Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

All eyes are focused on the quarterbacks heading into spring camp, which starts on March 12. Can Jordan Jefferson pick up where he left off at the end of the 2008 season or will another arm emerge as the LSU starter?

Note: This is part one of a series that takes a look at each position heading into spring camp.

Projected Depth Chart

9 – Jordan Jefferson   6-4, 209, So.   Destrehan (La.)

12 – Jarrett Lee         6-2, 216, So.         Brenham (Texas)

10 – Russell Shepard  6-1, 179, Fr.    Houston (Texas) Cy Ridge

14 – Chris Garrett      6-4, 220, Fr.    Tupelo (Miss.)

17 – T.C. McCartney       6-3, 220, So.   Boulder (Colo.) Fairview         

After a season marred by poor quarterback play, the LSU Tigers look to the 2009 schedule with hopes of turning a new leaf. The process begins with the opening of spring practice on March 12, where LSU will take an “open season” approach to naming the starting signal caller once more.

A Look Back

The road to Atlanta was not a smooth one for the Bayou Bengals, dropping five Southeastern Conference games en route to an eight win season. The finish was the worst for the Tigers since 2002, when former head coach Nick Saban’s team closed out with an identical record.

After an offseason working through the dust left behind by the dismissal of expected starter Ryan Perrilloux, the Tigers’ opening snap against Appalachian State was taken by Andrew Hatch, who has since left the team to finish his studies at Harvard University.

Seeing Hatch go down after a blow to the head in the Tigers’ opening conference game at Auburn, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee stepped in under center. Lee went on to hit on 11-of-22 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns on the evening, leading LSU from behind to the 26-21 win.

Lee would go on to start the next eight games, throwing 14 interceptions and splitting the outcomes in the process.

His inconsistency would open the gates for true freshman Jordan Jefferson to get the start against Arkansas in the teams’ final regular season game. The Destrehan-native completed 9-of-21 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the road loss, also rushing 19 times for 50 yards.

With that performance came the freshman’s first bowl start, where Jefferson did not disappoint. Hitting on 16-of-25 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown, the six-foot-five, 210-pound gunslinger was named the game’s offensive Most Valuable Player.

Spring Forward

Moving into spring camp, Jefferson takes to the practice fields with expectations of picking up where he left off in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve. If he can harness that magic once more, the Destrehan standout is the heir apparent to the Tiger quarterbacking duties. If not, the LSU staff is sitting on a trio of arms that are ready to step up to the plate.

After a high school campaign with the Destrehan Wildcats that saw him never drop a game as a starter, Jefferson came to the LSU campus with a wealth of talent and a high ceiling for potential.

Though looking the part of the most physically gifted quarterback in fall camp, Jefferson’s talents remained too raw to warrant an immediate impact. Yet, after the freshman worked his way into the lineup by the season’s final games, fans could only wonder where he could have carried the Bayou Bengals had head coach Les Miles handed him the reigns earlier.

With nearly six months of practice before the season opener on Sept. 5 at Washington, Jefferson should be able to lock down his starting spot with a strong spring.

Jarrett Lee

Lee remains with the Tigers despite rampant rumors of transferring that surfaced during the offseason. Heading into his second spring with the team, the soon to be sophomore is ready to turn the corner after struggling at the helm last season.

His performance was subpar at best, throwing an interception in every appearance he made, including an NCAA-worst seven interceptions returned for touchdowns. The Brenham-native completed on 143-of-269 passes for 1,873 yards, 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, a performance that not many Tiger fans will soon forget.

Of course, the true test will be if Lee can put the poor showing in his rearview.

At six-foot-two, 216-pounds, Lee has the body that coaches want for a battle-tough Southeastern Conference. His arm strength is there, and Lee has shown spurts of greatness, making throws that put him among the conference’s elite arms.

Yet, too often he does not sense the holes in a defense, becoming a victim time and again of disguised coverage. His accuracy also raised causes for concern, making a habit of not leading his receiver with his passes. It will be a tough road to climb, but heading into the season with a year of SEC experience under his belt should be one of Lee’s greatest attributes.

Waiting in the wings for the Bayou Bengals is a pair of early enrollees from the 2009 recruiting class, both taking to the LSU campus a semester early in hopes of aiding the Tigers in their struggles from under center.

