They've been going at it for about a week in Baton Rouge, preparing in earnest for the season to start, and already there are a few surprising developments at LSU's Fall Camp. We Highlight some of the bigger ones:
- Brandon Taylor jumps into the competition for the strong safety spot. Easily the biggest surprise was when talented but little-used sophomore cornerback Brandon Taylor opened the running with the first team at strong safety. Before camp began, the strong safety position was generally considered to be up for competition, but most expected the competition to be between Spring sensation Ron Brooks and last year's backup Karnell Hatcher. I expected Taylor as a dark horse to maybe challenge for the cornerback slot opposite Patrick Peterson. Instead, as practice opened, Taylor was moved into the strong safety slot running opposite of Chad Jones. Brooks was with the second team, and Hatcher was with the freshman, ostensibly as the third team safety. The running order has not changed yet in the parts of practice that the media sees. It may be simply that the coaches were giving Taylor a look at that position in hopes of developing versatility, but it was simply that, why would he go with the first team and not the second or third? This is a situation that will get the closest attention from here to the beginning of the season.
- The surprising introduction of Morris Claiborne. In a class with, by some counts, four 5-star players reporting to camp, and one 5-star still trying to get eligible, the Class of 2009 member who is turning the most heads is a 3-star recruit named Morris Claiborne. That's right; the guy no one had heard of until the middle of his senior year. The guy who did not even have a picture of him up on the recruiting sites well into his senior season. I'm not saying he's an immediate contributor to this team or anything like that. At least not yet. He still has to find a position and master it in order be really useful. He began camp practicing at wide receiver with the rest of the freshman. He was quickly promoted to the morning practice sessions with the veterans and switched to cornerback, where he has run with the second unit. I am thinking he will end up at cornerback, because he lacks ideal size for a wide receiver, but his long arms and quickness will be a huge asset in the defensive backfield. It would surprise me at all to see him back on offense though, and it wouldn't shock me if he ends up playing both ways at some point in his career. If he's second string right now, he will probably play immediately, but I would prefer to give him a chance to redshirt and master whatever position he ends up playing. It would also give him some separation between the veteran corners on the roster and himself, giving him more opportunity to play in the future.
- Offensive tackle Chris Faulk starts out on the second team at left tackle. When Fall Camp opened, every member of the Class of 2009 was practicing in the afternoon session, away from most of the veterans who practice in the morning. All, that is, except one. Offensive lineman Chris Faulk started camp practicing in the morning with the veterans, and he was doing it at left tackle, behind Ciron Black. This is a remarkable achievement for a young player. I do not remember a true freshman coming in and immediately practicing with the veterans before. Not even the guys who got here in the spring, like Kevin Minter, Drayton Calhoun, and Russell Shepard, were running with the veterans at the start of camp. Patrick Peterson was in the afternoon sessions at the beginning of last year. Rueben Randle practiced in the afternoon. As time went on, Faulk was joined by a couple other freshman. Barkevious Mingo was promoted for a day. Morris Claiborne was promoted. But Faulk was there from the beginning. He even moved last year's backup left tackle, Greg Shaw, over to right tackle. His future must be incredibly bright.
- The development of the wide receivers. Terrance Toliver finally looks like he's going to approach that sky-high potential he has always had. He's put some real muscle mass on his frame, and can finally fight off physical defensive backs. He has always had great length and long arms, but he's been lanky. With a little added muscle it opens up the prospect of him being a receiver in traffic, where before Toliver was always mostly a deep threat. I believe Terrance Toliver is going to have that breakout year this year. I don't think he'll be one of the best in the SEC, but if he can increase his receptions total to about 40 while retaining his big play ability (that we did not see enough of last year after a freshman year that saw him average 25 yards per catch), he will be an outstanding complement to Brandon Lafell. True freshman Rueben Randle also looks like he is for real and will be able to make an immediate contribution. As I said before, don't expect Jones-like or Green-like numbers as a freshman, but if he can pull in 20 or so catches, he will really help this team. Veterans R.J. Jackson and Chris Mitchell make me feel pretty good about the depth at the position, and Chris Tolliver may be able to make a contribution as well. I really think this has the makings of a very good overall wide receiver unit.
- Competition at center and at fullback. The most important position battle on the team right now is going on at center between P.J. Lonergan and T-Bob Hebert. It was believed that Hebert had the inside track going into camp, but Lonergan started the season practicing with the first team while Hebert ran with the rookies in the afternoon session. In yesterday's first full-squad practice the two were finally on the field together and Hebert was apparently first-team. This is the most important battle because barring injury you have to imagine that whoever wins this battle will play almost every significant snap and the second teamer will have trouble finding the field, while there could be a rotation at strong safety. A similar competition is ongoing at fullback where we have recently seen tight end Tyler Edwards jump into the fray that previously includedStevan Ridley, Richard Dugas, and Dominique Allen. Ridley is definitely the most capable runner (though Allen appears surprisingly nimble for such a big man and could end up being a surprising playmaker later on). Dugas is the converted offensive lineman. Allen is the freshman. It is anyone's guess how these snaps will be divided up in the season.
- Freshman defensive linemen impressing all. The defensive line members of the Class of 2009: Josh Downs, Chris Davenport, Mike Brockers, Bennie Logan, and Sam Montgomery, are getting early raves and bringing back memories of Spears, Hill, Lavalais, etc.