15 practices are in the books, just enough time for the coaching staff to make a realistic assessment of how deep their depth chart is before the team heads into the thick of the offseason.
Offensively, new faces on the sidelines include wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales, running backs coach Frank Wilson and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger. New faces on the field include the likes of linemen Alex Hurst and Will Blackwell, receivers Chris Tolliver and Jhyryn Taylor and running back Michael Ford.
With talents like Terrance Toliver returning and Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle stepping into the spotlight for the first time, the unit is bound for better production. And with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s name on the hot seat after finishing 112 out of 120 teams in production, the work done this offseason to bring everyone to speed is paramount.
The week prior to LSU’s Spring Game last Saturday, Miles said the offense had a ways to go to catch the defense. Will the ground be made up by next September?
Here is a look at where each unit’s stock is at after the spring:
Jarrett Lee had a better spring than Jordan Jefferson. It’s not what supporters of LSU’s starting quarterback wanted to hear, but the reality was that Lee, now a redshirt junior, outperformed Jefferson throughout the back half of the team’s 15 practices.
Over the final three scrimmages, Jefferson was 24-for-57 (42 percent) for 274 yards and one touchdown. Lee was 30-for-59 (51 percent) for 359 yards and four touchdowns. Head coach Les Miles said in the week leading up to the scrimmage that whoever played the better game would be tabbed as the winner of the spring. On Saturday, Lee outperformed Jefferson by 20 yards and a touchdown.
For an offense whose production was hindered by sacks and missed opportunities, Jefferson’s indecisiveness in the pocket is becoming increasingly more worrisome. LSU’s defensive ends were in the backfield throughout the afternoon, and Jefferson’s 8-of-23 passing day did little in helping the offense fight back.
Miles defended his quarterback by saying that the offense had plays that weren’t called that Jefferson probably would have been good with. He was also quick to brush off the idea of a quarterback battle, saying instead that both passers were pushing each other. Jefferson remains the starter.
Some of the changes for the better are evident. In practice, Jefferson, a junior, has begun to look sharper with his throws. His teammates point to an increased dedication in the film room. Miles has said time and again that strides are being made. Yet, the production between the lines, at least this spring, was good for only second best on the team.
Running Backs: UP
Michael Ford has arrived. Any talk of being timid can be tossed out the window, because Ford silenced remaining doubters with three weeks of pounding the rock from the number two spot on the depth chart.
The backfield for 2010 will break down as follows: Richard Murphy (6-1, 204), Stevan Ridley (6-0, 226) and Ford (5-10, 207). At first glance, Ridley is the power man and Ford and Murphy are the speed men. Yet, Ford proved over the past three weeks, and convincingly during Saturday’s spring game, that he brings the best of both worlds. Carrying the ball 19 times, Ford led all rushers with 139 yards. Ridley rushed for 104 yards.
While Richard Murphy’s absence from spring certainly was not a positive, the benefit became the amount of touches Ford received in his place. In the previous two scrimmages, Ford used a combined 30 touches to go over 150 yards.
Ridley, who found himself in a back and forth fight with the rising redshirt freshman for tops in production this spring, also looked the part in last Saturday’s scrimmage when he suited up for both teams, and recorded the game’s opening touchdown.
When Murphy is back to full health in the fall, the unit will have three capable scholarship runners, all of whom have been with program for at least a full season. From the experience of Ridley and Murphy to the youthful promise of Ford, the backfield should not disappoint.
Offensive Line: UP
LT – Joseph Barksdale
LG – Josh Dworaczyk
C – P.J. Lonergan
RG – Will Blackwell
RT – Alex Hurst
This is the starting offensive line that you can expect to take the field against North Carolina for LSU’s first game in 2010.
Miles revealed the new five at the beginning of spring workouts, also pointing out that he would be rotating the names fluidly with the two-deep over the next three weeks.
From the practices and feedback from players, the assumed starting five remained in place for most of the 15 practices. While center T-Bob Hebert’s injury thinned up the depth chart, Matt Branch, Chris Faulk and Josh Williford were all said to have made strong statements. While depth might have been a problem in the past, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa now has a number of able bodies to pick from.
Perhaps most importantly, in the spotlight of Saturday’s Spring Game the line created holes that the Tigers didn’t see all of last season. On a day that featured a major focus on becoming more physical through rushing the football, the offenses combined for 340 yards on the ground.
Tight End/Wide Receiver: UP
The stock of the wide receivers might not be rising as quickly as the offensive line and running backs, but promise for increased production is there.
While the future is bright, cloudy skies followed the group over the past few weeks. In Gonzales’ first spring with the team, star senior receiver Terrance Toliver suffered a broken left hand in an off-campus fight, which resulted in the hand being casted throughout the team’s workouts. Behind Toliver, only five scholarship receivers remained on roster, and two (John Williams and Jhyryn Taylor) were sidelined midway through workouts as a result of injury.
That left the brunt of the work on Rueben Randle, Russell Shepard and Chris Tolliver. Randle looked the part of consistent playmaker, while Shepard lacked consistency with his hands but showed off plenty of his playmaker side. Tolliver, who brings a similar style as Shepard, has better hands but not the same speed.
The top names come fall will be Toliver, Randle and Shepard, and all three look like premier Southeastern Conference wideouts. The time to step forward for players like Tolliver is now, and an opportunity to compete for early time will even be available to incoming names like Kadron Boone, a high school senior who arrives to campus in June.
At tight end, the hype around Deangelo Peterson continues to grow. The former wide receiver led all receivers at the spring game with two catches for 39 yards. In the scrimmage the weekend prior, Peterson went over 100 yards and scored a touchdown.
While he will handle passing duties, Chase Clement, who was switched to the offensive side from defensive end, is battling Mitch Joseph for the primary blocking tight end. Miles praised Clement’s performances during the back end of the spring, and Peterson tabbed Clement as a serious candidate for a starting spot in the fall. Four-year starter Richard Dickson might be gone, but the strength of the tight end position seems to still be in place.