The quarterback derby is officially underway at LSU

LSU, one of the more popular picks to win the BCS national championship next season, kicked off spring practice last Friday with all eyes on the Tigers quarterbacks. Seniors-to-be Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, as well as junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger, are vying to start the season opener against Oregon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Former Louisville and Tulsa head coach Steve Kragthorpe is in charge of finding a signal-caller capable of improving a passing attack that ranked 107th in the nation last season at just 155.6 yards per game. The Tigers finished with more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10), as only seven other FBS teams found the end zone through the air less often than Les Miles’ squad.

With only two practices in the book this spring, the battle has just begun.

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“It’s a work in progress,” Miles said of the team’s passing attack. “But there’s certainly reason to believe we’re going to be better there. It looks that way from where I’m standing.”

“Both our veterans [Jefferson and Lee] looked to be veterans, and Jefferson looks much better. I like Zach Mettenberger. I think he’s going to be a nice addition.”

The Kragthorpe hire raised some eyebrows both locally and nationally, likely because of his 15-21 mark in three seasons at Louisville after compiling a 29-22 record at Tulsa, where he took the Golden Hurricane to three bowl games.

But Kragthorpe will be working with a unit that unquestionably has some of the best talent in the country. And his successful work with quarterbacks in the past include his time with Drew Bledsoe as the quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills, and he also helped Texas A&M claim a Big 12 championship in his first season as offensive coordinator in 1998.

Kragthorpe has one job to do in Baton Rouge, and that's to make the passing attack sound and consistent with whoever is under center. Jefferson is coming off a great Cotton Bowl performance, and he’ll have every chance to continue to build off that showcase. But he has teased Tigers fans throughout his career. Will he finally put it all together in his final season?

And while Lee was able to eliminate his propensity to throw the pick six earlier in his career by delivering some clutch third-down conversions last season, he still hasn’t shown to this point that he can be trusted to run a team for an entire campaign.

Enter Mettenberger, the former Georgia Bulldog.

The 6-5, 235-pounder threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns at Butler (Kan.) Community College in 2010. On Saturday, Miles praised the first-year Tiger.

“He can definitely throw it,” Miles told reporters about his new quarterback, who exhibited nice touch and arm strength this weekend. “He’s a very smart quarterback in terms of reads. We’re throwing a lot at him. It's not like we go slow. His pickup is really very good.

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“Mettenberger is coming along fast because he’s had some experience throwing the football like we’re throwing it.”

Mettenberger arrived in Baton Rouge in December and has proven to be a quick study. Clearly, nothing will be handed to Jefferson or Lee this spring or next fall. While Kragthorpe is well aware that the veterans have had their share of highs, like many LSU fans, he also knows that they have had their struggles, as well.

Perhaps Mettenberger — like his OC, a new face on campus — can use the fact that he’s never failed in front of the masses at Tiger Stadium to his advantage. After all, there’s a strong base of Bayou Bengal fanatics who believe that change is necessary under center — no matter how well the incumbents look this offseason in practice.

Note: After practices on Friday and Saturday, LSU had Sunday and Monday off before returning to the field for workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week.

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