Emily's Preseason Football Blog - Back to School

LSU head coach Les Miles (left)
LSU head coach Les Miles (left)
Chris Parent (@chrisparent)
Emily Dixon
Emily Dixon

August 22, 2016

Today is the first day of school, and the players and staff are getting back into their regular game week routines. Technically, fall camp ended a few days ago, but practice is still in full swing as the team continues to get ready for the season opener against Wisconsin.

The Tigers scrimmaged on Saturday, even having to move from Tiger Stadium to the indoor practice facility midway through due to weather. Starting running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Travin Dural did not practice as a result of minor injuries, but head coach Les Miles said they will both be ready for game week.

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It has been a rough 10 days for the people of Baton Rouge and the surrounding communities. The flooding has impacted LSU staff members, players’ families and multiple people we know. The LSU family sprung into action after the flooding, helping friends and family throughout the area. I am always proud to be a Tiger, but it’s times like these that make me realize how thankful I am to be part of an institution that cares about others. Our community rallies around LSU, and we’re all proud of that.

All of LSU’s sports teams helped out with recovery efforts in one way or another. I went with the football team to Celtic Studios last week, which housed thousands of evacuees from our community. I had volunteered at Celtic a couple times earlier in the week, but it was a special moment to see the reaction Miles and the team had on the residents there.

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August was a long month for the Tigers, but I believe this team will be stronger than ever. This is going to be a fun season for LSU fans, and I’m looking forward to being in Green Bay in less than two weeks. This offseason sure did fly by!

Thank you to everyone who followed my fall camp blog! Be sure to continue to come back to the website throughout the season for more interviews, stories and behind-the-scenes action from the LSU football team. As always, let me know if there’s anything you want to see this year!

Geaux Tigers!

August 18, 2016

Fall camp is a grueling time for the Tigers.

Each day is meticulously scheduled out, from wake-up to bed check and no free time to spare. This year, the unexpected flooding in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas didn’t change the Tigers’ practice schedule much, but it did give many area guys something else to put on their plate.

LSU sophomore running back and Catholic High graduate Derrius Guice and his family felt the impact of the massive flooding.

“I know my grandmother had to get rescued on a boat, because her house flooded when she just moved down here from Hammond not too long ago,” Guice said. “My mom is doing well and nothing happened to her house, but my Godparents were flooded in Denham Springs and now they have to redo their whole house.

“I just feel bad for the people who lost their homes, and the people who got their homes broken into late at night. It’s just a tragic thing, and it happened out of nowhere. I’m just praying for those people and hoping they get everything squared away as soon as possible.”

While the perimeter is filled with distractions, Guice said the team has been able to remain focused on football and practice while they are at the Football Operations Building, in large part because of the guidance laid out by head coach Les Miles.

“As the head coach, it’s Coach Miles’ job to keep us all together and to be ready to practice whenever we get here,” Guice said. “He’s really concerned about what is going on as well, but it’s his job to coach us to win, so whenever we’re here, we’ve got to focus on practice and get done what we have to get done.

“After practice, then that’s when your concerns go to helping, volunteering, doing community hours for all of the people that need help. We just have to focus whenever we are in this building.”

Baton Rouge is a college town that loves LSU. Over the past decade, we've seen the community rally around the Tigers while the football team provides somewhat of a distraction from what else might be happening, something Guice has seen first hand.

“I wish the first game was at home, because that would be a lot better and a lot quicker for everybody,” Guice said. “It’s just a year around thing. You have to be focused mentally and be ready physically and be prepared for whenever the season gets here.”

As a freshman, Guice played in all 12 games, accounting for 436 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and ranked among the SEC freshmen leaders in rushing yards. In short, Guice was a lot of fun to watch his freshman season, and his goals for this year are simple.

“Just doing my part and doing whatever I need to do when I am called upon and just making sure I don’t let up,” Guice said.

