Season preview: Quarterbacks

After an up-and-down three-year ride, senior Jarrett Lee's career comes full circle as he begins the season as the Tigers' starter.

One way or another, LSU was going to have a veteran quarterback running the offense when the 2011 season began considering there was a pair of seniors topping the depth chart.

That the veteran at the controls of the Tigers' offense is Jarrett Lee required some twists of fate.

But you have to think Lee didn't expect anything to come without some drama in a career that has provided him with plenty of peaks and valleys.

Lee was in a similar spot in 2008 as a wet-behind-the-ears redshirt freshman and helped guide LSU to seven victories in 11 games before he lost the starting job to Jordan Jefferson.

Jarrett Lee
Regardless of how the strong-armed Texan got to this point, though, one thing is for certain: Now that he's here, Lee is going to do everything he can to enjoy this unexpected chance at redemption.

"I never felt like my career was done in 2008," Lee said. "I always felt like I'd get a chance to do some things here."

He will because Jefferson, the two-year starter, was suspended indefinitely and his LSU career placed in limbo after his alleged involvement in an ugly fight outside of a local bar.

Plenty is left to shake out before Jefferson can return to the Tigers this season.

What isn't hazy is that Lee is the starter as the 2011 season begins.

And he'll get that chance to toss some dirt on whatever memories linger from his redshirt freshman campaign in 2008 when – ironically – he inherited the starting job because Ryan Perrilloux couldn't walk the straight and narrow off the field.

Back then, in a bigger body and with a national championship ring he collected as a true freshman, Lee took the field as the starter four games into the season.

There were plenty of good moments as he passed for 1,873 yards and 14 touchdowns.

But risky throws and subsequent interceptions trumped the good, as Lee was picked off 16 times and … you know the rest of this sentence by now … seven were returned for touchdowns.

Late that season, an ankle injury knocked him out of a loss to Ole Miss and Jefferson took over, making the final two starts of the season and latching onto the job for the next two seasons.

Not surprisingly, Lee has fielded dozens of questions the last week about his first go-round as the Tigers' starting quarterback.

"I don't regret 2008 at all," he said. "If anything, it made me a better person and a better player. Obviously I keep it in the back of my mind and don't want those things to happen again."

A lot has transpired between that tumultuous ride – which ended with a smattering of LSU fans at Tiger Stadium mockingly cheering when he was helped off the field – and this week.

Lee contemplated leaving LSU for a fresh start a few times, most recently after last season when he played a key role off the bench in three SEC victories.

Those plans never grew legs, though.

"It wasn't something that was really serious," Lee said. "It never got that far at all. It crossed my mind, but it never went any further than that.

"I wanted to stay here at LSU. I wanted to finish my career here."

Jarrett Lee: Does maturity equal a more consistent passing threat?
Lee stayed and along the way earned the respect of his teammates – who overwhelmingly voted him a team captain for Saturday's season opener against Oregon – and his coach.

Ever since last Friday when Jefferson's suspension was announced, LSU coach Les Miles has praised Lee for sticking it out in a tough situation, throwing out phrases like "baptized under fire," "he had to learn on the run," "he's really looking forward to playing whole games" and "he's looking forward to the opportunity to do what he came here to do."

"I'm really excited for him," Miles said.

The late-in-camp transition to Lee has required some adjustment to the offensive game plan, but maybe not as much as it might seem.

While Jefferson is much more of a threat with his legs, Lee is the better passer. The tradeoff will be Lee's willingness to stand in the pocket longer to wait for a route to develop instead of Jefferson's ability to burn a defense's pass coverage with a long run.

Regardless of who the quarterback is, LSU's scheme will be built around running the ball to set up play-action opportunities. That could bode well with Lee at the controls.

"It's a different style of quarterback," Miles said. "It's still the same issue: Get the ball to the guy who has the opportunity to make plays for us."

Lee doesn't completely discount the notion that he can contribute to the Tigers' attack with his legs.

Thought not as speedy as Jefferson, Lee has shed some weight coming into the season and has reshaped his physique. While he doesn't figure to challenge Oregon's Darron Thomas in the yards rushing department, Lee said he won't hesitate to run when needed.

"Whenever plays break down, become more of a threat run the ball," Lee said of how he might look different to LSU fans. "I lost a little weight, so I'm trying to become more of a threat with my feet."

Minus Jefferson's threat as a runner, it's possible the Tigers could dial up the wildcat look with either starting tailback Spencer Ware or freshman Terrance Magee – both high school quarterbacks – taking some snaps.

Otherwise, the pecking order behind Lee at quarterback will be sophomore Zach Mettenberger and freshmen Stephen Rivers and Jerrard Randall, none of whom have taken a Division I snap.

Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger looms as the heir apparent starter next season and it would be ideal for him to get some snaps somewhere along this season's road.

But Miles left no doubt that it's Lee's job, repeatedly saying "Jarrett has some advantages."

"We're seeing how Zach's coming," Miles said. "I would not want to forego the opportunity for competition."

Neither did Lee and now he gets the first real chance in three years to rewrite a little unsavory personal history.

"I'm just focused on doing whatever I can to help us win," Lee said. "We have a great team and a chance to have a great season and I'm glad I get to be a part of it."

Quarterbacks at a glance

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