A productive offseason

Les Miles is preparing for his fifth spring at LSU but for four members of his staff this will be their first personal introduction to LSU football. The Tigers will hit the practice fields on March 12 for the first of 15 spring practices and the headman gave a brief overview of where things stand heading into camp.

There have been several changes at LSU since the dominating win over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve. All in all, Miles said the last two-plus months have been good for the Tigers.


“The offseason’s been good,” Miles said. We’ve changed things and we’re going a different way, one of which was to have more coaching sessions and workouts (this spring) to develop the team and to have it a little bit readier for spring, and to allow the new assistants to get along and to meet and understand personnel.


“I feel like it’s benefitted us, not only the new look that the coaches will give, but also the morning workouts and being evaluated as thoroughly as they are will give the young guys some opportunities to get significant playing time this spring.”


Miles had to hire four new coaches – John Chavis (defensive coordinator), Brick Haley (defensive line), Ron Cooper (secondary) and Don Yanowsky (tight ends) – along with dealing with the attrition that hits most programs during the spring semester.


Miles said that the spring schedule should benefit the players and also the new coaches as they get to know each other’s intricacies.


“We’re going to go Thursday, Friday and Saturday quickly and really institute similar things to go slow, and then we’ll practice on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays most of the time thereafter and use those days in between to get installation in and coaches will really extend the time we have to spend with our players.”


LSU’s defense got a complete overhaul with the coaches that Miles brought in as he looks to solve the problems on a Tiger defense that allowed 24.2 points a game and 325.5 yards a game. Both of those numbers were good for ninth in the conference, which was off by a mile compared to LSU standards. And let’s not forget the pass defense that finished 11th in the league, yielding 215.4 yards a contest.


Miles said that there will be changes to the defense from not as much substitutions to simplifying things and getting back to the basics.


“I think the other piece is to get the defense in and accomplished,” he said. “I think one of the things we’re looking to do is maybe simplify some of the things that we did and that we were pretty multiple with on defense. See if we can get some of our better players on the field more often, maybe make them more productive.


Miles said that they may move a safety into the SAM linebacker spot so that they will not have to substitute as often. He did not mention a name, but most feel that Harry Coleman seems the most likely candidate.


There will be several position battles that the coaches will be tuned into this fall and competition on both sides of the ball has the headman excited.


‘There’s going to be some competition on the defensive side,” Miles said. “Defensive ends; let’s see who the young guys are. Chase Clement, Lavar Edwards, and some of those guys can step up and get a chance to play.”


One position that will be under the microscope this spring is at quarterback.


With Andrew Hatch back at Harvard, the Tigers have only two signal callers that have taken snaps at the college level, but two early enrollees from the 2009 recruiting class are waiting in the wings.


Jordan Jefferson started the Tigers’ final two games in place of Jarrett Lee and gave the offense a spark it had not seen for much of the 2008 campaign. Jefferson completed only 49.1 percent of his passes (36-73) for 419 yards, but it was his touchdown to interception ratio of 4:1 and his ability to make plays with his feet that gave the Tigers a different look.


Lee had his moments such as at Auburn when he led the Tigers to a come-from-behind victory, but times like those were overshadowed by the 16 interceptions he threw and the seven that went the other way for touchdowns.


“I’ll be excited to see the quarterback competition and see how it works and see who looks good,” Miles said. “Certainly, there is some talent there and some ability. We’ll see if we can develop it and let competition make its play.”


Miles said there is no sense of urgency in naming a starting quarterback this spring unless one emerges and they’re going into camp with an open mind.


Most outside of the team feel that Jefferson has the inside track after he came on so strong last season and Miles touched on some of the things he wants to see out of him this spring.


“I want to see that improvement continue and want to see leadership from that position continue to improve and understand that there is more to that position than just playing and running the play,” he said. “I want him to understand, and/or whomever, that that position is one which is more important to do everything right.”


It’s too early to know if either of the true freshmen – Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett – is ready to be thrown into the fire. But Miles said both will benefit immensely from being on campus for the spring.


There has been speculation as to where Shepard will line up for the Tigers, but Miles doesn’t expect much to change early on.


“He’ll be a quarterback and there may be some other opportunities for him to fit in a little bit at some other spots, but he has to develop and developing a quarterback takes time,” Miles said. “I think keeping him at quarterback is certain for these practices.”


A few other position battles that the coaches will be keeping an eye on are at center, punter and wide receiver.


The loss of Brett Helms at center leaves a void for the Tigers in the middle and that is magnified while T-Bob Hebert recovers from his torn ACL he suffered last season. Hebert will be limited in what he can do this spring so P.J. Lonergan and Will Blackwell, who will also work at guard, will get the majority of the reps.


Punter is a position that LSU went out and addressed by signing Derek Helton in the 2009 class and he’s another player that will benefit from being on campus early.


“We’re excited to look at this new punter that is in and already on campus,” Miles said. “Derek Helton it looks to me like he’s gone through the workouts and doing really a good job. I think he’s got maturity and really looking forward to playing.”


Miles said that Jacob Cutrera is as healthy as he’s been since he’s been at LSU and he’s expecting a big spring from the senior linebacker. Kevin Minter was also mentioned as someone who could push for the middle linebacker spot that is open.


Fullback is another area that was hit hard by graduation and Miles said that he will look to a veteran tailback (Stevan Ridley) and tight end (Tyler Edwards) in spring along with an offensive lineman that he did not name.


One person who will not get a look at fullback this spring is Kellen Theriot, who was Scout.com’s No. 1 ranked fullback in the country in 2008.


“He’s not healthy enough,” Miles said.


In the secondary, Miles said that Chad Jones is more of a natural free safety and he also praised all of his cornerbacks including one that has not gotten much attention aside from special teams.


“I got to be honest with you, a guy that has really distinguished himself both on teams last fall and in coaches’ workouts is Ron Brooks,” Miles said. “He’s really making a case for some playing time in the secondary.”


Yet another position that will be under scrutiny and that will play a big role in the quarterbacks’ development is at wide receiver with the question being who will emerge as the No. 2 guy behind Brandon LaFell?


“I think Terrance Toliver, Tim Molton and Chris Mitchell will have an opportunity to get some balls thrown to them,” said Miles.


Out of the receivers, Toliver is the one with the most experience, but a young guy has made quite a splash on the practice fields.


“He’s (Molton) very talented,” Miles said. “He’s got great speed and agility, and very confident ball skills. He’ll get his first opportunities to make plays in live instances pretty quick.”


On the injury front, Miles alluded to Hebert and Theriot not being completely healthy and he also touched on Stefoin Francois and Kentravis Aubrey, who are both battling injuries.


“He (Francois) is not healthy and he’s got to rehabilitate,” Miles said of Francois who suffered major damage to his knee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “It was the most significant injury that we had, a complete reconstruction. We hope that he can return. Kentravis has had a bad back and it doesn’t look like he will return.”


One guy who has recovered from yet another injury and will be counted on to provide leadership on the defensive line is Charles Alexander. Miles, however, said that he may be limited some in spring as a precaution.


“I think he’s pretty ready,” Miles said. “He went through a full workout this morning and he’s ahead of schedule.”


Miles also said that Pep Levingston will line up opposite of Rahim Alem at defensive end on the first day of practice.


Someone else who is expected to practice more in the spring than he has in the past is Trindon Holliday.


The Tigers will hit the practice field in less than a week for what is the most anticipated spring at LSU perhaps since Miles has been here. If the offseason workouts are any indication then it could be a delightful spring for Miles and the Tigers.


"The offseason workouts have been good," Miles said. "This team has been working as hard as any team since I've been here."

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