The offense went through some tough breaks with injuries to starting fullback J.D. Moore and wide receiver Travin Dural, but with both Tigers back for the 2016 season, Guice feels the offense can only get better.

“It helps a lot, because JD is a big factor in our run game as well as our pass game offensively,” Guice said. “Travin is one of the top receivers in the country. It’s just great to have those guys back, so now we can pick back up where we left off last year.”

We say this each year, but the LSU roster is stacked with talent. They have experience, leadership and - simply put - some of the most-talented college football players in the country. The expectations for the Tigers are high, but Guice said they are realistic.

“If we all just stay focused and be one team, the skies the limit for us,” Guice said.

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August 15, 2016

LSU head coach Les Miles has seen his fair share of weather-related issues since his arrival in Baton Rouge in 2005, and the next chapter - the massive flooding in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas over the weekend - has impacted the coach, his staff and team.

“Well, certainly it’s been everything but normal,” Miles said. “Anytime that your community feels ill effects of a storm, it affects the team. I can just tell you that we are so thankful these last few days we’ve been able to see sunshine and it hasn’t been raining. I’m told that 7,000 people are displaced and that several shelters are open and overflowing.

“We lost [from practice] two players who went home to service their families,” Miles said. “To be honest with you I was very mad at them because I didn’t know where they were at. I didn’t want one of my guys to be in jeopardy of his life and his family not even know.”

During Monday morning’s practice, you could hear and see helicopters circling campus and Blackhawks landing close to Tiger Stadium, and the effects of the flooding are still very noticeable in and around LSU. Not only were Miles’ players from the area directly impacted by the storm, but his staff has also experienced uncertainties from the flooding.

“People on our staff, our training staff, [Video Coordinator] Doug Aucoin, [Director of Equipment] Greg Stringfellow were water-threatened,” Miles said. “[Tight ends coach] Steve Ensminger has water in his house and has now moved families to other places. I got a late text that my brother and two nieces were displaced and then another text that said they were ‘ok’. 

“It’s a different time. Unusual at best.”

Miles has seen the work of the LSU facilities crew first hand. It started early in his career with a Monday night game versus Tennessee in 2005 and played out again with last season’s last-minute home game against South Carolina, which was moved to Baton Rouge due to flooding in Columbia. Once again, the facilities staff jumped into action Sunday afternoon, setting up a medical needs shelter at the LSU field house, similar to what they had done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“This so reminds you of Katrina,” Miles said. “It would be like LSU to take the lead in the community. Obviously, these facilities have the ability to serve, and the leadership here at this school understands that we are Louisiana and we will participate and you can count on us for whatever we can give you.

“It is nice that there is a shelter here on campus, and I would bet a number of my staff would volunteer there.”

Some LSU staff members didn’t wait for a shelter to be opened before springing into action to help those in need. LSU's Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director Michael Bonnette was on a boat rescuing people off Airline Highway Sunday evening, and other staff also reached out helping the community in any way they could.

“That really is specific to Louisiana,” Miles said. “I looked at the news where a woman was rescued from her car that was swept into the water, and the person on the rescue boat went in the water after her. I guess that opportunity is prevalent in other places – somebody needs help, they help. But it’s certainly demonstrated routinely here in Louisiana.”

One story that hit close to home throughout the weekend was the status of longtime LSU broadcaster Jim Hawthorne, who had not been communicated with throughout part of the storm.

“We were all concerned because we heard that Jim Hawthorne was not heard from,” Miles said. “The last time somebody had heard from him was 9:00 Saturday night, and he decided to spend the night in his house. There was a number of us that were concerned that he might be in position to deal with what really was the weather.”

News of the search for Hawthorne circulated throughout the day on Sunday, with media members and LSU personnel pleading for any news or sightings of the program's longtime broadcaster. When the news finally came on Sunday evening that Jim and his wife, Carol, had been rescued by boat and were safe, the LSU community let out a collective sigh of relief.

“I’m told he’s rescued and we are all very happy about that,” Miles said. “We don’t want to put him in deep water in any way.

