COLUMN: Huge decision on the doorstep

If former starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson is reinstated in the next few weeks, LSU coach Les Miles has to tread carefully with how he and the Tigers move forward.

Probably not today or real quickly, the legal case involving LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns will move in one of two directions.


With a 12-person grand jury ready to hear evidence from as many as 50 witnesses, the case could either move forward to a trial or the grand just can tell District Attorney Hillar Moore III that there’s not enough meat on the bone to move forward.


Should the latter happen – and there are indications that could certainly happen, or that the players could face reduced (non-felony charges) – the LSU football program, coach Les Miles and the 2011 season arrive at a precarious crossroads.


If the two accused Tigers are cleared or charges are whittled down to the misdemeanor level, their suspensions could be lifted.


Then what?


Not to diminish Johns’ role on the team, but remove him from this equation and shift the spotlight to Jefferson, the senior who was on the precipice of entering his third year as the starting QB before this mess all began.


If he is absolved completely or even to a degree, does Miles reinstate him? Does Jefferson get the chance to work himself back into competition for playing time?


What’s the right thing to do? What’s the best thing to do for a team that is clearly a national championship contender?


A convenient line when/if this all becomes an issue will be that Miles gets paid a lot of money to make these kinds of decisions. No argument here – his $3.751 million annual salary covers an awful lot of unsavory scut work.


There’s a human side in play here as well, though.


As much as any coach I’ve covered in 20 years of doing what I do, Miles genuinely cares for his players and that’s genuinely reciprocated.


However this plays out, Miles is going to painstakingly weigh every option and there will be parts of this decision that will be excruciating for the man.


Jefferson’s attorney Lewis Unglesby started beating the drum publicly a little over three weeks ago that his client should be immediately reinstated to the team. Since then he has made several other public comments challenging the right of LSU and specifically Miles about the suspension.


Fair enough.


If – and at this point that looms as a might big if – Jefferson gets cleared, he should undoubtedly be reinstated. With the caveat that he’s willing to come back and accept a backup role.


Because after three games, and with what lies ahead for the Tigers, there’s no doubt this team’s personality has evolved.


Simply put, LSU goes – at least offensively – as Jarrett Lee goes and that needs to remain the course moving forward.


To his credit, Lee deflected questions about Jefferson this week and stuck to the party line. He said he won’t be distracted or bothered if Jefferson comes back.


“I haven’t even thought about it,” Jefferson said. “I wish the best for Jordan. He’s a good friend. I don’t know a whole lot about that situation and can’t worry about that. I’m worried about beating West Virginia right now.


“We’re going to do whatever is best for the team and whatever will help us win.”


That answer fits the situation well and won’t ruffle any feathers.


But make no mistake, after three difficult roller-coaster seasons before he finally got this final chance, Lee isn’t going to quietly fade into the background.


“The last month or two, I feel like I’ve stepped into that role of leadership,” he said. “I feel like it is my team and I’ve filled that role.”


And filled it well.


It’s not just the progressively better statistics, which add up to 444 yards through the air and three touchdowns on 67.8% accuracy (40-of-58) with just one interception.


It’s also Lee’s command in the huddle and a reduction in the glaring mistakes that plagued his redshirt freshman season.


“Jarrett Lee coming in and playing as well he has allows the team to continue to operate at a very high level,” Miles said.


“I've really enjoyed how Jarrett has continued to compete. I think very much that the success we've had to this point is due in fact to how strong our quarterback stepped right in and played.&rdquo.


It certainly might reach a point where Miles and the Tigers have to see if Jefferson can do the same.


Miles said Wednesday during the SEC coaches' teleconference that he believes the LSU players have realized they can win every game this season with Lee under center.


It wouldn’t hurt, though, to have Jefferson as a change-of-pace, dual-threat option for an occasional series or in specific down-and-distance scenarios. Again, though, that hinges greatly on whether Jefferson would be willing to accept that role.


At this point of the season, and factoring in how quickly Jefferson could be back up to game speed, that’s about as much as the former starter can hope for if he wants to return this season and not entertain thoughts of redshirting and coming back in 2012.


And if Miles sticks to the methods he has leaned on for seven years, I’d be very surprised if he disrupts the offense by making an immediate quarterback change if and when Jefferson comes back.


There’s very likely a decision coming and what – and how Miles – decides could be the difference between ending the season in New Orleans playing for another national championship or risking a season unraveling.

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