MIDWAY REPORT: A Look at the Tigers
Tiger Rag’s look at the LSU Tigers - position by position - at the midway point of spring practice
by Matt Deville
Tiger Rag Senior Editor
(At left) Les Miles said DeAngelo Peterson could move to tight end if need be. (Photo by Matt Deville)
The LSU Tigers went through their second scrimmage of spring drills last Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
It was the first significant dress rehearsal of the spring session as Les Miles got the opportunity to see his squad take approximately 100 live snaps, including special teams.
Afterwards, Miles assessed the scrimmage as a “defensive day” and noted the defense was markedly ahead of the offense so far this spring.
“That’s pretty typical though,” Miles said of the accelerated progress of the Tiger defense. “That defense was very difficult to move the ball against. “Some guys had some spectacular days on the defensive side. There were really a number of guys on the defensive side that had big days.”
So far, LSU has endured nine workouts during spring drills. The LSU Spring Game to be held in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, April 18.
As the Tigers have just surpassed the midway point of spring practice, things have begun clearing up a bit in terms of who will play where. Miles never likes to discuss the depth chart and seldom does he give any definite indication of whose going to line up where.
But after Saturday’s media session, Miles alluded to several players and where they could end up heading into fall camp in August.
Here, Tiger Rag gives its best indication of who goes where at which position on the LSU depth chart.
It was no big surprise when Miles said last Saturday that sophomore Jordan Jefferson has the No. 1 spot pretty much locked down after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Heading into spring drills, one would find it hard to believe Jefferson had fallen back even with Jarrett Lee since the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Miles said in a Times-Picayune story last month that the quarterback spot would be wide open could spring drills, but its pretty obvious that was just coach speak.
Jefferson showed up for spring drills in great shape, possessing a strong arm and carrying with him a swagger as the Tigers No. 1 guy.
Several of the Tigers’ offensive players have indicated Lee has shown tremendous improvement since the end of the 2008 season, but even an improved Lee isn’t quite up to Jefferson’s standards.
“I think Jordan Jefferson certainly is in the lead at quarterback and looks to be making his case for being the starter,” Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Lee has looked sharp at times during the individual portion of practice and should continue to push Jefferson.
True freshmen Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett have displayed specific individual talents during the first nine practices of fall camp. Garrett is the prototypical pocket passer with a big frame and very, very strong arm.
Shepard has struggled throwing the ball up to this point. Miles pointed out it is still early for the freshman phenom and that throwing the ball isn’t the only avenue of attack for Shepard.
“I like Russell Shepard,” Miles said Saturday. “Any time (Shepard) has the ball in his hands; he has the chance to make a big play. The key is that he makes a great decision with the ball, and he’s really been good with where to throw it. He made a couple of real quality throws but missed on a couple, but when he pulls it down and runs, he really eats up some ground.”
Miles did say after Saturday’s scrimmage that Shepard played exclusively at quarterback and did not receive reps at running back or receiver.
Charles Scott put together the best rushing campaign by an LSU running back since the 1996 season when Kevin Faulk ran for over 1,300 yards.
Scott passed on the NFL Draft to return for his senior season and will team with Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy to form a pretty impressive trio in the LSU backfield.
Or will they?
Reports from Saturday’s scrimmage indicate none of the running backs had much success running the football. Whereas fumbling has drawn Miles’ ire in previous scrimmage, that wasn’t necessarily the case this time around. LSU’s backfield failed to gain any sort of significant yardage against the defense.
Miles said after the scrimmage the only positive rushing yardage came when LSU’s quarterbacks scrambled for gains. The backfield accounted for little to no positive yards.
Miles said both Scott and Williams saw action at fullback.
“We wanted to get them roughed up with a few snaps at fullback,” Miles said.
Might this be a sign of things to come in the fall?
Miles said true freshman Drayton Calhoun took part in Saturday’s scrimmage and was out of a green (non contact) jersey for the first time in some time. And don’t forget the impending arrival of true freshman Michael Ford in August. Could we be seeing a youth movement at tailback?
As stated above, Miles said both Scott and Williams got snaps at fullback. Redshirt freshman Tyler Edwards has also gotten plenty of looks at the fullback position, sharing time between the backfield and tight end.
Redshirt sophomore Stevan Ridley will miss the remainder of spring drills with a knee injury. Miles said Saturday he has undergone surgery and should be back at full strength in time for fall camp in August.
It is no secret Brandon LaFell is the Tigers’ top returning receiver.
Like Scott, LaFell passed on the NFL Draft after logging a career-high 63 catches last season as a junior.
LaFell’s spot as the No. 1 receiving option is pretty much cemented.
But the race for the second spot is being hotly contested.
Most everyone would expect Terrance Toliver to be the heir apparent to Demetrius Byrd’s spot among the Tigers’ top two receivers. But redshirt freshman Tim Molton has been on the move this spring.
A former high school teammate of Jefferson at Destrehan, Molton has made a noticeable weight gains during the offseason and looks to have the body to be a dominant receiver in the SEC.
The seldom-used R.J. Jackson has also drawn recent praise from Miles.
“Brandon LaFell, Tim Molton and R.J. Jackson all had some nice plays today,” Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Terrance Toliver, Chris Mitchell, Chris Tolliver and Jhyryn Taylor are all in the mix wt wider receiver. Jared Mitchell is sitting out of spring practice dedicating his time fully to baseball. But he is expected back in the fall.
Just for the record, three of LSU’s five starting spots across the offensive front are secured.
Left tackle Ciron Black will likely be the top offensive tackle in the nation for the 2009 season. Lyle Hitt returns for his senior season at right guard and junior Joseph Barksdale will start for a second straight season at right tackle.
That leaves the left guard and center spots left vacant by Herman Johnson and Brett helms respectively.
Miles indicated after Saturday’s scrimmage that Josh Dworaczyk is the leading candidate to replace Johnson at left guard while P.J. Lonergan is the odds on favorite at center.
At the left guard spot, Miles said he liked Dworaczyk right now, but Will Blackwell and Thomas Parsons are making a solid push.
At center, Lonergan looks to be atop the depth chart right now, but Blackwell and T-Bob Hebert are definitely in the mix.
Clay Spencer will likely be lining up as Hitt’s backup at right guard while Greg Shaw and Alex Hurst are expected to spell Black and Barksdale at the tackle spots.
Senior Richard Dickson will not take part in spring drills still recovering from offseason surgery.
But Miles complimented the SEC’s top tight end for the role he is playing this spring.
(At left) Tim Molton has made serious strides up the depth chart this spring. (Photo by Matt Deville)
“Richard Dickson has played a huge role from a leadership standpoint in the development of the younger players at tight end,” Miles said.
Like several of the starting spots on the Tigers’ offense, Dickson will undoubtedly be the starter at tight end.
Miles said his absence this spring has allowed more reps for players like Alex Russian, