You could pick apart last season’s LSU offense all day, from the conservative play from Jordan Jefferson to the underachieving offensive line – one that head coach Les Miles tabbed before the season as the best group he had coached in his time with the Tigers.
For those waiting on the good news back from the early sessions of spring practice, perhaps the best compliment that the Tigers can receive is one that acknowledges their level of intensity.
On the field, new passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has his unit working out at a faster pace than the staff had ever before. Ask anyone in the bunch, from Terrance Toliver to Chris Tolliver, and Gonzales was just what this offense needed.
Off the field, the players said that they have hit the film room with a mission – one that begins at the top of the chain of command.
“I'll be studying game film as much as possible,” said quarterback Jordan Jefferson. “I improved on [reads] by watching film on myself. I took notes and noticed things I need to work on. I also sat down with coach Crowton and watched some film, and he helped me point out a few other things that I can work on.”
A big change from seasons past, the Tigers won’t have a plethora of veteran targets come Saturday. Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle have stepped in as the starters on the outside, and one can bet Jefferson will lean on both big wideouts from start to finish.
The contrast to the big men will be Russell Shepard, Jhyryn Taylor and Chris Tolliver. Shepard is new to the wide receiver position, and Taylor and Tolliver haven’t gotten meaningful game reps since high school. To say the group – outside of Toliver– was unproven would be an understatement.
“We have some guys that have a little bit of experience, but there are a few young guys that we have to get involved with the playbook and help them understand the game,” Jefferson said. “All of those guys are good, and they get better every day. I know they are doing as much as they can to help me out, and I'm going to do as much as I can to help them out.”
The approach from the young players: set the bar high and get to work.
“The first practices have been terrible,” said Tolliver when asked how the group has progressed. “We aren’t living up to expectations of how our coach wants things done.”
Shepard, who was recruited to LSU as a quarterback, recently made it known that he had asked Miles midway through last season to move him to wide receiver.
He got his wish, now sitting in the slot as the apparent third wide receiver in the Tiger lineup.
“They expect me to be a go-to type guy,” Shepard said. “I look forward to it. I have been a running back my whole career, even playing quarterback in high school with 30 carries a game. Rueben and Terrance and Chris have been playing receiver their whole life. Coach Gonzales has challenged me to catch up over six or seven months.”
For Randle, the position change brings an immediate change to the team’s dynamics on offense.
“He adds the speed and quickness that is a mismatch that we need,” Randle said. “We can get him on an option route with a linebacker and he will make plays. They won’t be able to double Terrance and I, and we will spread the field like we were supposed to.”
Shepard should have ample time to get with the flow of the position, and guys like Tolliver and Taylor appear poised to make a similar run to bridge the gap between unprepared and game ready.
When they arrive, the result should be a trio that offers up a change of pace that Toliver and Randle don’t bring to the table.
“All three of them are very fast guys, and once they get the ball they are rolling with it,” Jefferson said. “Yards after the catch might be a lot for us, because those guys are shifty and quick. We recruit the best, and those guys were top guys in high school. They will get the ball and shine with it.”