“Jim is among a number of people that we know that are dealing with real difficulty. We are fortunate that there has not been as much death as there could possibly have been. We’ll be able to repair houses and we will be able to fix roads, but losing people, that becomes much more difficult.”

While flooding is still affecting Baton Rouge and surrounding areas on Monday, Miles hopes the weather finally retreats and the rebuilding process can begin. And, just like every event before this one, the head coach knows if there's a community that can come back, and come back together, it's here in Southeast Louisiana.

“I pray that we don’t have rain,” Miles said. “I pray that the major damage is done and that the surroundings and that healing take place. Again, it’s another great opportunity for Louisiana to demonstrate that it’s a special place to live.”

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August 12, 2016

The Tigers held their second two-a-day practice on Friday as the team prepares for the first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. LSU was moved inside for the last couple of practices due to heavy rain in Baton Rouge, but that doesn’t mean the work slowed down.

And given it’s his final time at camp with LSU, players like senior center Ethan Pocic are soaking it all in.

“Fall camp has just been fun,” Pocic said. “A little rainy, but out here competing and having a good time.”

I’ve always enjoyed interviewing Pocic, and I can remember him making his official visit to LSU as a senior in high school in Illinois. It will certainly be exciting watching him wrap up his college career this fall, and one piece of good news to come out of camp is that offseason surgery hasn’t slowed down his impact during fall camp.

“It’s great to be back in pads,” Pocic said. “It’s great to be out here with my brothers working hard and putting in the work.”

Since the arrival of offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, the line has been stacked with talent. Some key players, like Will Clapp and Maea Teuhema, have been a little banged up moving into the month, but missed practice has allowed for even more guys to get reps. And with more names in the mix, Pocic said this is the best depth he’s seen up front since he’s been at LSU.

“This is the most competition I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Pocic said. “Since I’ve been here there have always been three or four starters etched in stone, and it’s not that way this year. Everyone is just competing and everyone is making each other better.”

As a three-year starter, Pocic is the veteran on this year’s offensive line. He started 12 games as a sophomore, missing one due to injury, and then started all 12 games of his junior year. That experience brings a leadership role with the team, most notably inside the offensive line group.

“I mostly just talk to the o-line and get my guys right,” Clapp said. “I feel like everyone should be a lead by example guy.”

The relationship between a center and his quarterback is crucial for offensive success. LSU junior quarterback Brandon Harris started his entire sophomore season, and his relationship with Pocic has only matured through spring ball and the offseason.

“I just see him continuing to grow,” Pocic said. “He’s still maturing and getting older, and I like what I see. I think him and the receivers are a lot more fluid together, too.”

Senior linebacker Kendell Beckwith told me earlier this week that the offense has been mixing things up and giving the defense a run for their money. When Pocic talked about this year’s offensive attack, he returned the compliment.

“They’re playing well and making things hard on us, and that makes us better,” Pocic said.

Watch my full interview with Ethan to hear about his goals for the upcoming season, what he thinks of one particular teammate (who was our audience during this interview) and more!

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August 10, 2016

The Tigers went through the first two-a-day practice on Wednesday, which marked practices No. 7 and No. 8 of fall camp. While the second leg of fall camp might seem daunting to most, Kendell Beckwith's approach is simple: treat the stretch run like second nature. 

“You just have to go into it,” Beckwith said. “You can’t think about it too much. You just have to go into it looking to get better, and that’s how you progress and continue to work on your craft. It’s just all work.”

Beckwith is one of a handful of talented underclassmen who decided to stay at LSU for their senior season, choosing to forgo the NFL Draft for one more year. He started all 12 games last season, and he saw action in all 13 games of his sophomore season. That experience, paired with Beckwith’s personality, has made him a natural leader on this year’s team. 

“I just try to keep everyone focused,” Beckwith said. “We have a good group of guys and a lot of leaders, but the main things is to keep guys focused and pay attention and know what they are doing when they get out there on the field.”

