HOOVER, Ala. --- The past two Southeastern Conference Media Days didn’t disappoint in the dramatics category.
In 2009, Tim Tebow came a Steve Spurrier-vote short of being a unanimous First-Team All-SEC selection at quarterback, and the former Florida head man later admitted he didn’t even fill out the ballot (that task was handed to South Carolina’s sports information director).
And in 2010 there was the Robbie Caldwell Show, the opening (and final) act in Hoover for the first-year Vanderbilt coach, a 40-minute address to the conference’s print media that turned into Showtime at the Apollo.
This year, there was no Tebow, nor Caldwell.
For LSU head coach Les Miles, it was a relatively easy afternoon. Though questions surfaced about Willie Lyles’ involvement in the program and Russell Shepard’s last-minute absence from the event, Miles did very little elaborating.
New roles developing at linebacker
With Kelvin Sheppard gone to the NFL, Ryan Baker steps into the role of on-the-field coach for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.
After he suffered a broken jaw last August that kept him out of the opener against North Carolina, Baker’s season tackle total of 87 was good for second-best on the team and 12th in the SEC.
Evidenced by his selection as a representative for the team at Media Days, Baker will be expected to take the torch and run with it for the Tigers this fall.
While he hopes to match the production of Sheppard, it will be done the Baker way.
“Kelvin was a great player, but I don’t know if we can copy his whole game,” Baker said. “We want to take certain aspects of his game and concentrate on those.”
Another linebacker who carries a new set of responsibilities into 2011 is Karnell Hatcher.
After moving down from his starting safety spot this past spring, Hatcher is caught in a competition with Stefoin Francois as Chavis’ No. 1 option at strongside linebacker.
“I like it,” Baker said of the move. “(Hatcher’s) very versatile.”
While redshirt freshman D.J. Welter has made his push for playing time, sophomore Kevin Minter looks to have secured the starting spot at middle linebacker, giving the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder his first shot at the field since arriving to campus as an early enrollee in 2009.
“You can say (Minter’s) ahead right now,” Baker said. “He’s been in the system the last two years, so he understands the concepts. It’s really just about opportunity. Everyone can play. It’s just about who has that opportunity.”
With nearly two months of summer workouts now in the rearview, Texas linebacker Trevon Randle, the lone linebacker signee in the 2011 class, could become an even fresher face to the field.
“He is an athlete,” Baker said. “I really feel like he is kind of similar to how I was when I was a freshman. He’s a fast guy who can run around, and I can’t wait to see him put pads on.”
A four-star prospect on Scout.com, Randle recorded 108 total tackles, three interceptions, one sack and one fumble recovery during his final year of high school ball.
Hebert praises the men up front
After Russell Shepard was pulled from Media Days in the 11th hour, senior lineman T-Bob Hebert got his chance to brag to the national media on the quality of LSU’s offensive line.
“We love our o-line,” Hebert said. “This is the most solid group we have had in years. We miss Joe (Barskdale), but we have nine returning starters on offense.
“We had a great summer. (Strength and Conditioning coach) Coach Moffitt, like always, is getting us ready to play. It feels like we have been grinding since January, and we are so close.”
The only new edition to the front five is sophomore Chris Faulk, who steps in for Barksdale as the tackle to quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s blind side. With 11 games and 2 starts at right tackle under his belt, Faulk appears ready for the next step in his college career.
“Chris has improved so much, and I’m so proud of him,” Hebert said. “He’s ready to be a dominant force in this league.”
The four spots to Faulk’s right belong to returning starters.
Josh Dworaczyk is expected to line up at left guard for the third consecutive season, with fellow senior Will Blackwell getting the nod at the opposite guard slot, a position he was slated to occupy last season before he suffered a broken ankle in the season opener. For the second straight season, right tackle Alex Hurst and center P.J. Lonergan will get the nod as first-teamers.
The only question becomes where to slot in Hebert, who split duties last fall when he backed up Lonergan at center and became the starter at right guard for the final seven regular season games, recording a team-best 76 knockdowns in the process.
Heading into his final year as the apparent utility option for offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, Hebert said his focus remains learning all three of the inside spots and filling in when his name is called.
“It’s one of those things where we will see how the cookie crumbles,” Hebert said. “I just want to do my best to help out the team, and whether that is left guard or right guard or center.”