Ready for launch

LSU's new OC Steve Kragthorpe and senior QB Jordan Jefferson are eager for the 2011 season to get off the ground.

You'll have to excuse new LSU offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe if he seems a little restless these days.

Simply put, the Tigers' new offensive mastermind is ready for some football.

That alone doesn't make the 46-year-old Kragthorpe different than most football coaches – or fans for that matter – at this time of year.

But Kragthorpe has a little more pent-up energy intertwined with motivation and curiosity all bottled up and swirling inside a coach whose football soul has been stuck in park for a while now.

In a recent exclusive interview with, Kragthorpe left little doubt that he's champing at the bit to get a new chapter in his coaching career started.

"I'm just really excited about getting back out there," said Kragthorpe, the former Tulsa and Louisville head coach who sat out the 2010 season after his tenure with the Cardinals was snuffed out following the 2009 campaign. He was hired by LSU coach Les Miles to jump-start take over the Tigers' brimming-with-potential but inconsistent offense.

"It was great to be back out there with our players for spring football, but we haven't had a chance to coach our players since April 9. We have a good plan with what Les wants us to accomplish in practice. Now we've just got to go put our feet on the grass and start getting it done."

Hired on Jan. 20 to run an offense that will feature senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, a veteran offensive line and a deep cast of talented but relatively unproven skill-position players, Kragthorpe said most of the last three-plus months have been spent getting acquainted with recruiting and his new environment.

Scouring the country for the best young quarterbacks and getting familiar with his primary area, which is the Baton Rouge metro area.

"I've kind of just put my head down and done everything I could to learn about this area, met some great coaches and great people and have tried to fit in," Kragthorpe said.

Along the way, the personable Montana native has also carved a niche as the leader of an offense that will blend his play-action, pass-oriented philosophy with head coach Les Miles' blue-collar preference for a grind-it-out running game.

"Coach Kragthorpe has really brought a new attitude to the offense and injected new life into the offense," senior offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said at SEC Media Days. "He's especially had an impact on Jordan. He's really flourished under Coach Kragthorpe and that's helped him bring his game to the next level. It just seems like Jordan is more confident – throwing the ball better and more accurately and he's become the true leader of the team."

No task is more important for Kragthorpe than to prepare Jefferson and backup QBs Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger for a season of promise and high expectations – especially Jefferson, who returns for his third year as the full-time starter.

Lauded as a top-notch quarterbacks coach, Kragthorpe is charged with sharpening Jefferson's performance and keeping the 6-foot-5 Destrehan native in the kind of consistent groove that has eluded him for most of his three-year career.

Jefferson enters the final leg of his LSU journey with a 20-7 record, but he has never completely turned the corner as an elite SEC quarterback despite the team's success.

Last year's 11-2 season was the Tigers' best as a team with Jefferson at the offense's controls, but he took a step back as a passer, connecting on only 119-of-209 throws for 1,411 yards with 10 interceptions and seven touchdowns, the fewest scoring strikes by a starting QB in a BCS conference in 2011.

Jefferson did show progress as a runner, racking up 450 yards (second on the team to Stevan Ridley) and scoring seven touchdowns – particularly emerging as a reliable threat in the red zone. And he again shined in a bowl game with 158 passing yards and three scores in a 41-24 Cotton Bowl romp past Texas A&M.

There were other high-water performances in key LSU triumphs during the season (Alabama, Ole Miss), but those couldn't eradicate the memory of a stretch of seven consecutive games when Jefferson passed for 100 yards or fewer and wound up in an uncomfortable quarterback time-share with Lee.

The spring game – with Kragthorpe getting his feet wet for the first time – didn't offer much cause for optimism as Jefferson connected on only 4-of-14 passes for 102 yards.

Since then, though, Jefferson has drawn rave reviews from his teammates as an off-season leader. Likewise, his appearance at the Manning Passing Academy earlier this month created a stir when patriarch Archie Manning made a point to laud the LSU quarterback, who also showed a little swagger when he said the starting job was his hands-down.

That kind of brashness hasn't been the norm for the low-key Jefferson, so it could be a welcome sign of amped-up motivation as he enters the final phase of his college career.

"I want him to be confident and take control like that," Kragthorpe said. "One of things Jordan and I have spent a lot of time talking about is that not only does he have to be the leader of our (quarterbacks) room, but also of the offense and to a big degree of the football team. He's done an excellent job with that so far.