A classic pro-style quarterback with a big arm, Tupelo’s Chris Garrett looks to fit into the Tiger lineup at a more comfortable pace than Jefferson was forced into during his freshman campaign. After completing on 127-of-220 passes for 1,901 yards and 22 touchdowns during his senior season, Garrett was tabbed the No. 28 quarterback prospect in the country by Scout.com.

If things go as planned, Garrett should look to redshirt in 2009, putting a two year eligibility gap between him and Jefferson and Lee, the other pro-style quarterbacks on the Tiger depth chart. Yet, if the 2008 season taught the Tigers anything at the quarterback position, things do not always go as planned.

Chris Garrett

Garrett possesses a legit frame and, after playing through a concussion last season, has the proven toughness. He sets his feet and can drive the ball home on some of the toughest throws, including the deep out from the opposite hash.

The talent is there, but he remains raw across the board. Much like Jefferson last season, Garrett has the big play ability needed to make an impact in the SEC. If the Tigers can hold him back from action and keep his head in the playbook for a couple of years, the Tupelo-native should begin to blossom into one of the conference’s better young arms.

The expectations of Russell Shepard, however, remain a different story.

A Parade All American and the No. 1 player in the Lone Star State in 2009, the fanfare behind the signing of the Houston-native is almost unparalleled.

Widely considered the top dual-threat quarterback in the 2009 class, Shepard finished his high school career with more than 8,000 yards of total offense and 98 total touchdowns to his credit.

During his senior campaign, Shepard accounted for nearly 4,000 yards and 48 touchdowns. During the team’s playoff loss to Copperas Cove, Shepard rallied off one of the most impressive performances in recent Lone Star State memory, totaling 538 total yards of offense and six touchdowns on the night.

With his athleticism and 4.4 speed, Shepard’s talents can not afford to be redshirted. With that said, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton will look to implement Shepard into the game plan as much as possible, perhaps as many have suggested, in a Percy Harvin-type role. Sharing similar elite downfield speed and rare elusiveness, the comparison doesn’t seem far off.

Of course, the question remains, can the high school highlight king make the transition to an offensive impact in the SEC in just six months time?


Two Burning Questions Heading into Camp

1. Will Jordan Jefferson go wire to wire as the Tiger starter in 2009?

Sitting in the post game press conference at the Tigers’ bowl game during the final hours of the 2008 calendar year, Jefferson wore the smile of an accomplished man.

After sitting on the sidelines during a majority of the Tigers’ first 11 games, he had stepped in as the starter against Arkansas and did not look back.

With the offensive MVP trophy by his side, Jefferson took questions from a field of reporters and exuded a self-confidence not seen by any of the Tiger quarterbacks in 2008. The young gunslinger, flanked by Miles and linebacker Perry Riley, talked without hesitation of being the future signal caller for the Tigers.

A little over three months later, Jefferson takes to spring practice carrying the same confidence that he walked out of the Georgia Dome tunnels with. Though Lee holds conference experience under his belt, Jefferson showed promise for the future during both of his starts.

If Jefferson can take to his sophomore season with the same gusto that carried him in 2008, the decision making should never leave his hands.

2. How will Russell Shepard impact the Tigers in 2009?

Questions regarding the role of Shepard remain prevalent as the Tigers prepare for spring practice, many wondering if the six-foot-one prospect will be restricted to opportunities at quarterback or be allowed to take his talents to the slot receiver spot.

While the verdict may not come until the Tigers take the field against the Huskies in the team’s opener in September, speculation remains.

Entering the staff’s weight training program at 179 pounds in January, Shepard is now reportedly weighing in at 197. With nearly 20 pounds added to his frame, the freshman’s versatility and new bulk should allow him to see action as a slasher, much like Harvin was for the Gators during last year’s National Championship run.

Russell Shepard

While his restriction in the passing game will be set by Crowton early, Shepard has shown massive improvements in his aerial attack after working with ex-NFL quarterback Jeff Blake during private sessions last spring and summer.

Strides need to be made with both his throwing motion and accuracy, so an immediate aerial impact might be asking a bit much. Yet, while the ability to read an SEC defense is not there, Shepard’s feet will allow him to create plays that no other quarterback on the roster will be able to make.

Whether his freshman campaign sees him break out as a passer or ball carrier remains to be seen. However, it is of little wonder whether or not the Tigers will allow Shepard to make his mark in 2009… one way or another.

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