Five of the 15 practices this spring are officially in the books for the Tiger football team, and no better way to cap the opening stretch off than a full contact scrimmage – the first of the new year.
While the four workouts prior to Saturday were certainly no walk through, head coach Les Miles said that the scrimmage brought the intensity from the players to the next level.
“Today was the first day of spring in reality,” Miles said. “We were in pads, we went 40 minutes (80 plays) and had a lot of fun. Some young players really showed and some guys that were veterans looked like veterans.
“It was still a little too sloppy for my liking, so we need to improve,” he added. “We may go slower just to make sure we have it all right.”
In terms of young talent that stated their case, defensive end Sam Montgomery and offensive lineman Alex Hurst were two of the standouts that Miles made note of after the scrimmage.
“Montgomery is making plays on a daily basis,” Miles said. “I can’t imagine that he won’t be on the field.
“Alex Hurst is coming,” he added. “[Tackle] will allow him to play a little lower. He is one of the more athletic big men we have. It might be a good spot for him.”
Both sides of the line will likely see the pieces mixed and matched over the coming months. While players like Hurst have excelled, Miles said that other names will have time to get their shots in.
“I am not saying there won’t be movement in that line,” added Miles after he sung Hurst’s praises. “It is too early to determine who the best five are. It might be too early to be nice to [Chris] Faulk, but I think he is going to do some big things.”
Hurst has lined up at right tackle in place of Joseph Barskdale, a two-year starter who moved from the right side to the left side to fill the void left on the blind side by Ciron Black. Through one week, Miles is pleased with the progression made.
“I think [Barksdale’s move] has been going good,” he said. “There is some adjustment with footwork and things, but not something that will bother him over time.”
On the opposite side of the line, another senior has moved positions. Pep Levingston, who spent the 2009 season at defensive end, is on path to land one of the starting spots at tackle.
“Pep likes it, and I can tell you he looks different in there,” Miles said.
When talking the younger defensive tackles, Miles noted that, while strides have certainly been made over the past year, many of the Tigers still have work that needs to be done before time on the field is warranted.
“Brockers and Davenport play too high,” Miles said. “They have to crank it down and come to the line more aggressively. At times they show flashes.”
Kendrick Adams, a JUCO transfer that will battle for minutes on the end, is another big body that Miles saw signs of life from this first week. On the lighter side at 6-foot-5, 250-pounds, Adams should look the part by the time the Tigers head to Atlanta to kick off the 2010 season next September.
“Kendrick is as athletic as any guy we have,” Miles said. “It will take him a minute to get his eyes on this game and get a comfort with being on the field. He needs a little time in the weight room this summer and then needs to be roughed up by the offensive line. Then he will be ready to hit the field.”
With Kelvin Sheppard back at middle linebacker, the Tiger staff is using the spring to evaluate the outside spots. With Ryan Baker currently running as the top man on the weak side, 6-foot-1, 210-pound Reserve, La. native Stefoin Francois could be the final link in the chain.
“I think Francois has had a really good spring,” Miles said. “I want him to show that he is heady and ready to make big time plays.”
In the defensive backfield, Morris Claiborne worked out alongside Patrick Peterson all week as the top two cornerbacks, a quick rise for Claiborne that resulted in senior Jai Eugene being converted to safety in order to remain on the field.
With Brandon Taylor and Eugene as the pair of safeties, Miles likes how the backfield has shaped itself early on.
“[Eugene] is knowledgeable,” Miles said. “He has played enough nickel and dime, and he kind of knows where everybody is supposed to be. He has always had a real strong reactionary skill. He’ll help us.”
Against the LSU first-team offense on Saturday, the group gave up just one big play – a 70-yard touchdown strike from Jordan Jefferson to Chris Tolliver.
Yet, the story of the day came from the ground attack – one that worked without Richard Murphy, who will likely be in a green non-contact jersey for the rest of the spring. The primary ball carriers on Saturday were Stevan Ridley and Michael Ford, both of whom drew positive reviews from Miles.
“There were more rushing yards in this scrimmage than the one a year ago,” Miles said. “I thought it was a nice start towards our endeavor to be more dominant and physical than we have been. I think Ford looked good today, and I think the running backs have made improvement.
“We are going to have to get Murphy reps because we don’t want to stop him from training,” he added. “He will get some non-contact work.”
While Jefferson worked as the starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Chris Garrett, who practiced behind Jarrett Lee in the rotation this past week, was the beneficiary of Miles’ quarterback outlook following the scrimmage.
“He is a talented thrower, and he has to come to work every day and seek learning,” Miles said. “He has to work hard to be the best he can be. [Garrett’s freshman year] was not everything that he would have liked, but he has progressed and is in position to take greater steps.
“He can step forward,” he added. “He has the opportunity. He needs the reps, but he has to stay aggressive.”