LSU's breakout performer: Tiger players make their picks

Junior defensive end Lewis Neal is a player whom some LSU teammates think will excel in 2015. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. -- We all have our picks for breakout players in the upcoming football season.

Among LSU players, a host of freshmen (running backs Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette, defensive end Arden Key, offensive guard Maea Teuhema and cornerback Donte Jackson) and returning players such as defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal, tight end Colin Jeter and linebacker Duke Riley all generated buzz in August as Tigers who are ready to make a bigger impact than they have to date.

But nobody knows better than the Tigers themselves which players are destined for greater things in 2015. As we approach Saturday's opener against McNeese State, six veteran players offered their choices for potential breakout performers.

The good news for LSU's recently sluggish pass rush is that several players praised defensive ends for having enjoyed a strong August. Take senior right tackle Vadal Alexander, for example.

"Lewis Neal, he's had a great camp," Alexander said. "That's a guy I go against every day. A lot of people think that we won't have as strong a pass rush as we've had in the past, and I think people will be surprised by how much we will have a pass rush this year, especially from Lew and Tashawn on the other side and Arden. But Lewis is definitely going to make some plays."

Defensive tackle Christian LaCouture echoed Alexander's sentiment concerning the ends.

"I think our two defensive ends are going to have a great year, Tashawn and Lewis Neal," LaCouture said. "They had great camps. I think Arden and Isaiah [Washington] will have great years, as well."

Wide receiver Travin Dural's pick: sophomore wideout D.J. Chark, who burst onto the scene during spring practice after failing to record a reception in 2014.

"This spring D.J. Chark is a guy who really came alive," Dural said. "We know about Malachi [Dupre] and Trey Quinn and John [Diarse] and all those guys. They've really grown a lot, but D.J. Chark is someone who didn't play a lot last year and he's a guy who's grown a lot. He's someone who can help us out this year."

Dural also predicted big things for Brossette and Guice, and he wasn't alone. Junior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith also mentioned the freshmen backs, along with Key ("He's still learning, but is just a natural."), Jackson and receiver Jazz Ferguson.

Among returning players, Beckwith singled out junior strongside linebacker Riley and sophomore weakside linebacker Donnie Alexander.

"Duke Riley is good. He's real good," Beckwith said. "He goes 100 percent. He really don't get tired. He probably could run all day. Him and Donnie Alexander, they've been doing real, real good. We know that if one of us was to go down, they'd step in and there'd be no loss of step."

Junior safety Rickey Jefferson had similar words of praise for Riley and Neal.

"Duke, that's my brother. Me and him, we come from the same area and we had the same grind," Jefferson said. "We feel like we probably should have had more playing time in our past or whatever, but we just stayed level-headed and kept working. So now I feel like it's going to pay off for the both of us.

"Also add Lewis Neal in that argument, as well," Jefferson added. "Lewis, same with him. Been here for two years. Outstanding work ethic and student of the game, trying to catch onto everything that he needs to, not trying to blame anyone else for their shortcomings."

Junior right guard Josh Boutte pointed toward Teuhema, who is listed as a co-starter at left guard along with redshirt freshman Will Clapp on LSU's first depth chart.

"I'll say Maea definitely," Boutte said. "He's shown he's ready to compete as a freshman coming in. You don't see freshman guys coming in ready to compete for a starting job. I think he did a great job over the summer of going ahead and learning the playbook and getting his technique down pat and just showing what he's capable of doing as a talented player."

Although he's an upperclassman, Boutte might qualify in this category himself. He has appeared in 21 games to date, mostly on special teams, but is in position to possibly make his first career start. He and Clapp are listed as co-starters at right guard.

"I'm feeling great," Boutte said. "I'm excited about the first game coming up and just focusing this week on my technique and making sure I'm technique sound and I'm where I need to be and where I need to go."