With spring practice just around the corner, this week we’ll look at the strongest and most uncertain positions at six of the SEC’s leading contenders for 2016.
These are the six teams -- Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida -- that ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranked in his “Way-Too-Early Top 25” after national signing day.
We started with Alabama this morning. Now we move to an LSU team that is loaded with returning starters:
Position of weakness: As at Alabama, the quarterback competition will draw the most attention until the Tigers prove they have a consistent starter. However, the position group that ranks as LSU’s biggest question mark is on the other side of the ball: linebacker.
The defense would have been in much rougher shape if linebacker Kendell Beckwith had not elected to return for his senior season. But even with Beckwith back, this spring will surely be a time of experimentation for new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
The Tigers lost seniors Deion Jones and Lamar Louis from last season, while senior Duke Riley and junior Donnie Alexander are the only returning linebackers with any experience to speak of on scrimmage downs.
The good news is that LSU’s top linebacker recruit, ESPN’s No. 51 overall prospect Michael Divinity, is already on campus as an early enrollee. Rahssan Thornton will join him over the summer. LSU also has a number of defensive backs -- plus Devin Voorhies, who shifted from safety to linebacker last year -- who are good enough tacklers to play hybrid linebacker roles in Aranda’s new scheme.
That said, the Tigers have a lot to figure out at linebacker this spring as players work to learn their new responsibilities under their new defensive guru.
Position of strength: It’s tempting to pick running back here since Leonard Fournette might be the best player in college football and Derrius Guice is no slouch himself. But let’s go with cornerback.
As with linebacker, the Tigers got a big boost when All-SEC corner Tre’Davious White opted to return for his senior year. He has not racked up a huge career interception total, but White is one of the SEC’s top cover corners and his presence will help stabilize a secondary that struggled at times last season.
The veterans will face an early challenge from one of the nation’s top groups of cornerback signees. Early enrollee Saivion Smith is already on campus and ready to compete for playing time, just as Toliver did a year ago. Meanwhile, No. 27 overall prospect Kristian Fulton and ESPN 300 honoree Andraez “Greedy” Williams will arrive on campus this summer.
“DBU” took its lumps last season, but this group looks ridiculous on paper. We’ll see if they mesh better in Aranda’s defensive scheme than they did in departed defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s. The talent on hand makes it seem like LSU could dominate against the pass.