In Nick Saban’s eyes, the words
“depth chart” is considered a faux pas. That is a word considered to be the
biggest no-no around the ole ball coach whether in a press conference, on the
practice field or even when Saban is visiting with fans at his weekly radio show
on Wednesday nights. Those words are just downright profane around LSU
But we are going to take our best
stab at who we think is going to line up where when the Tigers tee it up against
Oregon State on Sept. 4. We will was on our predictions, but shhhhhh… don’t tell
the coach we told you.
Although this topic has been
analyzed from just about every angle, we will discuss it one last time before
the season opener.
Saban has done an excellent job of
keeping the words “quarterback controversy” from surfacing throughout the last
seven months, especially over the last three weeks. Saban has been very clear
when stating the fact Marcus Randall is, and will be the starter in the season
While backup signal callers
JaMarcus Russell (who we feel is No. 2) and Matt Flynn are talented enough to
lead this team, it’s Randall’s job to lose right now. The good thing is it seems
Russell and Flynn are patiently waiting their turn for playing time and are in
support of Randall at the helm of the offense.
Randall is bigger, stronger, more
athletic and has a better grasp on the offense than he did during his stint as
the Tigers starter in the second half of the 2002 season. He has more poise in
the pocket and seems more aware of game situations. Aside from a steady crop of
wide receivers, the Tigers possess a punishing ground attack that will take a
great deal of pressure off Randall’s shoulders.
Although the field was narrowed
down a bit with the departure of Barrington Edwards, the Tigers are loaded at
running back with SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Justin Vincent leading the way.
Vincent, who has a pretty good
strangle hold on the starting spot, became the Tigers first 1,000 yard rusher in
2003 since Kevin Faulk in 1998.
Beyond Vincent though, Joseph Addai, Shyrone Carey and Alley Broussard rival the Auburn backfield as one of
the SEC’s, possibly the nation’s best.
Addai has been seeing split time at
running back and wide receiver. Carey will be used for special situations while
Broussard (in our opinion) is true second-string running back. His bruising
running style is a joy to watch and a nightmare for defenders.
For those keeping score at home,
Kevin Steltz, who recently received a scholarship, is probably the penciled in
However, look for tight end David Jones to see most of the work sliding from his end position to the backfield,
much like Joe Domingeaux during his final year at LSU.
Steltz, the strongest man on the
team with a bench press over 600 pounds, is an excellent blocker and is backed
up by Shawn Jordan.
Where do we begin?
For those of you mourning the loss
of Michael Clayton, dry those tears because sophomore Dwayne Bowe is poised to
become the next great receiver at LSU. With great size and athletic ability,
Bowe can control the tempo of the passing game with his physical play. While his
speed isn’t blinding, he is still a star in the making.
Skyler Green returns for year
number three in purple and gold and is now the granddaddy of the receiving
corps. A shifty pass catcher, Green is going to contribute on punt returns and
don’t forget about those end arounds (i.e. Sugar Bowl TD).
If we had to make a guess on the
second string wide receivers it would probably be Craig “Buster” Davis and Amp
Hill. Addai is going to get reps probably as a slot back (more than most people
As for the freshmen, Early Doucet
is the odds on favorite to be the first frosh to touch the field. Xavier Carter
and Lavelle Hawkins haven’t made as much progress as Doucet, but don’t worry,
all three will play in 2004.
It is a grab bag at the tight end
It all depends on what you want – a
blocker or a pass catcher.
Junior David Jones is the best
receiving tight end on the team having hauled in the most passes at the position
a year ago. But Jones is not the best blocker on the team.
Demetri Robinson is probably the
best blocking tight end LSU has on the roster, but after he missed most of
spring drills it looks like sophomore Keith Zinger has moved past
Also in the wings are redshirt
freshman Andrew Wright, a mammoth tight end standing at 6-7. Plus junior Kory Hebert is still acting in a backup role.
One would think with two preseason
all-Americans on the offensive, this would be the most stable and talented
position on the team – not so fast.
While center Ben Wilkerson is on
everybody’s preseason lists and is regarded as the best center in the nation and
Andrew Whitworth is a darling for NFL scouts standing 6-7, the offensive line
has been brooding with controversy throughout fall camp.
When Terrell McGill showed up badly
overweight and out of shape and Rudy Niswanger drew some criticism from Saban in
the early stages of fall camp, both guard position became the topic of
discussion around most water coolers.
After the first scrimmage, although
injured, Will Arnold donned a red jersey and stepped in on the first team at
left guard. He has yet to relinquish that position and looks to be headed into
the season opener with the one’s.
Niswanger appears to be settling in
at right guard after Saban said he has improved since the early stages of
We don’t even have to talk about
Wilkerson at center and Whitworth at left tackle. Heck, there is little to say
about Nate Livings at right tackle either after he showed up at camp in the best
shape of anyone on the entire team.
The most intriguing debate right
now is the second string spots on the offensive front. Terrell McGill and Brian Johnson are predicted to be the second stringers at both guard spots, but
defensive tackle turned offensive lineman Brandon Washington has looked good in
his new role and is in the mix as well.