Beckwith played quarterback in high school, was recruited to LSU as a defensive lineman and found his home as a middle linebacker by his sophomore season. Fellow senior Duke Riley joins Beckwith at this position, along with a pair of faces that will soon become familiar in freshman Devin White, who was recruited as a running back, and junior Donnie Alexander

“Those are two athletic guys,” Beckwith said. “They learn quick. They are very skillful. They have the want to. They are very competitive and very fast. They’ve got all the tools they need.”

Beckwith spends a lot of his time with new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda given Aranda coaches the inside linebackers throughout practice, and Beckwith said he's enjoying the transition to LSU’s new scheme.

“It’s been great working with him,” Beckwith said. “It’s fun. The defense is fun. I’m loving every minute of everything we are doing right now.”

Beckwith sees the changes on the defensive side of the ball, but he's also noticed areas on the offense that have this group looking prepared for the upcoming season.

“They’ve been doing a good job of mixing things up on us,” Beckwith said. “They’ve been getting us a couple of times. It’s been very competitive throughout this camp.”

LSU is a team that enters the season each year with high expectations, and this talent-filled roster carries those same expectations.

“I’ve been saying it and everyone else has been saying it,” Beckwith said. “We have high expectations. Very, very high. We are going to come out here and do what we have to do and we are going to look forward to making them run.”

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August 9, 2016

The Tigers had their first full squad practice on Monday morning following four days of split-team practices, and LSU head coach Les Miles was pleased with the effort the freshmen class gave now that the entire group is out there with the veterans.

“I think the freshmen that just came here are now integrated and understand what is going on,” Miles said. “They are a part of the team. By taking the divided practices we invest more in the freshmen class.”

Miles has singled out quite a few freshmen as possibly getting to see some early playing time throughout the beginning of fall camp, and he told me one new name that he feels has set himself apart from the rest of his class.

“I think (freshman tight end) Jamal Pettigrew has mad a couple of nice plays really during the last week,” Miles said. “I think the young freshmen receivers are all going to be incredibly talented. We're going to like that freshmen class.”

There's talent in the freshmen class, but there is also a ton of returning talent and experience with the veterans on this LSU team. One intangible this group brings to the team is how they have grown into leadership roles in different spots throughout the roster

“The leadership of Kendell Beckwith and Jamal Adams on defense is really good,” Miles said. “And, Tre'Davious White is doing everything in his sleep at this point. On the offensive line, (Ethan Pocic) is calling the center signals and taking care of things. The veteran at quarterback (Brandon Harris) certainly makes a difference.”

With one full squad practice down, Miles said there will be a little bit of Wisconsin action mixed in throughout the next few practices, but they will be mainly focused on improving themselves.

“We're very much LSU vs. LSU right now with the idea that we're really investing in quality techniques, individual, and making sure that as we approach the game our technique is ready to compete on a very high level,” Miles said.

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August 8, 2016

The Tigers are now practicing together as a whole team with split practices ending on Sunday. I talked with wide receiver Travin Dural after the morning practice on Friday to see how he was coming along in camp.

One position stacked with talent is the wide receivers group, led by senior Dural. Sidelined for the spring due to a hamstring injury he suffered during the Ole Miss game last year, Dural hit the ground running in his first practice since last season.

“It felt really good being out there with my guys and getting a chance to run around and sweat and go through this thing with everybody,” Dural said.

It has been eight months since Dural was able to participate in football activities. His rehab process included a lot of rest, so the Breaux Bridge native took full advantage of his first two days back at practice.

“It was actually a lot of sitting around,” Dural said. “It was more so just letting it heal. Once it healed fully, it was just getting it back strong again.”

Dural and junior Malachi Dupre headline a wide receivers group that is stacked with talent – like junior D.J. Chark and sophomore Tyron Johnson - for new position coach Dameyune Craig. It’s also worth noting that incoming freshman Drake Davis moved up to the morning practice on Friday to work with the veterans.

