgia in 2009 and then having to go the junior college route after being dismissed from the Bulldogs' team.