“Jarrett Lee is our starter,” Miles said.
Short, sweet and without a lot of wiggle room for discussion.
With the arrest of two-year starter Jordan Jefferson on Friday, it became official that Lee will begin the fifth year of a roller-coaster college football journey as the starting quarterback for a Tigers team that enters the new season with national championship aspirations.
In so many ways, Lee is right back where he started in 2008.
Three seasons ago, Lee launched his LSU career under similar controversial circumstances when former Tigers wunderkind Ryan Perrilloux was kicked off the team.
A rocky season ensued, one with flashes of promise (1,873 passing yards, 14 touchdowns) but also one that, in the end, was punctuated by interceptions – 16 of them, seven that opponents took the opposite direction for touchdowns.
Between that season and now, Lee stumbled and fell, got back up mentally and emotionally and reinvented himself last season with major fourth-quarter contributions in victories against Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.
With the starting job in his grasp again, Lee gets another chance at redemption.
“I’ve been through a lot these last few years, but it’s only made me a better player, a more mature player,” Lee said Thursday, before Jefferson’s arrest was finalized. “I’m really looking forward to this season.
“Being in the system for my fifth year, I know it like the back of my hand. I have a better understanding of what we do and what works best against certain defenses.”
Maybe more important than any scheme or experience is this: Lee seems to be more confident now, playing in a slimmed-down 207-pound body and he’s coming off a pre-season camp LSU coach Les Miles has repeatedly gushed is the best of the Texan’s career.
“Jarrett has just had a hell of a practice,” Miles said Friday. “He’s practiced well and he’s really working to do the things that he needs to do to help his team.”
How can Lee help the Tigers the most?
1. Limit turnovers
2. Manage the game effectively
3. Be willing and able to deliver downfield thows in the face of defensive pressure to help loosen up defenses intent on taking away LSU's rushing attack.
As has been the case with Jefferson the last two seasons, Lee’s job is less about winning games on his own as it is about putting the Tigers in position to be consistent on offense.
Had Lee been thrust into this role in 2009 or even last season – before his renaissance performances against the three SEC foes – the strong-armed 6-foor-2 QB likely wouldn’t have been anywhere near ready.
“I know a lot more now than I did in ’08 and ’09,” Lee said with an edge in his voice that hasn’t been there the last two seasons.
“Those games last season helped a lot. I just tried to step in when my number was called and just made the most of it and I feel like I did a pretty job of that. I’m going to build off those games and as far as confidence level goes, those games really help me.”
It hasn’t hurt either that the LSU offensive coaches began shifting the game plan to fit Lee last Saturday when the details of the fight outside Shady’s Bar began to bubble to the surface.
While Jefferson was still operating with the first team, Lee’s reps increased to allow him to get comfortable with a much different offense than he engineered with mixed results in 2008.
“Frankly, we have to be ready for all occurrences, and since the issue (fight), we’ve kind of moved in a way that would allow Jarrett Lee to spend a lot of time on the field,” Miles said.
On the field. A place that has been a rare oasis for Lee the last two years.
All along – especially going back to his career-reviving performances last season – Lee kept his head on straight and his focus engaged as his career flew by with him spending most of his time on the sideline.
“With all us quarterback, with each and every practice you have to practice like you are the starter,” he said. “I’ve done that ever since (2008). It can be only one play and you’re in there and you have to do something positive to help your team.”
There have been plenty of emotional bruises along the way as Lee’s career lurched toward the finish line.
In his redshirt freshman season when those pesky pick-sixes were piling up, Lee was booed at home games, prompting a spirited public rebuke from Miles.
Then when Lee was knocked out of the Ole Miss game at Tiger Stadium late in the 2008 season, a portion of the home crowd cheered derisively.
Jefferson stepped in as the starter the next week, a job he held for all but one game in the last two-plus seasons.
The one exception was a home game vs. Louisiana Tech in 2009 when Lee got the starting nod in place of an injured Jefferson and was miserable, completing only 7-of-22 passes for 105 yards in a game in which the Tigers had to recover an onside kick in the closing minutes to secure a 24-16 triumph.
With that as a lingering memory, LSU fans were left to hold their collective breath when Jefferson struggled early last season and Lee was the only safety net.
Those fears were dispelled when Lee showed the kind of swagger he lacked against Tech. In back-to-back October victories against Tennessee and Florida that required fourth-quarter rallies, Lee was the sparkplug – combining to hit 25 of 34 passes for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns in those two relief appearances.
“Over the last few years, I learned that whenever your number is called, you’ve just got to be focused on going in there and making a play,” Lee said. “You have to know you’re ready to play at any time and stay confident.”
That confidence has been amplified even more in the offseason.
While Steve Kragthorpe’s arrival was directed mostly toward working on Jefferson’s mechanics and technique, Lee has also benefitted.
“Watching defenses and watching stuff that developed in the film room is one of the main things that he’s helped me on,” Lee said. “Coach Kragthorpe brings the best out of us players. He helps us out on the field and off it.”
While Lee will get the nod against Oregon a week from Saturday in the season opener, Miles said LSU’s other quarterbacks will be ready as well.
Sophomore Zach Mettenberger and the heir apparent as the starter next season will likely get some time against the Ducks to get his feet wet at the Division I level. Freshman Stephen Rivers is third on the depth chart, but Miles twice mentioned another young QB – Jerrard Randall.
When he was listing the depth chart, Miles mentioned Randall by saying “the athletic quarterback may get some opportunities as well.”
Moments later, when asked is Mettenberger would get playing time against Oregon, Miles said “Yeah and we like ol’ Randall, too.”
Randall is the closest to Jefferson in terms of being a dual-threat quarterback. At Miramar High in Hollywood, Fla., as a senior and Chaminade-Madonna High as a junior, Randall accounted for nearly 5,000 total yards and 50 touchdowns in his last two seasons.
Bad day: Arrests and suspensions
Statement from BRPD Chief Dewayne White
A busy day of twists and turns
Miles: "it's certainly a tough time"