LSU spring opening: 5 things we learned

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Les Miles took the podium for his pre-spring practice news conference Wednesday with a red left eye he said was the result of a case of pink eye.

It looked, however, like it might have been something else, like a symbolic black eye that came from a jab thrown by Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, or from a hook fired by a couple of surprisingly early departures from his team to the NFL, part of a whopping 13 NFL departures after a 10-3 season.

At any rate, Miles looked ready to put the pink eye, and any symbolic black eye, behind him as LSU begins drills on Thursday.

Here is what we learned from Miles on Wednesday:

1. La'el Collins will get first shot at left tackle: Collins was one of the highest-rated offensive tackles in the country coming out of high school in 2011, but he was the Tigers' starting left guard as a sophomore in 2012.

Miles confirmed that Collins, now a junior, will get his chance to slide over to tackle, but added that redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins will get a look at the position as well. If Hawkins proves to be the better tackle candidate, Collins would move back inside.

Miles said if Collins indeed wins the left tackle spot, senior Josh Williford would be the likely choice to start at left guard. Junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika came to LSU at 370 pounds, Miles said, and is more likely to play on the right side, where Trai Turner returns as the starting guard, Miles said.

2. Lamin Barrow gets first shot at MLB: Miles also indicated that Barrow would get the first shot at the vacant starting middle linebacker role, a spot vacated by Kevin Minter's early NFL departure.

Miles said Barrow " can do the job outside," where he excelled with 107 tackles at weak-side linebacker last season. If one of LSU's six Class of 2012 linebacker recruits or another veteran -- Miles mentioned junior D.J. Welter -- steps up at middle linebacker, Barrow can easily move back to his weak side spot.

3. Bolden, Maclin out: Miles said quarterback Rob Bolden, who made news when he transferred from Penn State to LSU last summer following the NCAA fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, will not participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in the off-season.

Bolden redshirted during the 2012 season, learning the offense. He'll be a junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Miles said Zach Mettenberger's other three backups, sophomore Stephen Rivers and true freshmen Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig, will get plenty of repetitions this spring, including first-team reps.

Also, reserve defensive end Justin Maclin will miss spring because of injury, Miles said.

On the flip side, Miles said running back Alfred Blue, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle, will be available during spring practice and has been going full speed during LSU's off-season workouts. Defensive end Jordan Allen, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, will participate in the spring, Miles said, but may be limited during early workouts.

4. Anthony Johnson ready to lead: There are few units in college football that lost more talent than what LSU lost in the defensive line, where it lost all four starters, including a couple of potential first-round draft picks.

Miles said Johnson, the junior tackle who played starter-like snaps last season and had 10 tackles for loss, has embraced being the leader of the young group.

"He's a guy who has stepped forward (as a leader) for the defensive line, right through the (off-season) coaching sessions," Miles said. "He showed leadership right through those sessions."

Johnson, a former top-rated prep defensive tackle in the country coming out of high school, has had the luxury of being the talented youngster while older NFL prospects like Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan were the line's leaders. That luxury no longer exists with those three headed for the draft.

"It's a battlefield promotion," Miles said of the role Johnson inherits. "You've got to step into the fold here and go like hell. You've got to be able to lead. That's kind of what we said to Anthony and Anthony has natural leadership ability. If he wants, he'll be a great leader for quite some time."

5. Kicker spot open: A season ago, James Hairston handled kickoffs while senior Drew Alleman handled placement kicks.

Tht doesn't mean that with Alleman now departed, Hairston will automatically take over field goal and point-after duties.

Miles said Hairston will compete with walk-ons for the placement kick duties, specifically mentioning redshirt freshman Colby Delahoussaye. Another walk-on freshman, Trent Domingue, is also on the Tigers' spring roster.

Hariston will continue to handle kickoffs, Miles said. Sophomore Jamie Keehn will replace Brad Wing as the punter.