CFN SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On LSU's Spring
Nevis - The Biggest Loss?
Nevis - The Biggest Loss?
Posted Mar 11, 2011

With spring ball kicking in, we start rolling out analysis from each team's off-season sessions. Check it out as CFN's SEC Bloggers give you five different perspectives on some key questions facing the LSU football team this spring. What position is undergoing the biggest overhaul? What should we expect from Kragthorpe, and given their offense, can LSU really win the 2011 national championship?

SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UGA's Spring, March 9, 2011
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring, March 6, 2011

Billy Gomila: On Steve Kragthorpe taking over the offense

I expect Kragthorpe to bring clarity of focus to the Tiger offense - something you never miss until it's not there. And it's been missing in Baton Rouge for at least the last two seasons. Gary Crowton never seemed to find a center to his attack - a core group of concepts that he wanted to focus on and from which to build.

Kragthorpe has spoken of such a focus. Do what you do well above all else, and then make the defense stop you. Clever play-calling is nice, but if there's nothing to build around you're just flinging paint against the wall. Look for LSU to return to something more basic, built on running the football more and throwing off play-action, regardless of who wins the quarterback derby.

Brian Harbach: On what position is undergoing the biggest overhaul

Position, not squad. Squad would clearly be Special Teams, as the Tigers are replacing their kicker, punter and returner (in Peterson). But much has already been written on that, and the question again is position.

In the last three years, if you removed Knowshon Moreno, Tim Tebow or Cameron Newton from their respective teams, how different would their respective seasons have finished? That's how important a defensive tackle like Drake Nevis is to a John Chavis coached defense.

When Chavis' defense has been great there has always been a dominant force at defensive tackle. Guys like Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson and Nevis were the most important pieces of every great unit that Chavis has coached. Granted, there were other extremely talented defensive players on his defenses at both LSU and Tennessee, but the tackle position has always been the glue to hold these group together.

Both starting defensive tackles are gone with Lavarius Levingston and Nevis graduating, but Nevis will be the player that is missed the most. Enter true freshman Anthony Johnson (who is already on campus) as we head into the meat of LSU's spring practice. Johnson was near the top of every recruiting services rankings, and the praise is well deserved.

He'll still have to get by Michael Brokers and Josh Downs, but Johnson is a game changer at defensive tackle just like Drake Nevis was last year. Johnson will eventually be another in a long line of Chavis and LSU greats at the position. But how soon?

The defensive tackle spot is transitioning for LSU... It won't be as good as last year, but there is enough depth on the roster to ensure it doesn't completely fall off. However, if LSU can't get production from the tackle spot, the defense won't be as good.

Russ Mitchell: On who is the bigger loss – Drake Nevis, Kelvin Sheppard or Patrick Peterson

All three were fantastic last year, and all three will be missed. The natural instinct is to go with Peterson, who may very well be the first player selected in the NFL draft next month. However, the Tigers are stocked at DB, including a bevy of freshman who saw action last season and acquitted themselves nicely (Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reed, Craig Loston, Tharold Simon and Ron Brooks). Not to mention starters Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor both return. While no team waves off losing someone the caliber of Peterson, the Tigers are at least deep and able at the position.

There's a bit more uncertainty at DT, where LSU lost both Nevis and its other starter, "Pep" Levingston, to graduation. In fact, only one player left on the roster has started at DT for the Tigers: Brockers. And he's only got that many starts: one. However, LSU has been a factory for DT talent of late, and they have five players returning at DE who have starting experience, which should take some pressure off the middle. And there's plenty of talent at tackle on the roster - including the nation's #1 DT in the 2011 recruiting class, Anthony "Freak" Johnson, who's already on campus turning heads. Don't be surprised if Johnson starts as a true freshman - and impresses.

However, given the depth at linebacker, the departure of Sheppard appears to be the biggest loss. Sheppard was arguably the best middle linebacker the Tigers have had since Bradie James (now with the Dallas Cowboys), and that was eight years ago. (Why do the Tigers, who consistently have top ten recruiting classes, struggle to land top flight backers?) Sheppard was the Tigers leading tackler for two years running, with more than 100 each year. He was not just the defensive captain but its coach on the field. That's a long list to replace.

Enter the very talented Ryan Baker, who looks to step inside and into the leadership void.. The Tigers will also rely on Stefoin Francois to step up his game. But after that it's a bunch of youngsters short on experience - Kevin Minter, Justin Maclin, Tahj Jones, Luke Muncie and D.J. Welter will all be underclassmen in 2011.

Gabe Harris: On who wins the QB derby

Gary Crowton and his inconsistent offense have made way for Kragthorpe as LSU's new offensive coordinator AND quarterback coach. And there is a big emphasis on that last title, for the most inconsistent position at LSU under Crowton was at quarterback.

Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are back for their senior campaigns, and by this point we know what they can do - which is limited at best. Enter #1 JuCo QB Zach Mettenberger who has prototypical size at 6'5" and 248 pounds, plus the pedigree to back up that ranking. The last time a much hyped #1 JuCo QB came into the SEC wasn't that long ago - some cat named Cam Newton. He was alright.

While Mettenberger doesn't have the wheels of Newton, he most certainly has a lot of talent including being surrounded by playmakers on both sides of the ball. Either Jefferson or Lee will likely be sent to third string by the end of spring practice, and my money is on Lee getting the boot. Jefferson had his moments towards the end of the season last year and the battle between he and Mettenberger should last well into the fall. Mettenberger has the tools but Jefferson has the experience. With all QBs getting a clean slate under Kragthorpe, look for Mettenberger to win this battle just in time for Oregon.

Barrett Sallee: On whether LSU can win the national championship, really

Absolutely LSU can win the national championship in 2011. In fact, don't be surprised to see some analysts even pick the Tigers as preseason favorites. The Bayou Bengals return four starters on the offensive line, will likely have a junior college transfer quarterback with experience at another SEC school (Zach Mettenberger) taking snaps, and will have virtually all of their tough SEC games except for Alabama at home. Does that sound familiar? That's the exact scenario Auburn used to take home the crystal football last season. Hm... Sure, the opener against Oregon will be tough; but even with a loss, the Tigers are still set up to make a national title run.

If LSU isn't picked as the preseason favorite to win the SEC, doubts at quarterback will be the reason why. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were mediocre-at-best last season, but the Tigers still went 11-2 - and those two losses (to Auburn and Arkansas) were both road games and very winnable. If new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe can make the much-maligned LSU offense click only a bit, it will be enough to get them into serious national title contention.

The Tigers have weapons-galore with wide receivers Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard, and running backs Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard. If LSU shows just a moderate improvement on offense - you know, maybe into the top 75 in total offense - the Tigers can and will be legitimate national championship contenders.

Whether it's Jefferson, Lee or Mettenberger taking the snaps, the addition of Mettenberger to the mix will raise the level of competition throughout the offseason. That benefits everybody.

Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.

SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UGA's Spring, March 9, 2011
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring, March 6, 2011

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