Doug Planchard will step in behind
Wilkerson at center and Peter Dyakowski and Paris Hodges we feel are the backups
at the tackle spots. However, you would likely see Saban shuffle Niswanger to
any vacant spot if an injury was to occur due to his knowledge of every spot on
the offensive line.
Don’t be surprised if true freshman
Brett Helms gets some playing time somewhere. Helms, a native of Arkansas, drew
praise from Saban in fall camp as a potential early particpant.
As for big Herman Johnson, the fact
he missed most of August practice fighting an infection in his leg, don’t expect him to play right
away. He trimmed down from the hefty 400-plus pounds at which he reported, but
it is still unclear what he contribution will be a as true freshman.
Many people have been whispering it
under the breath, but few people want to (or actually can) believe when analysts
say the LSU defense may be better than it was a year ago.
The defensive unit as a whole is
bigger and faster than it was a year ago. But replacing Marquise Hill and Chad Lavalais on the defensive line is quite a tall task. However, Saban just might
have pulled it off.
With the emergence of junior
college defensive tackle Claude Wroten, the big man from Bastrop, La. may be
just the answer to replace Lavalais. At 6-3, 315, Wroten is a manchild and has
drawn high marks from the Tiger coaching staff.
But how could we talk about the LSU
defensive line without drooling about senior defensive end Marcus Spears.
Turning his back on the big bucks of the NFL to complete his career at LSU,
Spears is shooting for his best season yet as he enters his final year in Tiger
Town regarded as one of the top two defensive ends in America.
Linemate Kyle Williams came on
strong down the stretch a year ago and is a solid compliment to Wroten at
As for the defensive end position,
Melvin Oliver has had a solid camp. Seemingly bigger than a year ago, Oliver
appears to be in the best shape of his life. And while his fall camp experience
has been one of misery with a pending court battle over a battery charge against
his ex-girlfriend, Oliver may be playing with a chip on his shoulder come this
fall coming out with something to prove.
Saban has given Oliver his vote of
confidence stating he believes Oliver is innocent. And most Tiger fans out there
have a hard time disagreeing with Saban and what he thinks.
As for backups, a host of players
will be subbed in to follow Wroten and Williams. Carnell Stewart and Sean Merrill are the likely suspects, but also be on the lookout for true freshmen
Glenn Dorsey and Marlon Favorite as well as Jarrod Carter.
At the end positions, the
trim-fitted Kirston Pittman is no doubt a backup at one side as a pass rusher.
Brian West will see time at the other end cap along with freshmen Tim Washington
and Tyson Jackson.
At the linebacker position, the
Tigers return two starters in Mike linebacker Lionel Turner and Cameron Vaughn
at the Will.
A big debate has arisen over the
Sam linebacker spot as junior college transfer E.J. Kuale has quickly arisen
through the ranks and slipped past favorites Dominic Cooper and highly touted
freshman Ai Highsmith.
It seems now Kuale and junior Kenny Hollis are duking it out for that spot as Highsmith, Cooper, Alonzo Manuel and
Willie Demps are all positioning themselves for any reps they can find at the
True freshmen Quinn Johnson got
complimented by Saban for his intensity and Saban added he will play this season
whether it be on linebacker or on special teams. Luke Sanders is a talented
freshman that has gotten a few mentions from Saban through fall camp.
Senior reserve linebacker Dorsett
Buckles got the biggest compliment of all from the head man when Saban said last
week he was having the best fall camp of any linebacker and that he was proud of
Buckles for hanging with the program for so long and being patient.
Does this not sound like another
Eric Alexander success story in the making? We shall see.
The strength of the Tigers entire
team is the defensive backfield.
Let’s just say, teams are going to
be hard pressed to throw on this secondary. Built out of the image of Saban
himself, the fifth year head coach has assembled the nation’s top unit with
three returning starters highlighting the rotations.
All-American Corey Webster may be
the best pure athlete in all of college football. A former high school
quarterback, Webster has played wide receiver at LSU before settling in as one
of the top two premiere cover corners in all of NCAA football.
On the other side, Travis Daniels
has emerged as the right partner for Webster at corner. A former safety, Daniels
has flourished in his role opposite of Webster and gives LSU the best cornerback
At free safety, LaRon Landry is
only a sophomore, but he is regarded as one of the top safeties in America.
Starting a year ago as a true freshman, Landry grew up in a hurry and is
grooming sophomore Jessie Daniels to be the next great strong safety as he steps
in for the departed Jack Hunt.
In terms of backups, Ronnie Prude
and Mario Stephenson are projected to follow up Webster and Daniels. Stephenson
comes to LSU as one of the best junior college defensive backs in the country
from a year ago.
There are a host of other defensive
backs that will factor into the mix as the corps nucleus goes as deep as it is
talented. Nick Child, Daniel Francis, Jonathan Zenon, Keron Gordon will all see
time at some point. And don’t count out true freshmen Jeffery Jack, Craig Steltz, Curtis Taylor and Chevis Jackson. Saban is not afraid to throw any one
of these players into the fire early.