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February 27, 2008
LSU opens spring practice Friday, the third SEC school to do so. Here's a look at the defending national champs as they open spring ball:
Brandon LaFell is the only returning skill position player on the LSU offense.
Offense—5: T Ciron Black, C Brett Helms, G Lyle Hitt, G Herman Johnson, WR Brandon LaFell.
Defense—4: LB Darry Beckwith, E Tyson Jackson, E Kirston Pittman, FS Curtis Taylor.
Special teams—1: K Colt David.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Consider it a testament to LSU's talent level that it can boast one of the nation's top defensive lines even after losing Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner Glenn Dorsey to the NFL. LSU returns both starting ends from last season in Jackson and Pittman. And even though they won't have Dorsey, the Tigers still look quite strong at tackle with Marlon Favorite, Ricky Jean-Francois, Charles Alexander and Drake Nevis clogging the inside.
HELP IS NEEDED
LSU started two seniors (Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon) at cornerback last season and now must rely on inexperienced players at that spot. The Tigers also will be extremely untested at quarterback if Ryan Perrilloux doesn't come back from an indefinite suspension that will knock him out of spring practice.
KEEP AN EYE ON
SS Chad Jones: He is a former five-star prospect who should move in the starting lineup and emerge as a star. Jones already has etched his name into LSU lore by recording a sack and forcing a fumble that set up the Tigers' winning touchdown against Alabama last season as a true freshman.
DT Ricky Jean-Francois: After being ineligible the entire regular season last year, Jean-Francois played extremely well in the SEC Championship Game and BCS Championship Game. Jean-Francois, a junior, could emerge as one of the nation's top defensive tackles this season.
QB Andrew Hatch: Perrilloux's suspension could make Hatch, a junior, one of the feel-good stories of the spring. Hatch, a Harvard transfer, cut short a scheduled two-year Mormon mission when he injured a knee while playing soccer. He ended up walking-on at LSU and could open the season as the Tigers' starting quarterback if Perrilloux doesn't return to action.
HIS TIME IS NOW
It might be unfair to call WR Brandon LaFell an underachiever at this point in his career, but his occasional penchant for dropping passes make you wonder whether he will make the leap to stardom. Now that Early Doucet is gone, the Tigers need someone to emerge as their No. 1 receiver. LaFell has the ability to be that guy as long as he can consistently hang on to the ball.
LSU has holes to fill at plenty of positions, but the biggest issue surrounding the Tigers this spring is what they will do at quarterback if Perrilloux doesn't open the season behind center. The Tigers didn't have a whole lot of quarterback depth even before Perrilloux's suspension. LSU's top two quarterbacks on the depth chart are Hatch and redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.