LSU’s 2016 season kicks off Thursday with the start of fall camp.
The August practice schedule opens with veteran sessions every morning and freshmen and selected upperclassmen practicing in the late afternoon. The team will hold its first full-squad practice in pads on Aug. 8.
Other important dates of note include LSU’s first scrimmage in Tiger Stadium on Aug. 13 and Football Media Day on Aug. 14, which will be followed by Fan Day at 5 p.m.
The summer will conclude with a final scrimmage on Aug. 23 and practices and walk-throughs to close out the week. The Tigers put the finishing touches on the summer when they kick off the regular season on Sept. 3 against Wisconsin at hallowed Lambeau Field.
This summer, SEC Country has taken looks at LSU’s fall camp in a variety of ways. We broke down the 25 most important players on the roster heading into the season based on new contributors, returning starters and catalysts to the team’s success. Additionally, we examined the most important storylines to watch during the start of practices following a very different sort of spring and the lingering questions we’d like answered by Week 1.
Fall camp storylines
LSU returns 18 of 22 starters on offense and defense and has the nation’s third-ranked signing class in 2016. That includes a pair of 5-star defenders in defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence and cornerback Kristian Fulton, who both are likely to see the field as early as the Wisconsin game.
A handful of early enrollees made their mark this spring, most notably linebacker Devin White and cornerback Saivion Smith. White switched from running back to linebacker early in the spring and wound up thrust into a prominent role when Kendell Beckwith went down with an injury. At SEC Media Days, coach Les Miles suggested White should see action in every game. Smith also filled in for an injured Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver II. With defensive coordinator Dave Aranda indicating Tre’Davious White should see added time at nickel, Smith and Fulton are both candidates to see time on the outside.
As LSU prepares its switch to the 3-4 base defense, numerous front seven players are likely to get time in specific roles. Sci Martin should spend time in Ed Orgeron’s defensive line rotation, while Rahsaan Thornton and Michael Divinity Jr. should find their way into the outside linebacker rotation as edge rushers. The same goes for freshman Andre Anthony, assuming he is declared eligible.
After making changes to his diet — strictly sticking to peanuts or yogurt after 7 p.m. — running back Leonard Fournette trimmed down to 225 pounds for the start of fall camp. Last year, Fournette was a First-Team All-American who led the nation in rushing at 230 pounds.
The coaching staff wanted Fournette at 225 pounds, said Miles, who believes Fournette will have both the strength and speed at his new weight to be an elite back.
Fournette is the focal point of LSU’s offense and should be prepared to tote the rock early and often in 2016. The junior running back already holds numerous school rushing records — including single-season records with 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns — and could add even more to his trophy case this season. We’re anxious to see if his new frame can help him do so.
Dameyune Craig is one of three new assistant coaches on Miles’ staff, and thus far, his impact has been major. The former Auburn quarterback and wide receivers coach is coaching wide receivers at LSU, where he’s mentoring Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and a host of young wide receiving talent, as well as quarterback Brandon Harris.
The onetime LSU assistant returned to Baton Rouge, La., and is tasked with helping to open up the offense for the first time in years. That seems to be an annual goal of the LSU coaches, but with Craig on board, there has been a greater emphasis on the short-passing game and incorporating more spread principles.
Expect more of that during fall camp as Craig pushes for similar schemes to those he worked in at Florida State, Auburn and South Alabama, where he installed a run-based spread offense.
Aranda’s 3-4 scheme is one of the biggest changes from 2015 to 2016. We saw shades of the transition in the spring with star players Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture changing positions along the defensive line and edge rushers like Arden Key and Tashawn Bower shifting to stand-up linebacker.
Aranda’s goal is to cause as much chaos and confusion as possible, and entering fall camp the first-year coordinator will have even more weapons as his disposal. Thornton, Martin and Lawrence will now be working at multiple positions and in specific sub-packages to give LSU an array of different looks in different fronts to be ready for Wisconsin.
Here’s the money question. LSU’s third-year quarterback is coming off a rocky 2015 campaign in which he opened the season as one of the steadiest performers on the team. However, Harris’ perfect touchdown-to-interception ratio took a dive starting with the loss to Alabama and was a part of the reason for the team’s late collapse.
With Craig on the sidelines helping out, Harris has gone through his third spring with the team and is bracing for his third fall camp. He has a strong understanding of the playbook, on-the-field experience, chemistry with his teammates and again is the unquestioned starter behind center.
While quarterback often is the most criticized position on the LSU roster, 2016 should bring change. Harris is bracing for a breakout year to finally quell the doubters, and his success will determine how far the Tigers can go.
The Top 25
SEC Country ranked the top 25 — technically 26 — most important players on LSU’s roster heading into 2016.
Included in the list are important backups who may be thrust into action, impact newcomers, freshmen and veterans destined for significant roles, potential breakout candidates and proven stars.
Take a glance at our Top 25 below:
- No. 25: Danny Etling
- No. 24: Kristian Fulton, Saivion Smith
- No. 23: Devin White
- No. 22: Tyron Johnson
- No. 21: Rashard Lawrence
- No. 20: Donte Jackson
- No. 19: Colin Jeter
- No. 18: Trent Domingue
- No. 17: Corey Thompson
- No. 16: Kevin Toliver II
- No. 15: William Clapp
- No. 14: Rickey Jefferson
- No. 13: Ethan Pocic
- No. 12: Christian LaCouture
- No. 11: Derrius Guice
- No. 10: Kendell Beckwith
- No. 9: Maea Teuhema
- No. 8 Davon Godchaux
- No. 7: Tre’Davious White
- No. 6: Travin Dural
- No. 5: Jamal Adams
- No. 4: Malachi Dupre
- No. 3: Arden Key
- No. 2: Brandon Harris
- No. 1: Leonard Fournette
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.