Spring Football Refresher
Taking stock of the team entering week three of spring practice
DE Sam Montgomery (99) gives the camera a glance at a recent practice. To his right is starting DE Ken Adams and to his left is starting DT Michael Brockers and Lavar Edwards (89), who’s currently in Sam’s spot at DE (photo by Jay Potter).
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s Note: Much of what follows appears in the latest edition of Tiger Rag magazine. For more information on a subscription to Tiger Rag - we don’t include nearly all the mag’s content on the Web - please CLICK HERE or call us at 1-888-32-TIGER.
Before the Tigers get back in action this week, they’re slated to practice today, Thursday and Saturday, let’s take a look at where the LSU football team stands through two weeks of spring practice.
Backfield picture gets clearer as offense evolves
Can you call it addition by subtraction? Maybe.
But the age-old prophecy that “less is more” certainly seems applicable when studying the progression of the LSU offense this spring. The driving force behind the enhanced simplicity, according to Les Miles, is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe.
“He’s (Kragthorpe’s) tried to take a lot of the gray out,” explained Miles. “He has worked hard at it. The background (that) Coach Crowton gave them was very broad and very good. I think we’re probably a little bit better focused on the things the kids can do well, and that’s an advantage for Jordan (Jefferson).”
Jefferson and fellow signal callers Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger are definitely a focused bunch, being put through more of a mechanics-based boot camp this spring as compared to the relative G-8 conceptual summits of springs past.
So far, the result has been a version of Jefferson which Miles calls the best yet: “I think this is the year he [Jefferson] will play his best. He’s had years of coaching, and he’s best prepared to play his best. We probably overloaded him to some extent (in the past) … (Now) as a senior, he is really conceptually picking things up so much quicker.”
The former Georgia QB has looked okay, particularly throwing the long ball, but hasn’t flashed the down-in, down-out accuracy to make him the no-brainer No. 1. Yes, it’s really, really early, but this does reinforce the notion that Jefferson is all but certain to take the opening snap in Arlington.
Some other recent developments help clear up what was at one point a murky picture in the LSU backfield.
Redshirt freshman fullback Brandon Worle, a 2010 class signee from LaGrange, Ga., has left the team. That news, in conjunction with Travis Dickson solely taking reps at tight end, makes J.C. Copeland a mortal lock to be the starter at fullback in 2011. It’s worth noting, though, that Copeland (6-1, 275) will contend with ‘10 incumbent and rising senior James Stampley (5-10, 230).
Finally, rounding out the backfield revelations, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the favorites to fill in for NFL-bound Stevan Ridley. Ware, at 5-11 and 225 pounds, gives LSU a more physical option than Ford (5-10, 202), though both can accelerate in a hurry. This penchant for turning the corner quickly must be why the option still appears to be in the playbook.
At this point, Alfred Blue (6-2, 207) is taking reps behind those two with fellow second-year player Jakhari Gore (5-9, 175) also in the mix along with early enrollee Kenny Hilliard (5-11, 225, though he looks bigger than Ware, who’s listed at the same height and weight).
On the Offensive
(Through Two Weeks of Spring Football)
Story of the Week: FB Brandon Worle leaves the team. This makes the second offseason in a row in which LSU has lost a scholarship fullback after Dominique Allen got the boot last summer. It also opens up the door for J.C. Copeland, Worle’s old high school teammate, to fill starter’s shoes at fullback.
Story of the Week Pt. 2: QB Zach Mettenberger is still developing under Kragthorpe. This will be an ongoing process, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. But what this past week should serve as is a reminder to those with through-the-roof expectations right away that Mettenberger may not be immediately anointed. No need to worry, though, he’s got 10 more spring practices, a whole Fall Camp and, most importantly, three years of eligibility left.
On the Rise: TE Nic Jacobs - The Many High School product, listed at 6-5, 265, is going to be a player. With a logjam at tight end (think Peterson, Clement, Joseph and Edwards), Jacobs may be a year away from major P.T. on offense. But he should make a big impact as a hard hitter this year on special teams. [CLICK HERE to watch him drive starting DE Ken Adams back during the Big Cat drill. Jacobs is No. 84, and his part begins near the 1:10-mark.]
Big Cat Beasts: TE Chase Clement, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Rueben Randle
Extra Point: Evidently Spencer Ware is going to play some baseball before April 9 arrives. The LSU running back was in action this past weekend at Alex Box against Florida.
