LSU had seven true freshman play some football last year, not a whole lot by any stretch, but it gives us an opportunity to review them all in one post. How'd they do?
First, let me say that it is the very rare true freshman who comes onto a team and is an immediate impact player. It just doesn't happen that often, especially on a talented, veteran team. This was a team with a lot of veterans around the field, and there just wasn't a lot of room for freshman to come in and play a lot. That said, we had some production from freshmen.
Wide receiver Terrance Tolliver, one of our two 5-star recruits from last year, had 10 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He also took three reverses for 36 yards. He started the season kind of fast, making a big play against Mississippi State to set up a touchdown, and scored a touchdown against Virginia Tech. Statistically, his best game was against La Tech, when he got 3 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.
But don't be misled by that. He really struggled down the stretch of the season. He didn't catch a pass in the last three games, picked up a couple of costly penalties against Kentucky, and made a route-running mistake that led to an interception against Tennessee. We anticipate big things from this guy though, and with a full year of learning to play the position at this level he should have a big season in 2008.
Big Joseph Barksdale was probably the single biggest surprise recruit of the 2007 class, coming out of Detroit, Michigan. He enrolled in class in time for Spring Practice last year and played defensive tackle. He was moved to offensive tackle in the fall, and really excelled there. He was the second string right tackle behind Carnell Stewart, and a lot of fans called for him to start. I don't know if he needed to start, but he sure looked good when given an opportunity to play. He is clearly an excellent athlete and looks very comfortable at the position. He is likely to be the starting right tackle in the 2008 season.
This handsome gentleman is Jarvis Jones, who was expected to redshirt because he was way too small for offensive line, and it was anticipated that he would need a year to work up his body. He reportedly spent most of his life eating one meal per day, and so was approximately 250 pounds when he reported to campus. But they must have fed him some very fattening food, because he did not look out of place at all at offensive line. He started the season as the backup to Ciron Black at left tackle, and ended the season splitting time with Lyle Hitt at right guard. His role grew as the year went on, and he seemed to handle it fine. If his move to guard is permanent, he may be competing with Lyle Hitt for the starting spot in 2008.
Drake Nevis was expected to redshirt this season, and did not play in the first half of the season. When Charles Alexander was injured and other defensive tackles were slowed up with nagging injuries, the team needed to look for more depth at defensive tackle. They turned to Nevis to provide them with valuable snaps as a backup defensive tackle. He looked like another future star at the position. He recorded 13.5 tackles, including two for loss, and two pass defenses in seven games. He should be firmly in the rotation for 2008, even if he is not necessarily going to beat out incumbents Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite if they return for their senior seasons.
I think we all know this kid is a stud. He's Chad Jones, and we better enjoy him because I doubt he'll ever see his senior season. He was the 5-star who announced he was signing with LSU the same day that Joe McKnight announced he was not. He did not get that much fanfare because LSU fans were too busy being disappointed about not getting McKnight to celebrate getting him. Our mistake. He's got All-American written all over him, as he is a phenomenal athlete with the size of a small linebacker and enough speed to chase down a streaking Darren McFadden from behind. Yes, he did that. He didn't make the tackle because he got blocked off at the last second, but he made up considerable ground on Darren McFadden chasing him from behind and would have made the touchdown-saving tackle if not for getting blocked off.
Jones started the season playing mostly special teams, and looked good at it. His role increased as the season progressed, and he flourished. He returned punts and was the dime back on defense. He eventually recorded 30 tackles, including two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. I'm sure you remember the sack and forced fumble at the end of the Bama game. The one that let us put the game-winning points on the board. That was Chad Jones. He's awesome.
These two guys are Josh Jasper and Andrew Crutchfield, kickers. They split time kicking off. Honestly, I have to say they were disappointing, considering we spent two valuable scholarships on these guys. They were not able to consistently kick the ball deep, usually dropping it around the 10 yard line, and our kickoff coverage suffered immensely. According to LSUsports.net, Crutchfield had the slightly better average at 63.0 yards per kick, which would place the ball at the 7 yard line. Jasper would drop it at the 11 on average. In 72 kicks, these guys got 2 touchbacks. Eventually, Sean Gaudet took over kickoff duties. These two guys are going to have to improve if they are going to really help the team. Maybe a year working on leg strength and flexibility will help. If not, well, we're going to have to find another kicker.
Those are the seven true freshmen who played this past year, and if they are any indication, that 2007 class is going to end up being pretty special. Some very highly regarded players didn't get off the bench because of the depth in front of them. The ones that were able to get into the game looked great. Players like Stefoin Francois, John Williams, Phelon Jones, Ron Brooks, Will Blackwell, T-Bob Hebert, Jarrett Lee, and Ernest McCoy are waiting for their chances to shine. The depth chart will clear out in front of these guys a little this offseason, and we should start seeing more of them rotate in.