“We are a very, very talented group,” Dural said. “We have a lot of young guys who can do a lot of great things, and we have a lot of older guys who can do a lot of great things. We just have to come together as a group and keep working and getting better every day to show people that we came to throw the ball this year.”

Dural has also taken full advantage of the addition of Craig, who was a quarterback at Auburn from 1994-97. Dural says Craig’s background as a quarterback has helped the wide receiver group as a whole. Also, if you’ve seen anything from practice so far, you know Craig is very enthusiastic to be around.

“It’s been great having a different perspective being that he played quarterback,” Dural said. “He looks at a game completely different, and he gives us a different outlook of the game from the quarterback’s perspective. It really helps us out a lot on the field.

“I love it. The guys love him. He’s a very energetic guy. He loves what he does, and he comes out to play every practice. He’s like a little kid running around in the backyard out there.”

Even though he had to watch from the sidelines throughout the spring, Dural noticed a change in the LSU offense that carried into the summer and now fall camp.

“Maturity,” Dural said. “We have matured a lot as a group. You see it from the line to the quarterbacks to the running backs to the receivers. Everyone has matured.

“Brandon (Harris) is a lot better now. You can tell he is ready to lead us. He is ready to do great things. As expected, Leonard (Fournette) is Leonard. He does Leonard things. The receiver group, we’ve matured a lot. We feel like we have a lot to prove being that we are a very talented group.”

The best way to sharpen this offense is to go up against a great defense, and that happens each practice against LSU’s new-look defensive unit.

“We know we have a very talented defense,” Dural said. “That gives us an advantage. Some people have to wait until Saturdays to go against a really good defense, but we see it everyday.

“It makes us better. They give us every look possible, anything we are looking for whether it be from the line or the defensive backs. It’s everything we need to make our offense as strong as it needs to be.”

With only one season left in his LSU career, Dural is on track to make the most out of his senior year.

“I just want to leave my mark,” Dural said. “I want people to remember me for the great things I do on the field.”

Watch my full interview with Travin to hear more about this year’s team and see highlights from fall camp!

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August 4, 2016

After reporting on Wednesday, the Tigers hit the field for their first practice on Thursday morning. The first four days of practice will be split with veterans and select freshmen in the morning and freshmen and select vets going in the afternoon. The two freshmen in the morning practice were linebackers Devin White and Micahel Divinity Jr., who were both early enrollees.

One veteran who is certainly used to the grinding schedule of fall camp is defensive back Tre'Davious White. With only one practice down, the four-year starter is confident in the direction of this year’s team.

“We got a lot accomplished,” White said. “Defense communicated well, so we are just going to build off of that. I feel like we are off to a great start.”

White was chosen as a junior to wear LSU’s No. 18 jersey, and now has the honor of sporting it for a second year. His experience on an off the field has put White into a strong leadership role not only on the defense but as a leader of this team.

“Tre’Davious wears No. 18, which has always been the mark of a leader,” head coach Les Miles said when White made his decision.

That type of leadership also allows for a smoother transition to new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme – a scheme that has the veteran cornerback now at the nickel position.

“Starting in the spring when Coach Aranda got here, he preached to us leadership and just being [mentally strong] and getting everything accomplished,” White said. “I feel that we had a great spring and we built off of that in the summer and it showed today in the first day of fall camp.”

The approach to fall camp and the upcoming season under a new coordinator is alleviated by getting to know Aranda during spring ball and film study throughout the summer.

“I feel like it is going to be big,” White said. “He came in and he communicated with us well. He brought everything along slowly so the guys could get it. We had a great first day, and the things that we ran today we pretty much knew. He instilled it in us in the summer and the spring, so I think we will go off to a fast start.”

Each practice is ‘LSU vs. LSU’, as head coach Les Miles puts it, meaning White and the defense get to see the progression of this LSU offense on a daily basis play-by-play. He has seen changes in the offense that have him excited to watch those guys play on Saturdays.

