When Ethan Pocic announced his decision to stay at LSU for his senior season, Vadal Alexander called him, and the two LSU offensive linemen had a chat.

“Man,” Vadal said he told Pocic, “I’m a little jealous of you, man. This is a good team you got.”

Alexander, having exhausted his eligibility, is training for the NFL combine, set to begin Feb. 23. Pocic is training at LSU for his senior season as he leads a squad returning 18 of 22 starters.

The Tigers are projected by many to start next season in the top five nationally. They lost just one underclassman early to the NFL draft (left tackle Jerald Hawkins) and are missing only three other starters from a team that finished 9-3 in 2015.

They have the key pieces — a Heisman Trophy favorite running back (Leonard Fournette), a veteran middle linebacker poised to be a first-round pick (Kendell Beckwith) and a stock of highly touted defensive backs and receivers.

Sounds good, right?

“National champs. Easy,” former LSU defensive back Jalen Mills said last month. “It’s a national championship team. I think the world knows it.”

The juniors who passed on the draft know it, too, defensive end Lewis Neal said. They talked among themselves during the decision process in early January.

Still, there are holes to fill with the Tigers three weeks away from the start of spring football. Who’s in line for replacement duty for Alexander, Hawkins, linebacker Deion Jones and Mills?


Who left: Jalen Mills

Why: Exhausted eligibility

Production lost: Returned from preseason injury to start the final six games at nickelback

The candidates

Donte Jackson

- General info: sophomore; 5-11, 167; Metairie

- Experience: The speedy Jackson developed into the Tigers’ starting nickelback by the end of the season as Mills moved to safety and Dwayne Thomas struggled.

Dwayne Thomas

- General info: senior; 6-0, 186; New Orleans

- Experience: Thomas started the first nine games last season before some coverage struggles relegated him to the bench. He did not play in two of the final three games.

Saivion Smith

- General info: freshman; 6-3, 191; St. Petersburg, Florida

- Experience: Smith said DBs coach Corey Raymond plans to start him at nickel in spring practice. He’s a mid-year enrollee ranked as the nation’s fifth-best cornerback.

Other potential replacements: Ed Paris, Kristian Fulton, Andraez “Greedy” Williams, Eric Monroe


Who left: Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander

Why: Hawkins opted for the NFL draft; Alexander exhausted his eligibility

Production lost: Hawkins started all but one game last season at left tackle; Alexander started 11 games at right tackle and one game at left tackle

The candidates

K.J. Malone

- General info: junior; 6-4, 298; Ruston

- Experience: Played in each game last season, including replacing an injured Hawkins for nearly three quarters against Arkansas. He has never started a game.

Toby Weathersby

- General info: sophomore; 6-5, 292; Houston

- Experience: Ranked as high as the seventh-best tackle in the 2015 class, Weathersby played on the field-goal team and started at right tackle against Ole Miss last season.

Maea Teuhema

- General info: sophomore; 6-5, 327; Keller, Texas

- Experience: Ranked as high as the No. 1 offensive guard in 2015, Teuhema started 11 games at right guard as a freshman last season.

Other potential replacements: Chidi Valentine, Jevonte Domond, Ethan Pocic, George Brown Jr.


Who left: Deion Jones

Why: Exhausted eligibility

Production lost: Jones started all but one game and led the team with 100 tackles

The candidates

Duke Riley

- General info: senior; 6-0, 227; Buras

- Experience: Riley played in each game, backing up MLB Kendell Beckwith and strongside linebacker Lamar Louis. He saw his most time on special teams.

Michael Divinity

- General info: freshman; 6-3, 224; Marrero

- Experience: A top-10 prospect at his position in the 2016 class, Divinity enrolled last month and will participate in spring football. Many view him as an immediate impact player.

Donnie Alexander

- General info: junior; 6-1, 215; New Orleans

- Experience: Alexander started the only game in which Jones did not start last season, but he saw little significant action, playing mostly on special teams.

Other potential replacements: Corey Thompson, Devin Voorhies