Eugene looks to lead by example

It's never easy to replace a three year starter at any position on a football team, especially at cornerback where players are often left alone on an island and have to rely on instincts and experience to be successful. But that is exactly the situation LSU faces this year trying to fill the void created by Chevis Jackson's graduation.

The early favorite to replace Jackson on the right side of the defense is redshirt sophomore Jai Eugene.


Eugene, who was ranked the No. 1 cornerback in the country when he came out of Destrehan in 2006, knows that replacing Jackson will be easier said than done.


“It’s going to be hard to replace Chevis but I think I have the ability and talent to do it,” he said. “I just have to get better every day and know it’s going to take time. I mean, Chevis left some big shoes to fill. He was All-SEC, all conference. I’m trying to do those same things, but it’s going to take a little work to get there.”


Jackson is just one of two veteran cornerbacks that will have to be replaced in the 2008 season as the Tigers will also be without two year starter Jonathan Zenon.


“Losing those two (Zenon and Jackson) just means it’s up to us (Eugene and Chris Hawkins) now,” Eugene said. “Instead of us relying on them and getting knowledge from them, we have to find our way on our own now. I talk to Chevis every now and then still and he just tells me to keep working hard and working my technique, and to not let a freshman take my spot.”


Speaking of freshmen, both Patrick Peterson and Brandon Taylor have drawn high praise from the coaching staff for their efforts through the 10 days of fall camp.


Eugene seems to think just as highly of the two younger players.


“They both have some talent,” he said. “They both are special, especially just coming in as freshmen. They’re coming in better than I was as a freshman. There are some things they need to work on but I think both of them will be great players.”


Eugene played in 12 games last season and logged eight tackles to go with a pass breakup. He knows that he is far from being a grisly veteran in LSU’s secondary but he can still play a big role in helping the younger guys on the road that lies ahead.


“I learned a lot about reading the routes and wide receivers formations just from watch Chevis and Zenon for two years,” Eugene said. “And then just by competing with them every day in practice helped me learn too. That’s what I’m trying to do with the younger guys, just compete with them every day so they can learn from me.”


Two other freshmen Eugene is familiar with are his fellow Destrehan High School alums Jordan Jefferson and Tim Molton. Having a few familiar faces on the team is an opportunity that Eugene embraces and he hopes it is a sign of things to come.


“I love it man,” he said. They’re bringing on a tradition. I hope many more come (from Destrehan), especially some of the younger guys under us. I love it. It’s like I have more family over here now, so it’s pretty cool.”


Jefferson is part of an open competition with Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch to determine who will see playing time at quarterback for the Tigers in 2008.


Given that he has to defend against all three of them in practice every day, and therefore gets as good a chance to see their strengths and weaknesses as anyone, how does Eugene see the quarterback situation playing out?


“Both Lee and Hatch are pretty good quarterbacks,” he said. “They both have something that’s different from the other. But they’re both good. It’s going to be wonderful to see them compete, along with Jefferson. Jordan has a strong arm and a lot of talent. He’s going to be a special player. I like all three of them.”


Heading into the 2008 season, there are some fans wondering whether Eugene has the skills needed to perform at a high level for LSU at cornerback this season. They remember when he played as a red-shirt freshman when Jackson was injured against Kentucky and he gave up some big plays.


But Eugene does not doubt himself and feels very confident that he is ready to fill that role.


“Last year when I got in games, I thought I was in pretty good position to make plays most of the time,” Eugene said. “I just had a problem getting my head around and finding the ball in the air. That’s something I’ve been working very hard on, and it just comes to you as you get more comfortable and more experience.”


“That’s my biggest weakness right now, inexperience,” he continued. “I have good size and good speed, and I’m athletic and competitive enough to play corner. The only thing I don’t have is experience, and I can’t really get that until I play in games.”


While going against them in practice and scrimmages is not the same as playing in a game, going against guys like Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell in practice every day will also go a long way in helping Eugene get ready for the 2008 campaign.


“Byrd and LaFell are two of the best receivers in the country,” he said.  “Going against them every day helps me a lot and will make playing in the games easier. There won’t be too many receivers I face this year that are going to be better than them.”

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