“The development of Brandon and how the guys approached the spring and the summer,” White said. “And getting Travin Dural back was obviously big for us. We have big threat receivers, all types of receivers and we are going to put some points on the board.

“I am very excited to see those guys play.”

The Shreveport native made the decision to forego the NFL for a year and stay at LSU to complete his senior season with the Tigers. It is a decision he made months ago but still looks back on as the right way to go. Not only a choice beneficial for White, but it is a decision that also helps this team in 2016.

“I wouldn’t pass it up for anything in the world,” White said. “I am 100% confident and happy with my decision. I just want to move forward and win a national championship. That’s the goal.”

“This is a windfall for us,” Miles said of the group of juniors coming back for another year at LSU. “For the first time, we return a big senior class. Anytime that you have a senior dominated team, you recognize that you are going to play with leaders, and guys always play their best year of football when they are most mature.

When you are watching a college football game, you see the conversations, or some smack talk, that goes on between the offense and defense. And the same thing happens in practice amongst the team.

“We want to get the receivers better and we want them to get us better,” White said. “I’m definitely talking smack to D.J. Chark. That’s one of the guys I love going against in one-on-ones, because he presents a great challenge for me.”

There is no doubt that this DB unit has fun. When you watch them in practice or see them outside of the Football Operations Building, they are always laughing and having fun together. And White sees how this relationship directly translates to the field.

“It’s definitely close,” White said. “We hang out on and off the field, so the bond that we share shows you why we have on the field success.”

Thursday marked 30 days to go until the kickoff of football season, and while fall camp has started out positively, White knows there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Definitely,” White said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. Wisconsin is a great opponent and presents a tremendous challenge for us. We are going to continue to take is slow and just go day by day.”

August 3, 2016

We’re back!

As I sat down to write this first fall camp blog post of 2016, I realized this is my fourth year covering camp for LSUsports.net. We have had some great interviews and players to cover throughout the years, and I am excited to get this season started! Wednesday was report day for the players, and 104 Tigers arrived to campus to start the 2016 football season.

I caught up with head coach Les Miles on report day to get his thoughts on this year’s team. Miles is entering his 12th season with LSU, and just like each year before it, the head coach is ready to have his team together.

“I think this football team has had a great summer,” Miles said. “I think they are prideful in what they have accomplished. I think they are looking forward to getting into camp, improving their skills and playing at a very high level. I’m excited.”

This LSU team is returning 18 starters, including Tre'Davious White and Kendell Beckwith - two key players on defense who decided to stay for their senior seasons. Also returning is a large and talented junior class with Leonard FournetteMalachi DupreBrandon Harris and more. Miles made it clear to me what he expects from this group of veterans.

“Leadership,” Miles said. “We will have some offense that we will put in new. We’ll have some defense that we’ll put in new, and we’ll expect them to accomplish those things in what would be 29 practices.

“They will, and they’re excited. As long as that leadership does what we expect, we’ll be fine.”

Complimenting those vets is a talented group of incoming freshmen. The Tigers third-ranked 2016 signing class includes five early-enrollees who already participated in spring ball, and Miles said he expects to see multiple freshmen on the field this fall.

“I think Devin White has the kind of perspective that you need to have as a linebacker and as a player,” Miles said. “I think he can step onto the field as a true freshman. Michael Divinity Jr. as well. Rashard LawrenceSci Martin, I mean, there’s a number of guys that can really play, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Along with new faces on the team comes new faces on the coaching staff. The Tigers’ three coaching staff additions, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, have been through a spring with LSU but enter their first fall camp with the Tigers.

“The great thing is all three are tremendously valued opinions in our staff room and have great experience,” Miles said.

Hear more from Coach Miles about all three new coaches and getting ready to take on fall camp in our interview from Wednesday’s report date. As always, check back throughout the month to hear from players, staff and coaches!

If there is anything you would like to see, shoot me an email!

Geaux Tigers! 

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