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LSU Players to Watch

Transfers will draw a lot of attention during spring practice, and rightfully so.

LSU signed 11 of them to fill critical needs. The first-team cornerbacks, a starting inside linebacker, primary edge rushers, key defensive linemen, and an offensive playmaker may all be new roster additions.

But as much as the newcomers will influence LSU’s season, several returning players have a chance to earn larger roles when practice begins Thursday morning.

These five players have never been regular starters, but with a strong spring, they can position themselves for more playing time ahead of preseason camp.

Sage Ryan, S, R-Soph.

Injuries limited Ryan to four games with two starts as a freshman. Then last year, he became a rotational player who recorded 23 tackles, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles while appearing in every game behind nickel Jay Ward. That is a natural career progression for many, but Ryan was a five-star recruit. The label creates higher expectations.

The ideal step for Ryan would be to become a regular starter here in his third season. He has the opportunity after Ward’s departure from the NFL creates one of three openings in the secondary. But LSU could play one of its cornerbacks at nickel. If Ryan doesn’t start there, LSU still needs him as the top backup to safeties Greg Brooks and Major Burns.

Jacobian Guillory, DT, R-Jr.

After joining the defensive line rotation as a redshirt freshman, Guillory stayed there last year. He started twice but fell far behind the snap counts of starters Mekhi Wingo and Jaquelin Roy. Guillory finished with 14 tackles and one quarterback hurry. In his career, he has 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and a half-sack.

This is a pivotal offseason for Guillory. On top of Wingo and Maason Smith, LSU signed West Virginia transfer Jordan Jefferson and Florida transfer Jalen Lee. They added depth, but there are available snaps this spring. Wingo (shoulder) and Smith (knee) are limited as they recover from injuries, giving Guillory and others the chance to assert themselves.

Chris Hilton, WR, R-Soph.

Hilton separates himself in a talented wide receiver room with breakaway speed. He showed it on two of the nine catches in his LSU career: an 81-yard touchdown at the end of the Texas Bowl, and a 51-yard grab down the seam last year against New Mexico.

The problem is Hilton rarely has been healthy. Injuries limited him to four games during his freshman season, and he played only twice last year before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He was expected to return for spring practice.

A former top-100 prospect, Hilton signed as the second-highest rated receiver in a 2021 class for LSU loaded with wideouts. If he can stay healthy, this spring offers him time to emerge. Other than Malik Nabers and to a degree Brian Thomas, the Tigers have an unclear pecking order at wide receiver.

Marlon Martinez, OL, Sr.

Martinez has been in the offensive line conversation but not yet turned into a full-time starter. Over the past two years, he played in 24 games but made four starts. Now, Martinez will be in the middle of a competition with incumbent starting center Charles Turner.

Martinez has a size advantage at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds. Still, Turner took over at center early last season and held his own despite questions about his listed 6-4, 295-pound frame. Martinez only started in his place when Turner missed the UAB game because of an injury. He also played well in 52 center snaps when Turner exited the Citrus Bowl, leading to the only competition on a stable offensive line.

Sai’vion Jones, DE, Jr.

Jones gave himself an edge in the Citrus Bowl. Starting in place of departed senior Ali Gaye, he recorded a sack to finish with the third-most (4½) on the team last season. Jones flashed as a pass rusher and consistently rotated; he now has 25 games of experience. With improved run defense, Jones has the makings of a front-line defensive end.

He will play. The question is whether or not Jones starts and appears in more crucial situations. He has to fend off Arizona transfer Paris Shand and redshirt freshman Quency Wiggins. Shand recorded 39 tackles and four sacks in 20 games over the past two seasons. Wiggins is a former top-100 recruit with enticing athleticism.