Five things to watch in LSU's spring game

BATON ROUGE, La. -- C.J. Garrett was essentially a nonfactor as an LSU freshman, despite his status as one of the highest-rated members of the Tigers' vaunted 2014 signing class.

The lack of playing time didn't come as a shock to the young middle linebacker, however. Garrett was not in the greatest shape when he arrived in Baton Rouge -- the result of offseason surgery to repair the labrum in his shoulder that had been torn for two years. And even if he had been able to prepare properly before enrolling, he would have had difficulty unseating Kendell Beckwith and D.J. Welter at his position.

"It was a learning experience," Garrett said. "I came from a small school in Plainfield, Illinois, and I come all the way down South in the SEC and play at a big school like LSU. So it wasn't something that was shellshocking to me. I kind of expected to come out here and learn everything and learn and move my way up."

Moving up remains Garrett's goal, and he has a much better chance to accomplish it this season. He has dropped approximately 15 pounds since arriving at 248 pounds last summer and he has an improved grasp of the Tigers' defensive scheme.

He's also getting a lot more work behind Beckwith on the practice field now that Welter has graduated.

"That's a huge thing for me," Garrett said. "I'm kind of a guy that I have to do it to actually learn it. It's definitely helped me a lot going out there and getting all those reps and going from the room and then going out to the field and actually getting a chance to rep the plays. It's definitely huge for me."

How much progress has Garrett truly made? LSU fans will find out at Saturday's spring game, when they get their first glimpse of the sophomore linebacker playing on scrimmage downs.

Garrett will be one of the Tigers' most intriguing players to watch on Saturday. Excluding quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, whose position battle will be the most talked-about element of the game. Here are four more:

Ed Paris: The sophomore cornerback enrolled early last season, but was not much of a factor beyond special teams play. He seems to be in good shape to grab a starting position this fall, however. Early enrollee Kevin Toliver -- among others -- will be difficult to hold off, but Paris can help his case by finishing off the spring with a strong final scrimmage.

Deion Jones: Kwon Alexander probably did not get the attention he deserved last season as one of the SEC's best linebackers. He led LSU with 90 tackles and tied for second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss from his weakside linebacker position before declaring for the NFL draft. Now the starting job is in Jones' hands, and the senior has reportedly enjoyed a strong spring. Let's see whether he can match his performance from last year's spring game, when he returned a Jennings interception 67 yards for a touchdown and recorded seven tackles.

David Ducre: He doesn't need to have the entire offense down pat yet -- he's just an early enrollee after all -- but the freshman fullback possesses the size and skillset to become an impact player early in his career. Is he already prepared to truly challenge John David Moore for a starting job? Maybe not, but he still has plenty of time to pick up the finer points of his position's important role in LSU's offense. Making a couple of good plays on Saturday would provide a nice confidence boost for Ducre entering the summer months.

Lewis Neal: One of the leading storylines for LSU's defense this season will be whether new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and line coach Ed Orgeron can engineer a better pass rush. If they do, it sounds like Neal will be one of their more reliable weapons. A buzz has built this spring around the junior defensive end and his ability to get to the quarterback. It would rank as a positive sign for Steele and Orgeron if Neal (or somebody) notches a sack or two on Saturday.