Spring Football Wrap-Up: Offense
Tigers rush into fall with QB concerns in the air
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Acting Editor
No matter how you break down the 2009 season for LSU on offense, two conclusions are inevitable.
The running game was virtually non-existent, and Jordan Jefferson’s play as the starting signal caller left something to be desired.
Now that four weeks of spring practice and the annual spring game have come and gone, it’s clear the Tigers are a lot closer to fixing one of those problems than the other.
Let’s start with the good news. The LSU running game looked rejuvenated throughout the spring and had a good showing in Tiger Stadium for the spring game.
In that matchup of Purple vs. White, both Steven Ridley and Michael Ford topped the century mark in yardage, leading their respective teams right down the field on each squad’s opening drive. Ridley toted the rock 13 times for 104 yards (8 yards/carry) and a touchdown while Ford had 139 yards on 19 carries (7.3 yards/carry) and 35 yards receiving, to boot.
It was all according to the game plan, according to head coach Les Miles. “We put a premium on running the football and I feel like we improved there.”
On the subject of Ford’s performance, Miles added, “I thought Michael Ford had some nice runs, the kind of runs where you use your eyes and make cuts and make people miss.” Ford, Miles continued, also looks “more comfortable on our campus” and has gotten used to the continuous grind of classes, practices and team meetings.
Another player in the acclimation process is Russell Shepard, who’s made the switch full-time to wide receiver. His usage in the spring game, however, indicated the Houston native may remain more or less a jack of all trades.
Shepard lined up as a slot receiver for both sides in addition to taking snaps out of the shotgun, slotting in at running back for the occasional play and, once on the goal line, taking a direct snap under center (he would bobble the snap, leading to an unsuccessful option play with Ford).
His production wasn’t bad, though, as Shepard added to the improved rushing attack, totaling 64 yards on the ground on eight carries. That made LSU 3-for-3 as far as its primary backs averaging over 7 yards/carry. All of this, keep in mind, is without the services of rising senior Richard Murphy.
Whether or not all of this success in the running game translates against defenses not wearing purple and gold, we’ll see in the fall. But, at least for now, credit is due to the offensive line, one of the weak links in the 2009 chain that directly led to both problems listed at the top of this article.
They’ve been a unit on the mend since the Capitol One Bowl defeat to Penn State, and, under the tutelage of line coach Greg Studrawa and graduate assistant Ben Wilkerson, they’re a group with a more well-rounded feel.
Senior-to-be Joe Barksdale has swapped ends to the left side and will bring more mobility than former mainstay Ciron Black. He’s joined on the quarterback’s blind side by guard Josh Dworaczyk. At center, P.J. Lonergan enters the fall as the starter and incumbent T-Bob Hebert will be back to push Lonergan after several more weeks recovering from a leg injury. On the right side, guard Will Blackwell and tackle Alex Hurst provide a mean streak and attitude often lacking in ‘09.
Among the newcomers, Miles was quick to single out Hurst. “I think Alex Hurst being a full-time player is gonna make a difference for us,” said Miles, also describing the player as “mobile and tough.”
Dworaczyk, a rising junior, said after the spring game that it’s really just a matter of executing and following through on a game plan.
“We’re just making holes for our running back, really trying to push for that vertical field momentum,” Dworaczyk explained. “You don’t see offensive linemen running with the football and you don’t see them catching passes, so the fact of the matter is we’ve got to do our job and that’s block, period.”
In the spring game, Jefferson was 7-for-20 for 84 yards and one interception (and was sacked at least twice). His counterpart Jarrett Lee was scarcely better, connecting on a combined 10-for-20 passes for 114 yards (much of which came in situational scrimmage play) and a touchdown to each team.
Whether you talk to someone involved with the program on a regular basis or just an informed passerby, the reviews on LSU’s quarterback situation read the same.
Here’s what longtime SEC announcer Dave Neal recently told me: “I don’t know that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are the guys, unless they’ve shaped them. … But, based on what I saw last year and what I’ve read this spring, I don’t know that those guys are the kinda guys who can get you in that BCS conversation late in the year.”
Looking for someone a bit closer to the situation? Cue LSU color analyst Doug Moreau on how Jefferson reacted after several drops by Shepard in the spring game: “That seemed to destroy his confidence for the remainder of the day, and I was sorry to see that because I really believe Jordan Jefferson has some ability. I don’t think that he has the ability to be a great quarterback. I think he can be a little bit above-average, but that’s what LSU needs and that’s all they need if they can get that (play) at the right times.”
Lots of people are rooting for the guys behind center, and their progressions between now and August will tell you just where the LSU offense is in 2010.
Acting editor Ben Love reports on LSU football and basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.