BATON ROUGE, La. -- As LSU prepares to open preseason practice on Thursday, we’ll spend the next few days examining some of the key questions facing the Tigers in 2015.
Today we’ll look at five players who could use strong performances in camp to solidify their roles and propel themselves into the season:
Tashawn Bower (and the other defensive ends): This week's news that Maquedius Bain is leaving the program only makes this situation more important. LSU has little experience returning at defensive end, so the Tigers will attempt to raise their sack total with entirely new faces. Granted, LSU led the SEC in total defense last season despite ranking 102nd nationally and 13th in the SEC with 19 sacks, but that places an enormous strain on a talented secondary. Generating a stronger pass rush would only improve the defense’s overall efficiency. Bain’s departure leaves Bower and Lewis Neal as early favorites to claim starting jobs, but let’s see what happens in August with sophomores Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema and freshmen Arden Key and Isaiah Washington. The Tigers have to improve in this department.
Ed Paris: Although the 2014 early enrollee did not play significant minutes last fall, Paris looks to be the favorite to start opposite Tre’Davious White at cornerback. By all accounts, he had a productive spring, notching multiple interceptions in the Tigers’ closed practices. Now it’s his job to hold off a bunch of young upstarts. Early enrollee Kevin Toliver, the only five-star prospect in LSU’s 2015 class, will be breathing down Paris’ neck all season, and now he’ll be joined by two more talented summer enrollees, Donte Jackson and Xavier Lewis.
Trey Quinn: It was Quinn, not Malachi Dupre, who generated the most buzz among LSU’s highly touted freshman receivers in camp last season and Quinn who started the opener against Wisconsin. He even caught a two-point pass in the Tigers’ comeback win over the Badgers. But after suffering a midseason concussion and dropping a couple of key passes in the second half of the season, Quinn largely disappeared from view. He caught just three passes for 45 yards in LSU’s final six games. Freshman wideouts frequently experience such growing pains, however. Quinn still has productive years ahead of him at LSU, and he can begin his rebound with a strong August.
DeSean Smith: Another victim of a dropped pass -- his coming in the opener against Wisconsin -- tight end Smith seemingly disappeared from the Tigers’ 2014 offensive scheme until the bowl game. Then he hauled in four passes for 66 yards in that season-ending loss to Notre Dame. The Tigers worked some plays for the tight ends into the scheme during their spring game, so maybe Smith, Dillon Gordon, Colin Jeter and Jacory Washington will receive opportunities to do more than block this season. They’ll have to hold onto the ball when it comes their way, however, or the quarterbacks will likely go back to targeting the receivers and backs almost exclusively.
Brandon Harris: We saved this one for last. Every offseason projection for LSU starts with questions about its quarterbacks. The rest of the lineup looks good, but what about the guy under center? If the Tigers are better than average there, this will be an extremely dangerous team. That’s where Harris comes in, having participated in two sets of spring practices and entering his second preseason camp. He had much of the summer to lead passing sessions thanks to Anthony Jennings’ suspension that ended last week. This is Harris’ opportunity to take over the starting job from Jennings, who struggled last fall in his first season as a starter. Harris is talented, but LSU’s coaches will not tolerate a series of rookie mistakes from their starting quarterback. Harris must prove that he has a mental grasp on the offense and the maturity to handle the job.