Edwards, DBs gaining first-team reps amid injuries
Last week in this space (LSU Defensive Report), I wrote about three defenders - DE Sam Montgomery and defensive backs Mo Claiborne and Brandon Taylor - who were recuperating ahead of schedule on lower-body injuries.
After week two of spring practice, it’s become necessary to pull the reins back just a tad.
Not that any of that threesome has taken a step backward, but the reality is it’d be shocking if Montgomery participated in contact drills between now and April 9 and that there’s no real reason to rush Taylor back either.
Both players are sure-fire starters when they’re ready.
Taylor, coming back from a foot injury, represents the team’s only legitimate upperclassmen option at safety when you spy his position podnuhs: Craig Loston, redshirt sophomore; Eric Reid, true sophomore; and Ronnie Vinson, a second-year player. (Note: Rising senior Derrick Bryant did play on the goal-line package last season, but doesn’t figure to compete for a starting job at this point.)
And Montgomery, who was on pace for a monster 2010 season before suffering a knee injury against Tennessee, is the team’s best pass rusher not named Tyrann Mathieu. He’s certainly the best on the defensive line. Again, Montgomery (6-4, 245) stands out even more when you consider his peers. Opposite other starter Ken Adams (6-5, 255) are juniors Lavar Edwards (6-5, 265) and Chancey Aghayere (6-4, 268), both more in the run-stopping mold than pass rusher, along with true sophomore Justin Maclin (6-4, 230) and redshirt sophomore KeKe Mingo (6-5, 237).
Mingo, undersized for a traditional 4-3 end, has some skins on the wall, sure, and the Aghayere-Edwards duo has racked up some starts in their respective time, but Montgomery is unquestionably the cream of the crop.
Here’s the good news: While bringing Montgomery and Taylor back slowly (Claiborne already appears to be 100% back from his ankle injury suffered in the Cotton Bowl win), every single player listed above gets his chance at first- and second-team reps that otherwise wouldn’t have been available.
That means opportunities to show the coaches something and gain confidence that can then translate into games come next fall, when injuries are about as inevitable as death, taxes and crappy reality shows that keep getting green-lighted by TV executives.
Edwards, and to a lesser extent Loston, look to be the biggest beneficiaries to date.
The former, who started six games in Montgomery’s absence a season ago while registering 19 tackles - four for loss - to go with 2.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception - is beginning to prove he belongs on the line regularly, aiding a new-look defensive tackle combo (Michael Brockers and Josh Downs/Anthony Johnson will all be first-time starters) with ample size to help play the run.
The latter, who received a medical redshirt for the 2009 season before making 17 tackles and picking one ball off in 2010 - is taking first-team reps himself, making his case despite the return of Reid, who excelled toward last season’s close.
On the Defensive
(Through Two Weeks of Spring Football)
Story of the Week: It was a much slower news week on ‘D’ than on offense, but it’s probably how the D-Line rotation is shaking out. Even though DE Sam Montgomery (knee) is light years ahead of schedule recovering, Lavar Edwards is taking his place with the ones in contact drills, providing a run-stuffing presence at end. It’s also interesting that DT Josh Downs (6-1, 278) is running with the starters - goes to show Freak Johnson (listed at 6-3, 294, but looks a tad heavier than that, though still somehow lean) will continue earning his stripes. Ditto for Ego Ferguson (6-3, 286), who the coaches are waiting to see flip the switch.
Story of the Week Pt. 2: LB Karnell Hatcher (6-2, 225) is still behind Stefoin Francois (6-1, 215) at Sam ‘backer in practice. It could just be a case of defensive coordinator John Chavis giving Hatcher the chance to sit back and learn, but much will be expected from No. 37 come the season’s start. It’s not meant to be a slight toward Francois, but LSU will be looking for more than 36 total tackles from its Sam LB in ‘11.
On the Rise: S Craig Loston - The Houston native is repping alongside Brandon Taylor (still in a green jersey) with the ones. This could be partially attributed to Eric Reid still bouncing back from an ankle tweak, but there’s no doubting that Hatcher’s move down frees more space for Loston to get on the field. Even once Reid returns to full strength, Loston’s playing time in a secondary which figures to feature more nickel and dime sets this year will increase.
Big Cat Beasts: DE Lavar Edwards, LB Kevin Minter
Extra Point: The defense takes the title for most number changes at this juncture. CB Tyrann Mathieu will wear 7, CB Tharold Simon will wear 24 and S Brandon Taylor gets the coveted No. 18.
Editor Ben Love is Tiger Rag’s lead reporter on LSU spring football. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.