All LSU did last season was go 13-0 before losing their rematch against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Anyone who watched the game knows that the Tigers’ quarterback play that night was putrid, as drive after drive ended in disappointment. This year, LSU returns many of its key performers, and welcomes a new starting QB. Here’s a look at some of their top draft eligible players this season. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Zach Mettenberger* QB 6’5 222 – Mettenberger committed to Georgia out of high school in 2009, but was dismissed from the team in April 2010 after an arrest for sexual battery. The charges stemmed from an incident earlier that year when, while at a bar, Mettenberger grabbed a 21 year old woman’s breasts and buttocks. He pleaded guilty and was given a fine, probation, and community service. In 2010, Mettenberger played at Butler Community College in Kansas, where he averaged 228.4 passing yards per game, completed 59% of his passes, and threw 31 touchdowns against just three interceptions. In December 2010 he signed on with LSU. Stuck behind seniors Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, Mettenberger appeared in just six games; and went eight for 11 passing, for 92 yards and a touchdown in one of those games against FCS Northwestern State. Mettenberger has a prototypical build, and is known for a strong arm. Now a redshirt junior, he’s expected to be a major upgrade for the Tigers this year. If he can capitalize on his potential and prove that his evening of lewd conduct was a one-time, drunken mistake, then Mettenberger may find his name called in the first two rounds next April.
Russell Shepard WR 6’0 185 – Shepard almost left school after last season, but ultimately opted to return to LSU. The top rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school in 2009, he was moved to receiver after his freshman season. His 2011 year was completely wrecked by eligibility questions and poor quarterback play. Shepard’s career has been underwhelming thus far (555 yards, four TDs rushing; 52 catches, 9.2 yards per catch, and five TDs receiving through 33 games), but his production is expected to spike with Mettenberger at quarterback.
Barkevious Mingo* OLB 6’5 240 – As a redshirt sophomore last season, Mingo totaled eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He consistently got pressure and disrupted plays. Mingo hurried opposing QBs 11 times, forced a fumble and batted away two passes. While he lines up at defensive end for the Tigers, Mingo isn’t strong enough to shed offensive tackles once they latch on. He’s almost purely a speed rusher. Mingo gives a strong effort and he’ll mix in a spin, and occasionally an inside rush move, but he mostly just tries to use his speed to run around the tackles. For as limited as his repertoire is, it’s highly effective on the collegiate level. But Mingo will probably need to move to a 3-4 outside ‘backer, or the strong side in a 4-3. In that case, he’ll have to show teams that he’s instinctive and agile enough to occasionally work in pass coverage – something he has virtually no experience with. Mingo is the type of athlete that NFL teams covet. He’s tall and rangy with 4.5 second 40 speed. Given that Bruce Irvin went 15th overall in this past draft, Mingo has an excellent chance to be chosen in the top half of the first round.
Sam Montgomery* DE 6’4 245 – Montgomery looks and plays like a man 20 pounds heavier than his listed weight. As a sophomore he tallied nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. While he had more sacks, Montgomery is the power player to Mingo’s pass rusher. Montgomery is a stout run defender and sure tackler who often draws a double team, or a chip from the running back. He doesn’t have the best first step off the snap, but he’s a relentless pursuer. As a result he’ll get the coverage sacks, or clean up when a guy like Mingo or Tyrann Mathieu chases the quarterback up in, or out of the pocket. Montgomery is a solid all around end. If he is indeed 245 pounds, he’ll need to add bulk. He could also stand to diversify his pass rush moves and get better at using his hands to fight off linemen before they latch onto him. If he can show a modest improvement in a couple of areas, he’ll be in the first round mix.
Tyrann Mathieu* CB 5’9 175 – Mathieu finished fifth in voting for the 2011 Heisman trophy, and received 34 first place votes. He’s an absolute playmaker who goes for the strip any time he can. He has forced 11 fumbles and recovered eight of them (a staggering six forced fumbles and five recoveries just last season) in his college career. In 26 games, Mathieu has intercepted four passes, broken up 16 others, sacked the quarterback six times, and made 16 tackles for loss. Last year was his first returning punts, and he averaged 15.6 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. Mathieu is a fearless player who throws his body around. Considering his lack of size, durability will be a concern at the next level. While he has solid cover skills and has shown the ability to get up to break up throws, he lacks the height to play outside on every play at the pro level. Many folks peg Mathieu for a role in the slot, and that does appear to be his best fit. He can get muscled at the line of scrimmage by bigger receivers (Da’Rick Rogers of Tennessee for one), but his feisty demeanor will make him hard to fight off on every play. Meanwhile, he seems capable of shutting down, or at least frustrating the NFL’s smaller wide receivers. Mathieu is still only a junior, but most people expect this to be his final college season. Here is a scouting report on him from last season.
Tharold Simon* CB 6’3 187 – Simon played receiver and cornerback in high school, and that experience on offense shows up in the way he tracks the ball down the field. He’s a lanky player with rare height, and his long strides and arms allow him to keep up and break up passes. He usually plays off the line of scrimmage but he looks comfortable playing press coverage as well. At times Simon’s backpedal can look a herky-jerky, but he’s typically a smooth athlete. He can close in and make a hit or an arm tackle, although he tends to come in high and get his hands into the facemask area. Last season, Simon picked off two passes, broke up ten others, and forced a fumble. With Mo Claiborne gone, he’s the team’s best cover corner and a candidate to forgo his senior season for the NFL after the season.
Eric Reid* FS 6’2 208 – Reid is a tall, rangy safety with the size that NFL teams covet in safety prospects. He’s a big hitter with speed to close in quickly. Reid is a sure tackler when he wants to be, but he’s prone to looking for the big hit. This leaves him open to taking bad angles on his tackles, over-pursuing the action, or flat-out whiffing altogether. He’s at his best in coverage when the action is in front of him. He has two interceptions in each of the last two seasons, and while he’s not a natural ball-hawking centerfielder type, he appears capable of growing into the role. Scouts will be looking for Reid to improve his reads and reactions, and make more plays on the ball rather than being content to make a tackle 20 yards down the field. He has two years of eligibility remaining, so this might not be his last season.
Brad Wing* P 6’3 187 – Wing, who came to LSU by way of Australia, became the most famous punter in the country when he raced for a touchdown off a fake against Florida. On the play, Wing was flagged for taunting before he went into the end zone; and, under a new NCAA rule, his touchdown was wiped off the scoreboard. He was the first player ever penalized under that rule – one that the masses immediately viewed as ticky-tack. Wing has run afoul of the rules off the field as well. He was arrested for his role in a June 2011 fight and charged with battery. But back on the field, he’s known for his booming directional punts. Last season he averaged 44.4 yards per kick and placed 27 of them inside the opponents’ 20 yard lines. He’s only a redshirt sophomore, but Wing will turn 22 in January, and there may not be much left for him to prove at the collegiate level.
Also keep an eye on: Chris Faulk OT 6’6 325, Alex Hurst OT 6’6 340, P.J. Lonergan C 6’4 301, LaVar Edwards DE 6’5 254, Bennie Logan* DT 6’3 287, Chancey Aghayere DE 6’4 279, Josh Dworaczyk G 6’6 301, Michael Ford* RB 5’10 215, Spencer Ware* RB 5’11 223, Chase Clement TE 6’5 251