Mar 13, 2013 11:08 PM by AP
LSU coach Les Miles will never use the term rebuilding when referring to his football team.
Still, that certainly appears to be the task for Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis when the Tigers begin spring practice Thursday.
Chavis' goal during the 15 days of drills is to find seven new starters - two tackles, two ends, one linebacker, one cornerback and one safety. So, there will be competition at all levels of the defense.
Six defensive starters - ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid - all left early to enter next month's NFL draft.
Miles acknowledges his 2013 LSU team will be young, particularly on defense. However, chasing championships is still what this program is seeking.
"We have to make each practice count," Miles said Wednesday. "It is important for us to improve. There is certainly a lot to accomplish. We are in no position to predict a grand season now. If we improve, like our other teams, we can compete for titles."
LSU normally uses an eight-man rotation on the defensive line - four ends and four tackles. Only three players from last season's rotation are back. Three juniors - tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and end Jermauria Rasco - will go from backups to starters. Only Johnson has started a game.
The other projected starter at this time is sophomore end Danielle Hunter, who was primarily a special teams player last season. So, there are plenty of open spots in the defensive line rotation.
"We return some talent up front," Miles said. "Anthony Johnson will be a leader inside. Ego Ferguson and Jermauria Rasco are guys I am looking forward to see. Danielle Hunter has real athletic ability."
The Tigers need to find a replacement for Minter at middle linebacker. Senior Lamin Barrow, who started at weakside linebacker last season, will begin spring drills in the middle. Senior Tahj Jones, who missed the entire 2012 regular season due to academic problems, will be the strongside linebacker.
Four freshman linebackers saw playing time last season - Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis, Deion Jones and Ronnie Feist. Alexander and Louis made starts at strongside linebacker. One of these four linebackers will earn a starting job this spring.
"Our linebacker corps will be young, but it may be the most talented areas of the team," Miles said. "We have a number of linebackers who have played a lot of football in this conference."
Despite the loss of Simon and Reid, the secondary will be far more experienced than it was a year ago. Sophomores Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins will be the starting corners. Mills started 13 games last season at cornerback, while Collins played cornerback when LSU went to its nickel package.
Senior Craig Loston, who earned All-Southeastern Conference honors last season, is a returning starter at one of the safety spots. Junior Ronald Martin and sophomore Corey Thompson will compete for Reid's vacant safety position.
"I want to see how the cornerbacks develop," Miles said. "I expect them to compete at a very high level in spring. Craig Loston and Corey Thompson, if not Ronald Martin, should give is quality play at safety."
There will not be as many new faces on offense where the only departing starters were center P.J. Lonergan, tackle Josh Dworaczyk and tight end Chase Clement. The fresh face on offense will be coordinator/quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron.
"Cam Cameron has done a great job already with the approach of the offense," Miles said. "We are going to work a little more on that four-minute period when we have the lead and are trying to get first downs to win the game."
In two of the three defeats last season - Alabama and Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl - the Tigers could have wrapped a victory by picking up a first down on late series. LSU failed to get the first down and allowed game-winning drives in the final minute to both teams.
"We have to evolve the talent in spring," Miles said. "We want to do all the things that make you a great team. Even with a team as young was we have, you expect young guys to play a dominant role. We need to develop dominant elite players."