Top-ranked LSU has begun fall camp preparations for the upcoming 2012 season. It has been an off-season filled with talk of recruiting, award watches, and the start status of Tyrann Mathieu and Zach Mettenberger. While those two players are unquestionably vital to the identity and potential success of this team, there are other players that don’t get as much attention that are just as important in not only the outcome of LSU’s season, but also in allowing Mathieu and Mettenberger to do what is expected of them.
Here is a look at seven of those players.
1. JC Copeland
This 6’1, 280-pound wrecking ball was recruited as a defensive lineman out of Troup County High School in Georgia. Converted to fullback as a true freshman, the junior is entering his second full season at the position. LSU is loaded at running back, boasting six quality players that would start on most teams across the country. While they get the attention, it is Copeland paving the way for them, and he takes special pride in taking on those that play at his old position–the defensive line. His jaw-jarring style is what helps create the rugged identity of the LSU offense.
2. Jarvis Landry
The former 5-star recruit is entering his second season with the Tigers. He contributed mainly to special teams last year, establishing a name for himself as a terror on kickoff coverage. While it is probable that he will stay in that role, a necessary one, Landry’s importance will be found as a receiver, where he has the opportunity to do two things for the Tigers this year. With the emergence of Odell Beckham as Mettenberger’s go-to target, Landry has the talent and blue-collar work ethic to be the star on the other side of the field. While he does have the potential to be LSU’s leading receiver, however, at the very least he needs to be serviceable enough to draw attention away from Beckham, who has proven to be as dangerous as anyone in the country once he gets his hands on the ball. One star receiver will make this team nearly unstoppable, given LSU’s ability to run the ball. Two star receivers would be lagniappe and would put LSU’s offense in the class of the 2006 season. Either scenario puts LSU in the 2012 BCS title game in Miami.
3. Chris Faulk
Mettenberger cannot be Mettenberger injured on the sidelines. Faulk is the man on the left side of the offensive line that will protect the quarterback’s blind side. Faulk must meet expectations, and he has given no reason for anyone to think that he won’t, and keep Mettenberger upright and healthy.
4. Tharold Simon
Tyrann Mathieu gets most of the attention in the LSU defensive backfield, and maybe rightly so with his penchant for causing turnovers. But Mathieu’s strengths have been made possible by the fact that LSU has had a lockdown corner in each of the past two seasons–Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. Simon must be good enough to lock down one side of the field to allow Mathieu the freedom to create havoc as a roamer since his strict corner skills aren’t at an elite level yet. If Simon fails to do this, Mathieu will be expected to cover more, which diminishes his value to the defense.
5. Eric Reid
In each of LSU’s last two national championship seasons, it boasted a free safety who was like a defensive quarterback of sorts. Reid is this type of heady player, like Jack Hunt (’03) and Craig Steltz (’07), as he is the one responsible for most of the calls and adjustments on arguably the best defense in the country. Who can forget the play at Alabama last year when he left his own man to cover a wide open receiver near the end zone, where he intercepted the pass and saved the game for the Tigers? He also may be the best of the three when it comes to his ferocity as a tackler. Reid’s hard hitting helps to create the identity of the LSU defense like Copeland’s does with the offense.
6. Drew Alleman
Special teams is what separates LSU and Alabama. While all the games are important, obviously, it is kicking that could very well decide the game between these two in Baton Rouge. Alleman must be on target in this game, which could be the difference in playing a title game in Miami or another Sugar Bowl game in New Orleans. Don’t expect the voters to give the loser of this game another shot at the winner, especially if the loser is LSU.
7. Brad Wing
Once again it is a special teamer who makes the list. It was Wing who finished Reid’s great play last year in Tuscaloosa after LSU’s offense couldn’t muster a first down. Having to punt from his own end zone, which normally sets the opposing team up for great field position, the Australian unleashed a 73-yard punt that completely reversed field position and momentum in a game where both were at a premium. For the season, the All-American placed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and 13 inside the 10. He makes it necessary for opposing offenses to drive the length of the field to score, which sets up LSU’s great defense to perform as it does.
No disrespect to the Sam Montgomerys and Spencer Wares of the LSU team. There are many great players, which is why LSU is in the championship hunt. But there are certain players that don’t get the attention the stars get, players that make it possible for those stars to shine. If these seven players perform as expected, look for the Tigers to be taking their talents to South Beach in January.