The winds coming off the Mississippi River were strong throughout the day on Saturday, making the opportunity to improve the Tiger passing attack a tough task - no matter the quarterback.
Jordan Jefferson was 10-of-21 passing for 86 yards, while backup Jarrett Lee completed 9-of-20 passes for 105 yards and the day’s lone touchdown, a deep strike to sophomore Rueben Randle on a go-route.
“They threw some balls down field and the wind just took it,” said head coach Les Miles following the scrimmage. “Both guys did some good things, and both guys can improve.”
The talk of the offseason when it comes to Jefferson has been whether or not the signal caller would step into the leadership role that comes with being the quarterback of the offense. From where Miles saw things, Saturday was another big step in the right direction.
“He is learning what his role really is,” Miles said. “He understood it, but we are defining it with each scrimmage. He demonstrated today that it was something he wanted to have accomplished.”
Lee, who had the better day passing, also drew praise from the headman.
“He can take the guys onto the field and manage it,” Miles said. “Lee had a good scrimmage.”
Still, the story of the day was the ground game, which amassed 230 yards between a backfield that didn’t include presumed starter Richard Murphy, who remains in a green non-contact jersey.
Stevan Ridley led the way with 84 yards on 16 attempts, while Mike Ford carried the ball 16 times for 79 yards. Russell Shepard rushed for 35 yards on five attempts.
“We called a lot of run plays, and Michael Ford and Stevan Ridley ran the ball well,” Miles said. “There were very few long rushes. The longest run from scrimmage may have been 19 yards on a boundary run. Other than that it was 5, 7 and 9 [yard rushes]. It was that kind of day.”
Getting more physical has been the unofficial motto from Miles and the offense this offseason, especially up front with the line.
While (left to right) Joe Barksdale, Josh Dworaczyk, P.J. Lonergan, Will Blackwell and Alex Hurst have made up the first-team line throughout the first eight practices, Saturday saw the rotation that Miles had promised pre-spring.
“There were a number of guys playing in different spots,” Miles said. “They understand we are going to call their number a little more. We didn’t have [Matt] Branch, so that stopped some of the movement.
“I think we are improved in the offensive line,” he continued. “There will be a strong emphasis on the running game. We have to man up and handle the line of scrimmage.”
Another name to step into the spotlight for the offense was tight end Deangelo Peterson, who pulled down a team-high six receptions for 42 yards.
Defensively, Miles said that all units were improved from last Saturday’s first scrimmage of the spring. Kelvin Sheppard led all players with seven tackles, one for a loss. At defensive tackle, Drake Nevis added five tackles and a sack while redshirt freshman Mike Brockers recorded four tackles and a sack. Patrick Peterson led all cornerbacks with five tackles and a pass break up.
“Linebacker was much better today,” he said. “To be honest, I think the secondary has been challenged a little bit. I didn’t see missed tackles in the secondary. The first team defense played well.
“Kelvin Sheppard had a real strong day,” he added. “Drake Nevis and Michael Brockers had significant plays. It was a fun day.”
The shining star, a pleasant surprise to Tiger fans awaiting additional production from the 2009 recruiting class, was redshirt freshman Sam Montgomery. He finished the day with five tackles and two sacks at defensive end.
“Sam Montgomery had a great day,” Miles said. “It appears he is coming. He is playing right now like he understands it a little better. He is making plays. It’s the eighth practice of 15. We want to see how it finishes, but I think Sam is coming. He played both the run and pass really well [Saturday].”
The day also saw the Tigers work the special teams unit out on punt returns. So far, names in the running for the starting spot are receiver Russell Shepard, receiver Rueben Randle, cornerback Patrick Peterson and cornerback Ron Brooks.
Saturday, however, belonged to the defensive backs.
“Ron Brooks and Patrick Peterson both had good returns,” Miles said.