SEC spring practice preview: LSU

LSU Tigers
2009: 9-4 (5-3)

This is going to be a hugely important spring for the entire LSU offensive unit, as multiple issues must be straightened out. With spring practice starting Friday and the annual spring game set for March 27, the Tigers are ready to remake themselves on the offensive side of the football.

Last season’s version of quarterback Jordan Jefferson rarely resembled the signal caller who led the Tigers to a Chick-fil-A Bowl thrashing of Georgia Tech to close out 2008. In that postseason contest, he led touchdown drives on five of the team’s first seven possessions and took offensive MVP honors in just his second career start, giving Tigers fans hope that the offensive rhythm would continue into 2009.

Jefferson’s sophomore year, however, was littered with inconsistency. He held onto the football too long far too often, and he often had difficulty recognizing defensive pressure. Granted, he was playing behind an offensive line that surrendered 37 sacks and never looked comfortable as a group, but Tigers coaches fully expect Jefferson to take that next step in his junior campaign.

Could Jefferson have a little competition in spring camp? Redshirt freshman Chris Garrett will get plenty of reps, and he’s more of a traditional drop-back passer. Will it be difficult for coaches to pass on his big arm? Expect Jefferson to be the guy in 2010, but it may be difficult to keep the 6-4, 220-pound Garrett off of the field, particularly early in non-conference contests.

One thing we do know is that the Russell Shepard experience at quarterback is over, for all intents and purposes. Head coach Les Miles said that Shepard will work primarily at wide receiver and running back this spring, although he’ll likely still take snaps in exotic formations. It’s obvious that he’s one of the more explosive players on the Tigers roster, so he’ll find the ball coming his way plenty during his sophomore season. The question remains how quickly he can get comfortable in the offense. Shepard caught just five passes for 34 yards last season while running the ball 45 times for 277 yards and two scores.

Many are concerned about LSU’s rushing attack next season after losing Charles Scott and Keiland Williams, particularly with a quarterback still finding his way in the offense. Stevan Ridley will begin his junior year as the front runner, as he showed flashes of talent last season when injuries plagued Scott and Williams. Ridley runs with power, but is agile enough to be effective in the SEC. Richard Murphy also returns after missing most of 2009 with a knee injury. And keep an eye on two highly recruited backs who redshirted this past season — Michael Ford and Drayton Calhoun. Despite bringing in former Florida assistant Billy Gonzalez to serve as passing game coordinator, the Tigers will emphasize the run plenty in 2010.

Last season marked the first in Miles’ tenure at LSU that the rushing attack went below 150 yards a game and didn’t finish among the top four in the SEC. Last year’s total was the Tigers’ worst since 1999 when the club went 4-7 and averaged just 82.5 yards a contest.

“We’re going to run the football better,” Miles told The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana. “We’re going to run it with more attitude. When we get pads on, it will be about rushing the football and stopping the run.”

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