TSD's Morning Practice Report

The defending national champion LSU Tigers officially began the start of their 2008 title defense Monday morning as they opened fall camp at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility.

Note: Jeremy Kenny watched the offense during the morning practice, and David Helman covered the defense.


Offensively, the players went through drills at the morning practice in the following order:


Quarterback: Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee

Running back: Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy, Charles Scott

Fullback: Quinn Johnson

Wide Receiver: Brandon Lafell, Demetrius Byrd, Jared Mitchell, Terrance Toliver, Chris Mitchell, RJ Jackson, Trindon Holliday

Tight end: Richard Dickson, Alex Russian and Mitch Joseph

Left tackle: Ciron Black, Ernest McCoy

Left guard: Herman Johnson, Will Blackwell

Center: Brett Helms, Ryan Miller

Right guard: Lyle Hitt, Josh Dworaczyk

Right tackle: Joseph Barksdale


At quarterback, Lee and Hatch rotated through the drills, but the story is still the same as it was in the spring. Lee has a stronger arm, throws a better ball, and is generally more accurate. Hatch looks a little lighter on his feet, which is important as the quarterback running is an important part of LSU’s offense. However, Lee is no statue back there either and can certainly move well enough to be an effective running quarterback. Lee also looks more trimmed down than he was last year.


At running back, I’d like to make sure nobody puts too much stock into the order the players go through drills today, or all of fall camp for that matter. As some of you may recall, Charles Scott spent most of fall camp running as the first team running back, but Jacob Hester was the starting running back from day 1.


Now with that said, many people are expecting the running backs to carry the offense this year due to the inexperience at quarterback, and they showed no signs this morning that they weren’t capable of doing so. Granted, we were only watching them run through dummies and taking handoffs out of the shotgun. But you could tell that all three of these guys worked very hard in the off-season to keep their bodies in shape and make sure they are in the best shape possible heading into fall camp. They all looked exceptionally quick running through drills. Charles Scott in particular looks like he shed a few pounds from the spring, but he is certainly still big enough to be the battering ram he’s been in the past.


Wide receiver is another position where you shouldn’t put much stock into the order the players go through drills, especially after Lafell and Byrd. While those two are almost definitely the top two receivers, the order after that is basically just however they get in line for the drill and is not a reflection at all on the order of the depth chart.


There were a few drops today by just about everybody. While you never want to see that, there is obviously plenty of time for them to get that fixed and get focused in on the game. If they are still dropping passes in drills the week before the season starts, then it might be time to start getting concerned.


Another big question with this group heading into the season is which guy is going to take over the leadership role that Early Doucet provided last year. After the first practice, it looks like that guy is going to be Brandon Lafell. The junior wide out always made sure he was the first in line for drills, offered vocal support for the other guys during drills, and was always the one that stepped up to ask questions when nobody else wanted to.


At tight end, Richard Dickson is obviously the starter and the primary receiving threat at the position. But the question here is who will step up and be the blocking tight end now that Keith Zinger is gone. Well both Alex Russian and Mitch Joseph rotated after Dickson in drills this morning. While it is commonly believed that Joseph is the better blocker of the two, he still has a long ways to go as a receiving threat. Coach Henson and Coach Crowton both spent a considerable amount of time this morning working with Joseph on his route running and getting off the line.


Along the offensive line, there were mostly familiar faces running with the first team as Black, Johnson, Helms, and Hitt are all returning starters from last season. With Jarvis Jones’ removal from the team, Joseph Barksdale has pretty much won the right tackle job by default, although he was probably the frontrunner anyway. What is interesting though is nobody has been moved to backup Barksdale yet. To me there are two possible solutions. The first is one of the true freshman will be thrust into the backup role, but we won’t see them until practice this afternoon. The other possibility, and the more likely of the two in my opinion, is moving Josh Dworaczyk from backup right guard to backup right tackle.


Dworaczyk has the athleticism to play tackle, and that was actually what most expected him to play when he first came to LSU. This move would be very simple. Ryan Miller moves over from center to right guard, which he has played in the past. And T-Bob Hebert, who was not at practice this morning, is the backup center. We’ll have to see how this plays out when the team isn’t split up at practices as we get closer to the season, but this seems like it would be a very easy move to make. It is also important to note that despite just having switched over from defense in the spring, Will Blackwell has already cracked the 2 deep at left guard.