"Jordan is a very self-motivated guy and he wants to help his team have a great year. He has a desire to play football after this year and this is his chance to improve that opportunity."

His last chance.

And Jefferson seems intent on making a commitment to going out in a blaze of glory.

Not always a film-room junkie under former OC Gary Crowton, Jefferson has seized advantage of the fresh start with Kragthorpe to reinvent himself in that regard.

Kragthorpe said all three quarterbacks have been regular visitors to his office since the April 9 spring game, each picking his brain for advice on how to adapt to whatever tweaks and improvements the new coordinator has introduced to the offense.

"We don't get any time to spend on the field with them in the offseason, so it's important that they show some initiative and work as hard as they can to make themselves better," Kragthorpe said. "In our situation, I think it's been good because it's made them kind of think more about things and learn the offense better than they know it now. They're all three eager to learn and are very coachable guys."

Good thing, because all three could factor into LSU's season.

A backup quarterback always plays a role somewhere along the way and in the Tigers' case, the third-string QB might have the highest expectations on his shoulders of all of them.

Lee will enter the season as Jefferson's immediate backup, but Mettenberger will be hovering in the wings – already a fan favorite despite never having thrown a pass in Division I – to step in should the offense sputter.

The strong-armed Mettenberger was in the battle for the starting job at Georgia as a freshman before off-field woes led to a messy exit from Athens.

After a successful season of junior-college purgatory in Southeast Kansas, Mettenberger signed with LSU and ever since has stirred up the fan base's hopes of an NFL-caliber quarterback running the Tigers' offense.

Not so fast, though, as far as Jefferson is concerned.

Jefferson made no bones about what he thinks of a two-QB system.

Last season under Crowton, dissension was palpable behind the scenes as Jefferson struggled with having the offense's steering wheel yanked away from him at times.

"I don't like it; I'm not a fan of it," Jefferson said. "It doesn't work. … There were important parts of the game where I wasn't in the game and my confidence level was kind of low at times."

Now, with Kragthorpe and a clean slate, Jefferson vows that he's ready to be the kind of QB he has tantalized LSU fans with for two years as the full-time starter.

"Coach Kragthorpe has definitely made a difference for me," Jefferson said. "I feel that Coach Kragthorpe is behind me 100 percent.

"He emphasizes the small things that a quarterback needs to be successful. He's going to do the best he can to expose some talents."

Jefferson showed some humility as well when he spoke at SEC Media Days last week, mingled with a clear-cut renewed sense of confidence.

"Last year made me aware of what I need to do to be a better quarterback," he said. "There were times I threw the ball eight times a game and that's a situation I've never been involved in. It was kind of a hard situation for me to succeed at times – not necessarily succeed but move us forward."

"I'm ready to have a good season. I put a lot of homework and dedication into the spring and the offseason program."

Plus, it never hurts to have the incentive of having not just one backup who has started games in the SEC, but another reserve who is the heir apparent next season.

Kragthorpe said he doesn't think Jefferson is "looking back at who's chasing him," but that was when the Tigers' QB was at his best last season – after Lee came in and pumped life into the offense and guided LSU to victories against Tennessee and Florida.

All three quarterbacks will be game-ready when the season begins Sept. 3 against Oregon, Kragthorpe said. Miles said there's been more competition at quarterback last spring and offseason since Jefferson inherited the job at the tail end of 2008 and that that's made the Tigers better at the position.

Miles also made a point to nudge Jefferson a bit when he praised the additions Kragthorpe has brought to the table, but said it was up to Jefferson to embrace the nuances and changes and use them to his advantage.

Jefferson wouldn't want it any other way.

"That's what Coach Kragthorpe is supposed to do with the quarterback position," Jefferson said. "He's supposed to make sure we're ready for the games."

Asked specifically about Mettenberger, Jefferson said "I'm going to do the best I can to make sure he's prepared. … We're the best of friends. We play the same position. I'm being a teacher for him, doing the best I can to teach him."

Make no mistake, though, Jefferson intends to stay in control of the offense.

As much as Jefferson might lend a hand or some knowledge to Mettenberger or Lee, his focus is clearly on doing what he can do to provide the Tigers with stability and production at quarterback in his last go-round – a season when LSU has legitimate national championship aspirations if it can get steady play from him.

"I expect great things," Jefferson said matter-of-factly. "I expect myself to have a great year."

Tiger Blitz Top Stories