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After 3 seasons out of the SEC title mix, Tigers begin spring with staff, lineup changes

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — LSU opened spring practice Saturday as a football program in transition following three straight seasons of decreasing victory totals in the Southeastern Conference.

There are three new assistants on coach Les Miles' staff, including defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, and plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on defense and offense — even at quarterback.

One thing Miles doesn't want to change is his message that the Tigers have the talent to challenge for championships every year, even if they haven't done so since 2011.

"Championships and getting into the playoffs are messages which are received in this room naturally," Miles said, speaking in LSU's team meeting room after the first spring practice. "That's what we are used to around here."

Just not lately.

The Tigers had a 5-3 SEC record in 2013 and followed that up with a 4-4 league mark last season, after which former defensive coordinator John Chavis bolted for Texas A&M.

That led Miles to hire Steele, an Alabama assistant who was once the head coach at Baylor and defensive coordinator at Clemson. Miles also brought in Ed Orgeron, a former Mississippi head coach and Southern California interim head coach. Orgeron has taken over as defensive line coach for Brick Haley, who went to Texas.

"Kevin has done a very nice job putting the defense in position," Miles said. "Ed did a great job with the defensive line. They are young and very talented. That talent is starting to come to the front."

The other staff change occurred on offense, where former Georgia assistant Tony Ball has taken over as wide receivers coach for Adam Henry, now with the San Francisco 49ers.

Most offensive starters return, including quarterback Anthony Jennings, but LSU may need much better quarterback play to challenge for an SEC West crown. The competition is open between Jennings, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 2014, and Brandon Harris, who demonstrated flashes of potential early last season but struggled mightily in his lone SEC start at Auburn last year.

"We talked to both guys about the need and the want to throw the ball better," Miles said. "The quarterbacks have to come on and the receiving corps has to come on. We are going to devote a lot of time to the passing game in spring."

Two starting spots are open on the offensive line with the departure of left tackle La'El Collins and center Elliott Porter. The three returning starters — Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic — were at different positions Saturday.

Alexander, a left guard a year ago, lined up at right tackle — the position he played as a true freshman in 2012. Hawkins shifted from right tackle to left tackle. Pocic, the starting right guard in 2014, was the center, which he played in the four games Porter missed last season.

On Saturday, redshirt freshmen William Clapp and Garrett Brumfield also worked with the No. 1 offensive line.

"We are not as deep as I want to be in the offensive line yet," said Miles, a former offensive lineman at Michigan. "I like K.J. Malone. I think he is going to be a starter at some place for us on the line. The other two guys, Brumfield and Clapp, are getting ready to play."

On defense, the Tigers must replace five starters including their defensive ends and a cornerback. The openings at defensive end came after Jermauria Rasco graduated and Danielle Hunter left to enter the NFL draft. Junior Tashawn Bower and sophomore Deondre Clark are now working as first-team ends.

Tre'Dvious White is back at one starting cornerback spot, but Jalen Collins left for the NFL draft and Rashard Robinson is no longer with the team. Ed Paris, primarily a special teams player as a freshman, worked with the first team on Saturday.

"Both Bower and Clark had some nice looks today," Miles said. "Ed took a lot of snaps at corner today. We'll look at a bunch of guys there."

Another candidate at cornerback could be 6-foot-2, 192-pound cornerback Kevin Toliver, and early enrollee from Florida, whom Miles singled out as "a very talented guy."

LSU will conclude spring practice with an intrasquad game on Saturday, April 18.

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