1. It's been an eventful last six months for the state of Louisiana and the LSU program. What was the vibe around the program this spring?
Largely hopeful, to be honest. After all the chaos of the season's final two weeks, LSU won a bowl game, hired a big-name defensive coordinator, wrapped up a top-five recruiting class and infused even more energy with the addition of Dameyune Craig, a top-notch recruiter who will have more input into LSU's offense and work with both quarterbacks and receivers.
Most importantly, LSU lost just one junior to the NFL Draft for the first time in years, meaning that 18 out of 22 starters will return in 2016, the most the program has ever had in the Les Miles Era. There's still the Bama hump to get over, and that will always be on the minds of some, but there is real optimism for what this team has the chance to do.
2. Your offense returns a couple of big names, notably Leonard Fournette, but everyone talks about LSU never really having a quarterback. I know ATVS has written about Brandon Harris' growth but convince me again.
Really, it just comes down to youth. He'll be a junior this year and a returning starter -- the first Cam Cameron has been able to coach here. There's no question that the coaching staff could have handled some things better, but youth has really been the culprit on offense the last two seasons. After the fantastic '13 group LSU was relying almost exclusively on first- and second-year players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. And those wide receivers took their share of the blame in both '14 and '15 for some of the passing game issues, both with drops and some struggles to get open against experienced, physical corners.
That will change this year, as Harris, as a junior, will be throwing to a group of wide receivers that will feature a senior, two juniors and a sophomore, to go with the country's best running back tandem in Fournette and sophomore Derrius Guice. The skepticism is certainly justified at this point, but this really will be the first really experienced offense LSU has had since the Zach Mettenberger-Odell Beckham-Jarvis Landry group in 2013. And that group made a huge jump from their first season starting in 2012 to that next season as well.
3. Any surprises in spring practice?
The wide receivers really jumped out. Senior Travin Dural was out nursing an injury and Malachi Dupre was really able to assert himself as the alpha dog of the group. And classmate D.J. Chark, and 6-6 sophomore Jazz Ferguson really stepped up as well. That's a group that feels ready to help pick up the slack if Harris isn't totally ready to be a playmaker at the quarterback position.
4. Any concerns or disappointments?
We're still a little thin in the defensive front seven. Don't get me wrong, the top of the depth chart is loaded with sophomore Arden Key poised to breakout as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, returning inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith and a really strong top five along the defensive front. But after that, there's some unknowns. Converted safeties and defensive ends filling it at the other linebacker spots, some upperclassmen that have played a lot on special teams but never really stood out, and freshman Devin White, who was a big-time recruit but as a running back.
The talent is definitely there, but there may be an adjustment to Dave Aranda's new defense early on.
5. Don't sugar-coat it, what's the perception of Mizzou among LSU fans five years in? I know we've been a bit ...noisy.
I'm not sure we really know what to think. Y'all managed to get to Atlanta two out of the first four seasons you've been in the conference, which is a pretty solid achievement. The steep drop off last year was a bit surprising, especially with quarterback play most of us would have envied for in the past. We certainly can appreciate the level of defensive line and linebacker play y'all have had in recent years, but I would expect most LSU fans are marking this game down as a W at the moment, especially with a new head coach.
Personally, I'm expecting a fun gameweek. We've always appreciate the work over at Rock M, and I happen to have some friends from Missouri that we know will be making the drive down. Just a shame we have to wait so long to make good on the return trip.