POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 6:00pm
UPDATED: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 6:04pm
Baton Rouge, La — LSU opens spring drills on Friday as head coach Les Miles welcomes back to the practice field 42 letterwinners and 15 returning starters from last year's team that won 13 games and captured the 11th Southeastern Conference title in school history.
Friday's practice will be the first of 15 for the Tigers during the month of March. Spring drills for LSU culminates with the National L-Club Spring Game at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 31 in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers will honor the 2011 team with an SEC Championship celebration in Tiger Stadium prior to kickoff of the spring game.
The Tigers will also practice on Saturday morning and then follow with four practices next week. LSU will have three practices a week for the remainder of the month. In addition to the National L-Club Spring Game, LSU is scheduled to scrimmage on Saturday, March 24.
"Our players have done a great job during the fourth quarter conditioning program getting ready for spring practice," Miles said. "We have a lot of players with experience coming back, but I'm anxious to see how some of the young players respond during these 15 workouts."
Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger goes into spring drills with an opportunity to take over the Tiger offense after spending last year as a backup. In his first year with the Tigers, Mettenberger, a junior college All-American in 2010, threw for 92 yards and one touchdown in five appearances.
The Tigers return four starters, including a fifth player with starting experience, on the offensive line. Senior Josh Dworaczyk was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA and teams with seniors P.J. Lonergan (center) and Alex Hurst (tackle) and juniors Chris Faulk (tackle) and Josh Williford (guard) to give LSU one of the most experienced units in the SEC going into 2012.
The Tigers return their top four rushers from a year ago in juniors Michael Ford (756 yards, 7 TDs), Spencer Ware (707 yards, 8 TDs), and Alfred Blue (539 yards, 7 TDs) along with sophomore Kenny Hilliard (336 yards, 8 TDs).
Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Shepard are LSU's top returners at wide receiver. Beckham Jr. ranked second on the team with 41 catches for 475 yards and two TDs last year, while Shepard had 14 receptions for 190 yards and four scores.
Defensively, the Tigers will again be led by a secondary that will be considered among the best in the nation. Despite the loss of Jim Thorpe Award winner Mo Claiborne, the Tigers return Heisman Trophy finalist and National Defensive Player of the Year in Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu (76 tackles, 9 PBUs, 6 FF, 5 FR) will be joined in the secondary by returning starters Tharold Simon (42 tackles, 10 PBUs) and Eric Reid (76 tackles, 2 interceptions).
Up front, Bennie Logan (57 tackles, 3.0 sacks), Sam Montgomery (49 tackles, 9.0 sacks) and Barkevious Mingo (46 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss) headline the list of playamakers on the defensive line for the Tigers.
Kevin Minter (67 tackles) is the lone returning starter at linebacker.
In special teams, the Tigers return perhaps the nation's top punter in sophomore Brad Wing (44.4 average) and senior kicker Drew Alleman, who connected on 16-of-18 field goals in his first year as a starter in 2011.