After 7 spring practices, here’s an update on some of the things I’ve been hearing thus far.
A lot of eyes have been watching the quarterbacks and they’re all seeing the same things, namely that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are noticeably better than Chris Garrett and Russell Shepard. That’s understandable and almost expected after just 7 practices. A lot of onlookers have commented on the noticeable improvement in Jarrett Lee. He’s throwing harder, more accurately, and with a quicker release. He also appears to be more comfortable in general than a year ago. Everyone who has commented on Lee in practice was also quick to point out that he’s not going against a defense when they were able to watch. As we know, Lee didn’t get into trouble last year due to a lack of talent but rather a lack of good decision making. The word on Jordan Jefferson is that he’s out at practice acting like he’s the starting quarterback. He’s also performing like the starting quarterback looking equally as impressive as Lee throwing the ball. True freshman Chris Garrett has turned a lot of heads too. While he’s obviously not going to be on Jefferson and Lee’s level after a handful of practices, he’s performing extremely well and better than expected. So what about Russell Shepard? As a passer, most say he looks like a true freshman. But everyone has also said that he’s shown marked improvement in the short amount of time he’s been out there. As far as playing other positions, he’s starting to get looks at receiver but make no mistake that he’s a quarterback right now. Due to his unique athletic ability, LSU is of course going to do everything they can to maximize his talents and that means playing other positions. So when you hear about Shepard running routes at receiver, don’t think too much of it.
No big surprises at running back thus far. Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, and Richard Murphy are the veterans and they’re performing and acting like it. Unfortunately, the big news has been injuries. Backup tailback Stevan Ridley suffered a knee injury and he might be ready by the fall, but probably not until mid-season. LSU won’t suffer at tailback without Ridley but they will suffer at fullback. Ridley was going to get a lot of looks at fullback. He wasn’t going to be a mauler of a lead blocker like Quinn Johnson, but he was going to be an adequate blocker and a versatile threat similar to when Jacob Hester used to play fullback. As the blocking fullback, converted offensive lineman Richard Dugas was impressing the coaches and making a statement but he too suffered a knee injury and is out indefinitely.
Brandon Lafell looks like a #1 wide receiver and Terrance Toliver looks like a #2 receiver. The battle for the third spot is underway with redshirt freshman Tim Molton having a big spring and competing with senior Chris Mitchell. A guy who was previously lost on the depth chart, John Williams, is making a statement this spring and might find his way onto the field this year. I haven’t heard much about Chris Tolliver, RJ Jackson, or Jhyrn Taylor.
The big news with the tight-ends is that former receiver Deangelo Peterson is now working with the tight-ends. He’s of course exceling with the receiving drills and just trying to keep up with the blocking drills. Peterson is still hovering around 200 pounds, so he’s at least 30 pounds away from being an SEC tight-end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him redshirt this year and take over the receiving tight-end role after Richard Dickson’s senior year.
The big surprise on the offensive line thus far is that T-Bob Hebert has been practicing and running with the first team. I didn’t think he’d be ready to go until the end of spring, but he’s out there right now. That seems to indicate that he’ll be fully recovered from his knee injury and be the guy at center in 2009. No real surprises with the first team offensive line with Ciron Black and Joe Barksdale at the tackles and Josh Dworacyzk and Lyle Hitt at guard.
Two big things to note on the defensive line. First is that junior Pep Levingston is making a statement to nail down the left defensive end position. He’s holding off the younger guys and acting like a veteran. Second is that Al Woods really seems to be responding to new defensive line coach Brick Haley. He’s showing signs that he may finally break out and have a very productive season.
Everyone has been talking about the linebacker position and how John Chavis is coaching these guys up. The spirit among the linebackers is at a level not seen before, and they’re finally receiving some top notch coaching. They’re reportedly responding well to it. Perry Riley, Kelvin Shephard, and Jacob Cutrera are the clear leaders to win the starting positions. True freshman Kevin Minter is turning some heads and making a statement. After what I’ve heard about him, I’d be shocked if he redshirts in 2009. If there’s a disappointment, it’s that sophomore Ryan Baker hasn’t made more of a statement. We’ll keep looking for him to make a move.
Thus far, it appears that the starters in the secondary are Patrick Peterson and Chris Hawkins at cornerback and Chad Jones and Harry Coleman at safety. One surprise is that while Hawkins was out for a few days, it was Brandon Taylor who replaced him in the starting lineup, not Jai Eugene or Phelon Jones. Taylor is currently running with Jai Eugene on the second team. Also briefly, Karnell Hatcher was working with the starters at strong safety. He’s now running with Danny McCray on the second team at safety. Les Miles continues to mention Ron Brooks by name as someone who is standing out, but he’s with Phelon Jones on the third team at cornerback. My guess is that Brooks will see the field a lot as a nickel or dime back.
We’ve also heard GREAT things about the kicking game. New punter Derek Helton looks like he’s going to give LSU an upgrade from 2008′s punting game. And Josh Jasper should be able to fill Colt David’s big shoes.