Never let it be said that I am not willing to "incorporate" a good idea from another site into this blog. Recently, the SBNation Alabama blog, Roll Bama Roll, made a post giving their thoughts on which members of the Bama class of 2009 were most likely to play as true freshmen. We've already kind of gone through this with our Class of 2009 feature, but it will be helpful to do so in a more formal way.
First, let's be clear that veterans are going to take most of the snaps on this team at every position. There is no true freshman on this team who will be counted upon to take on a leadership role. Teams only play large numbers of freshmen in key positions when there is no choice, and even then you expect mistakes. But that's not to say that freshmen won't help out. I expect to see a substantial number of Tiger freshmen in important depth roles and/or on special teams. With no further ado, let's look at the Class of 2009 again:
Guaranteed to Play
Russell Shepard, all-purpose offensive player: Everyone knew the day he committed to LSU that he was going to be taking key snaps in the first game at some position or another. He will be used as an outside runner, as a slot receiver, and yes as a running quarterback with a throwing option. I cannot wait to see what this guy has for the opponents. Rumors have pretty much been unanimous that his electrifying abilities he showed in high school have translated just fine to the college game so far. He really could end up being one of our most dangerous offensive weapons.
Rueben Randle, wide receiver: Randle is a smooth athlete who seems to have been born to play the role of outside receiver. He came to camp not necessarily in peak physical condition, but he has earned consistent praise from Les Miles, and most believe he will quickly become the #3 outside receiver behind Brandon Lafell and Terrence Toliver, if he isn't there right now.
Derek Helton, punter: He'll be the starting punter, skying punts throughout the season.
Likely to Play
Michael Brockers, defensive end: If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Les Miles:
"In the defensive end spot, MichCreate Story: SB Nation: And The Valley Shookael Brockers appears to me to be a guy that is going to have to play, whether it’s on special teams or some downs out there at end," Miles said. "He just has a heady feel to him and he’s a tough guy to block."
Other than Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers may be the biggest surprise of the Fall Camp. Defensive line is a position of need, with only 2 experienced defensive ends on the roster right now, and a need for freshmen to step up at the position. Brockers appears to be first in line for that role.
Sam Montgomery, defensive end: the very same article quoted above seems to suggest that Montgomery is in line for immediate playing time. Both Montgomery and Brockers may have passed up the redshirt freshmen. Montgomery would most likely be a passing-down substitute.
Akiem Hicks, defensive tackle: The JUCO transfer is expected to be an immediate contributor on the defensive line, and has consistently been the 4th or 5th defensive tackle used in practice, until he suffered a minor injury. As it is, he could very well get passed by Chris Davenport or Josh Downs.
There's Reason To Think So:
Chris Faulk, offensive tackle: I don't like playing true freshmen on the offensive line, but Faulk has been running as the #2 left tackle literally since the first day of Camp. In response to Faulk's emergence, last year's backup left tackle, Greg Shaw, has been moved to backup right tackle. All indications are that Faulk will play, but I get the feeling that Miles will wait as long as he can to make the ultimate decision. Unlike as with the defensive line, Miles does not rotate offensive linemen into the game in waves. In a competitive game, the same 5 offensive linemen will probably play every snap unless an injury prevents it, and with numerous options to choose from in garbage time that will not require burning Faulk's redshirt. If he really is the 2nd best left tackle on the team, play him if Ciron Black gets hurt, but not otherwise.
Morris Claiborne, cornerback: He came to LSU without a set position, but has appeared to settle into the cornerback slot. He has not only found a position, he appears to have excelled at it. Claiborne was a 3-star recruit who was virtually entirely unknown before his commitment to LSU. If you believe the media reports, Claiborne is currently the #2 cornerback on Patrick Peterson's side, having already passed a couple of more veteran players. As with Faulk, he is behind a player who is not going to be beaten out by anyone and will only get snaps in garbage time. I would like to see him redshirt and get another year of separation between himself and Patrick Peterson.
