--- Judging from the opening few questions, it was understood that the first ‘Lunch with Les’ of the 2011 season would focus on the new addition to his offense.
After Jordan Jefferson was arrested and suspended from the team last Friday, Miles named Jarrett Lee as LSU’s starting quarterback – and Miles said that Lee, a fifth-year senior with plenty of SEC experience, appears more ready than ever.
“(Lee’s) pretty excited,” Miles said. “He didn’t want this to happen … But if there is a guy who was baptized under fire and had to come to the field very quickly and had to learn on the run, that was Jarrett Lee.
“He’s disappointed for our team’s loss, but excited for his opportunity.”
Though he went without a start in 2010, Lee was no stranger to action, appearing in 12 games – a few when he bailed the Tigers offense out.
“I think in the three games (Lee) played significant football in a year ago, he threw the touchdown winning pass at Florida, he was responsible for the drive that came down at the end of the game to beat Tennessee, and he made a third-and-long play late in the Alabama game that, in my opinion, would depict a guy who has played in various pressure situations and, in fact, can play with poise,” Miles said.
Now that Jefferson has moved out of the picture (at least for the time being), Miles is counting his lucky stars. After a 16-interception season in 2008, boos from his own fan base and a backseat role in the offense the last two years, Lee never wavered from his pledge to play for the Tigers, a decision that ultimately handed him the car keys in the 11th hour of his senior campaign.
“I think there is a strong commitment to want a degree from LSU,” Miles said. “(Lee) wants to be remembered as the quarterback, the player, and the student-athlete from LSU. The view of what could have been transfer, or the view of what could have been another school, didn’t match the friends and experience he has had here – difficult and good.
“His abilities would serve LSU, and none other. That was very unselfish. Few men have that capacity to be a great teammate and loyal to a school. I’m pretty excited for him.”
--- With Lee in, what changes?
Not a whole lot.
While Lee doesn’t have the legs to move the chains like Jefferson did, the dynamic of the offense will remain the same.
“It’s a different style of quarterback, but it’s still the same issue,” Miles said. “Get the ball to the guy who has the opportunity to make plays for us.
“We have to make an adjustment, but I don’t know it’s necessarily different (quarterbacks),” Miles said. “Deangelo Peterson will be one of those guys who has to block well and receive. Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham are guys that have the opportunity to receive balls. And we are going to run the football. Our tailbacks have to step in and possess the ball and allow us to push the ball on our opponents on the ground.”
While the two-quarterback system has been a go-to move for Miles in the past, don’t expect the same for the opener against Oregon – at least not if you’re looking for junior-college transfer Zach Mettenberger to see scripted snaps.
“We are seeing how Zach is coming,” Miles said. “I would not want to forgo the opportunity at competition and allow this week to play out some, but right now Jarrett has some advantages in the experience with the offense and how we call things. There are some advantages to (Lee) right now.”
--- Miles did, however, make mention of an even fresher face to the quarterback group: Freshman Jerrard Randall, who has been simulating Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas during practice.
In an attempt to match the Ducks’ speed across the board, redshirt freshman Jakhari Gore has been LSU’s version of LaMichael James.
“Jakhari Gore is LaMichael James as best we got,” Miles said. “He does a great job in terms of making those cuts and running some of those plays. Jerrard Randall also has a Darron Thomas-feel to him.
“We ran some live go vs. our defense, and (Randall) is very elusive and a very tough player. This week we will give our defense a great look at what Oregon will do.”
--- With spread teams like Oregon and West Virginia on the docket in the first month of the season, Miles has put a premium on stopping speed – beginning with a general overview in the spring before moving into the Randall-Gore scout team looks over the past few weeks.
“They possess a great variety of plays, and they have options, from option to zone-read to the ability, with a real mobile quarterback, to go play-action and get a guy on the run,” Miles said. “And they can do so in 6-8 seconds and put that pressure of the next snap on you.
“We’ve addressed it as best we can and will continue to do so this week. It’s a great challenge in handling the speed of the game as well as the tempo of the game. We’ve had several periods in every practice, starting last spring, that were designed to give our defense the up-tempo game.”
--- Starting left guard Josh Dworaczyk sat out the entirety of the spring and summer workouts with injury.
Unfortunately, fall camp brought even more bad news with another injury – which will now sideline him for at least the first half of the season.
“We might lose (Dworaczyk) for some time,” Miles said. “I think there has been an evaluation on his injury and I think he will be operated on in the next 10 days or two weeks.”
That leaves an open spot at left guard, and the race to fill the position is between veterans Will Blackwell and T-Bob Hebert and newcomer La’el Collins. Blackwell and Hebert both started games at right guard last year, and Blackwell is currently tabbed as the starter at the position.
With game day approaching, could a true freshman step in and get the starting nod over an experienced body like Hebert?
“Collins has the ability to step in and play as a young player,” Miles said. “I think you look at T-Bob and Will Blackwell certainly in front of that, but I think a guy like La’el Collins has the ability, and we don’t want to slow him up. We want to get him to the field quickly.”
With four days of practice before the team departs for Dallas, Dworaczyk appears to be the only casualty.
“I think he’s the only one we have counted out at this point,” Miles said. “There are other guys who are nicked but will come back and play (Monday), or possibly (Tuesday).”
--- Outside of Collins, expect wide receiver Odell Beckham to be another true freshman to get into the mix on Saturday.
With Russell Shepard suspended indefinitely, Beckham will likely get the starting nod as the outside wide receiver opposite Rueben Randle.
“Odell Beckham has a comfort in competition,” Miles said. “He comes from a great family where competition is pretty routine in their house. I don’t think there will be any venue that will take him out of his focus on what he needs to do.”
As for Shepard and his ineligibility, there is still no timetable for a return to action.
“The only thing I can tell you is that we are following the procedure that the NCAA would allow for a member institution,” Miles said. “We declared him ineligible immediately, and then we would seek reinstatement. That’s the next process. It’s on going, and hopefully there will be some relief.”
--- While freshman Jarvis Landry was brought in to Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters for questioning, the former Lutcher High five-star prospect won’t be missing any action – at least not with with where the investigation is currently.
“I don’t know that he’s currently in any difficulty with any judicial system,” Miles said. “The only thing I know is that he’s spoken candidly to anybody that would ask, and we will plan to have him until we know differently.”
--- With Kelvin Sheppard gone from the linebacker corps, defensive coordinator John Chavis called upon long-time safety Karnell Hatcher to move down to middle linebacker, where he is flanked by returning starters Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois.
So far, the trio of veterans have looked the part.
“A lot of guys who come down from safety don’t necessarily have a natural feel for the linebacker spot,” Miles said. “Karnell Hatcher does. He’s very athletic and defeats a blocker with athleticism. He’s very physical at the point of attack and takes guards on.
“He has been a pleasant surprise."
--- With Jefferson and Josh Johns arrested and suspended last Friday, Miles is attempting to put the off-the-field issues of the past week-and-a-half in the rearview – and his team is doing the same.
“I think there is a heartfelt loss to missing two players, two guys who were teammates,” Miles said. “That being said, it’s all about forward and putting it together and going with a different cast of characters. There are some things we can control and things we can’t.
“Right now there are two that aren’t in the huddle, and we will line up and play in their absence.”
Miles said that punishment – namely running – has ended, and now the focus is solely on game preparation for what is being touted as one of the biggest season openers in LSU history.
“I think we are looking forward to playing,” Miles said. “If they are anything like their coach, they feel like they have been pent up, and they are finally going to be allowed to pursue the field and pursue victory.”