BATON ROUGE, La. -- As LSU prepares to open preseason practice on Thursday, we’re spending some time this week examining some of the key questions facing the Tigers in 2015.
Today we’ll look at five freshmen who could make an instant impact in 2015. Les Miles and his staff have made it a habit to utilize young talent – the Tigers played 19 of their 25 signees last season – and this season will be no different. Here are some of the top candidates for playing time:
Arden Key: This is arguably LSU’s most important freshman in the short term. The rangy Key (LSU lists him at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds) has the frame and talent (ESPN rated him as the nation’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end in the 2015 class) to develop into an elite pass-rusher. But can he (or fellow freshman Isaiah Washington) provide an immediate spark to a pass rush that produced only 19 sacks in 2014? The Tigers are looking for answers there, and they might need a lift from one of the freshmen.
Kevin Toliver: The Tigers’ highest-rated signee -- he was No. 10 overall and the No. 2 cornerback on the ESPN 300 -- already has a spring practice under his belt. Toliver will have his hands full in attempting to unseat Ed Paris as the starting cornerback opposite Tre'Davious White. Perhaps Toliver will have to earn his stripes on special teams early on, but surely he will find ways to play on scrimmage downs as the season progresses.
Donte Jackson: Jackson and fellow four-star cornerback signee Xavier Lewis face a similar predicament to the one facing Toliver. They’re trying to jump into the mix in an experienced secondary – and they’re doing so without Toliver’s advantage of early enrollment. Jackson, however, can do more than just play defensive back. In his first public comments about Jackson, Miles on national signing day said that the Tigers could also utilize the speedy freshman on offense or as a kick returner. It will be interesting to see whether the Tigers get that creative with the versatile freshman.
Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette: Might as well mention these guys together. They’re both going to contribute, if for no other reason than that LSU has only two tailbacks (Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams) returning from last season. Throw fullback/tailback David Ducre in here, too. Guice (No. 96) and Brossette (No. 121) were both ESPN 300 prospects and both appear to be solid prospects for the future, even if Fournette figures to get the bulk of the carries this season. Running backs coach Frank Wilson will surely get the freshmen some touches this season in preparation for bigger workloads down the line.
Tyron Johnson: We could mention one of the Tigers’ supremely talented offensive line signees with this last spot, but it’s unclear at this point whether line coach Jeff Grimes plans to play any of them or redshirt them. Instead, let’s look at another group attempting to find playing time at a deep position: Johnson and fellow receivers Derrick Dillon, Jazz Ferguson and Lanard Fournette. Johnson -- ESPN’s No. 30 overall prospect, No. 3 receiver and top prospect from Louisiana -- is the headliner here. New receivers coach Tony Ball already has a deep group of wideouts who played last season, including Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, Trey Quinn and D.J. Chark. But Johnson -- and perhaps some of the other receiver signees -- might be too talented to leave on the sideline.