Michael Ford, running back: Coaches love him and speak very highly of him. Most people think he is the next great LSU back in the tradition of a Joseph Addai or Jacob Hester. The only hesitancy here is that LSU is so deep with veteran running backs that it will be hard to find touches for Ford. Charles Scott will be our feature back again, and Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday are vying for playing time as well. Add in Stevan Ridley and Richard Murphy, and you have a very crowded backfield for a freshman to break into. When Scott, Holliday, and Williams vacate after the 2009 season, Ford could very well end up being another Knowshon Moreno story, but for now it will be hard for him.
On the Bubble
Josh Downs and Chris Davenport, defensive tackles: In running a 4-3 system, you probably need 6 healthy tackles to get through a season. A rotation of 4, plus two others who are going to take the snaps in garbage time when you don't want your key players to get hurt. We have 5 veteran defensive tackles on the team, so we need to find at least one more to get to #6. I imagine that unless these guys get into the top 4 (not out of the question), one of them will play and the other will redshirt.
Barkevious Mingo, linebacker: He made a lot of early waves, getting called up to the veteran squad early in split-squad practices. Things have been quiet on the Mingo-front ever since, but his athleticism makes him a good candidate to contribute on coverage teams.
Kevin Minter, middle linebacker: Another very good athete who could see time on special teams. I would feel eminently comfortable with Minter in the game as middle linebacker, but unless he can break into the top 5 among our linebackers there may not be much reason to play him.
Craig Loston, safety: If he's healthy, he will probably play on special teams, but there are reports that he needs wrist surgery and would need to miss most of the season recovering. It's probably too late for him to really learn the defense and advance enough as a player to contribute in the base defense, considering he missed over 2 weeks of Fall Camp and all of summer drills, but he's such a good athlet and a big hitter that he is a natural for the special teams units.
Josh Johns and Rockey Duplessis, special teams: Rockey Duplessis is a forgotten man from the Class of 2009 because he was really in the Class of 2008, and greyshirted to the Spring. Josh Johns was something of an afterthought in the Class of 2009, but both are built to cover kicks and may earn their way onto the field that way. Both have speed and both play recklessly. Both are hybrid safety/linebackers and are looking for ways to contribute.
Dominique Allen, fulback: He came into camp as the most likely freshman to play early, but he arrived a little out of shape and has struggled to catch up. Again, the future with this young man is bright, but he's not going to play if he isn't ready. We have two walk-on fullbacks who can perform the lead-blocking job adequately, and even if those guys aren't up to it, Gary Crowton is not going to get desperate. He could do without a blocking fullback entirely if need be.
Likely to Redshirt:
All of the offensive linemen other than Chris Faulk: It's a tough position to play as a true freshmen, and no offensive lineman has really stood out in camp other than Faulk. With insane numbers of sophomores and redshirt freshmen clogging up the depth chart, there is simply no reason for any of these guys to use up a year of eligibility.
Bennie Logan, defense end/tackle: Logan has moved from defensive end to tackle, and while the future is bright, he finds himself behind Josh Downs and Chris Davenport at tackle and Michael Brockers and Sam Montgomery at end. There will be a need for defensive tackles next year and Logan will be fine redshirting.
Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow, linebackers: They were projects coming into camp and they've been quiet so far. Tahj Jones was a little late reporting, and then he got hurt. These guys will both benefit from a free year.
Drayton Calhoun, running back: He was never, in my opinion, a natural fit at running back, and there has been very little buzz about him in Camp. It's a crowded field at running back and I can't see an easy way for Calhoun to get onto the field at the position unless injuries become nightmarish.
Chris Garrett, quarterback: I'm actually less confident in this pick than with some other ones. I think the world of Chris Garrett as a prospect. His natural ability appears to be well beyond that which you would normally expect of a 3-star recruit. I believe he is likely to be a starter for the Tigers in the future, but unless Jordan Jefferson gets hurt, there is not much reason to use up a year of eligibility. If Jefferson gets hurt, though...