The defense began their morning with stretches followed by full-unit drills. The first and second-team “Ds” were assembled and went as follows:


Kirston Pittman and Tyson Jackson were both available as first-string defensive ends, with Ricky Jean-Francois and Drake Nevis in the middle. As expected, Darry Beckwith took up his Mike linebacker spot with Kelvin Sheppard on the weak side and Perry Riley on the strong side. Cornerbacks Jai Eugene and Chris Hawkins kept the jobs they won in the spring, with Harry Coleman and Curtis Taylor filling the safety spots.


Tremaine Johnson and Rahim Alem were the second-team ends, with Marlon Favorite and Charles Alexander in between. Ace Foyil is out of practice with a bum ankle, but Shomari Clemons did make it out and was the second-team Sam linebacker. Jacob Cutrera was in the middle with Kellen Theriot on the opposite side.


The second-team secondary was Ron Brooks and Phelon Jones at corner, with Chad Jones and Danny McCray at safety. Since the morning workout was for returning players only, so the anticipated debut of Patrick Peterson will have to wait until the afternoon practice.


The entire defense started the day with running drills. The object was simple: get a good angle on the ball carrier and snuff out the runner before he gets to the corner. The drill was non-contact but the coaches were emphasizing full-speed before, during, and after each play. The phrase of the day was “shake those hips and tag ‘em up,” which was repeated constantly to Tremaine Johnson as he hustled from the opposite end position and sealed off the corner 20 yards downfield.


Each group got several repetitions before the line, secondary, and linebackers split into their own position-specific routines.


The defensive backs headed to the far side of the field and began with some simple footwork. The coaches had both teams working on their back pedaling, stressing that the players “eliminate those free steps” from their movements. The first and second-teamers stayed the same throughout the DB drills with Eugene and Brooks getting extra work on their eye movements, the key words being “eyes ahead, transition, then turn deep.”


The CBs then made a switch to corner routes, with the second-teamers serving as wide receivers. The point of the drill was to “burst out when you see it’s a corner,” thereby covering more of the field.


While that was going on, Jones and Coleman were working with the coaches on the specific situations in which they’d be shadowing a motion-receiver, moving from the safety spot down closer to the line, moving out toward the corner etc. The strong safeties then shifted into working on how to spot the different assignments. The coaches would switch the situation to a “run” so that the safeties needed to come up, or a “pass” so that they needed to drop back. Coleman went first with Jones working as the offensive player, and vice versa. Coleman served as a slot receiver for Jones, and the coaches directed the sophomore to get his body on the receiver. Easily the most oft-repeated phrase of the drill was “if it’s possible, keep your man in the flat,” where the rest of the defense can help make the tackle. Curtis Taylor and McCray got some reps at this for a little bit, but the bulk of the work went to the strong safeties.


The final drill we saw the DBs working with was simple communication. The object was to communicate as quickly as possible when a play was going to a certain side, thereby letting the far-side backs get to the ball. After a few reps and a few encouragements from the coaches, the entire secondary was screaming out the shifts and directions on each snap.


The linebackers started their day with the simple footwork drills we saw them working on all spring. The first and second-team backers also stayed the same in individual drills, and the focus quickly shifted to gap assignments. Clemons served as the makeshift running back for Beckwith, Sheppard, and Riley, with a coaching assistant serving as the QB. Beckwith and Sheppard flew to every gap correctly, and neither received a single correction from the coaching staff for the entire ten minutes the drill lasted.


Perry Riley confused his gap with Beckwith’s early on in the drill, but that was the only blooper from the first-teamers all morning. It’s hard to judge much when the drill stops as soon as any kind of contact is made, but if this is the first-team unit they seem to have it together early on.


Theriot seemed to earn more coaching than any other ‘backer, but it didn’t seem so much that he was lost in the drill as the coaches were just double checking. Ryan Baker and the other freshman won’t be joining the veterans until later in camp, and Foyil is injured so it’s important to get Theriot as much work as possible as long as he is the second-team option. It was refreshing, however, to see Jacob Cutrera in the middle linebacker spot with no green jersey on.


The defensive line spent the majority of the morning on the sleds with the same depth as in full-team drills. Just before the media was asked to leave the facility, the line came back to the main field and began drills. The object was similar to what they had been doing as a full unit. The two defensive tackles lined up between two cones, then fought off coaching assistants as blocker and worked their way to the sideline. The defensive ends weren’t used in the drill, but every player got a chance to go from the tackle spot.


The freshmen and a few selected veterans will practice later this afternoon, and TSD.com will be there to cover all of the anticipated newcomers but be sure and check back all afternoon for more video and photos from the morning session.

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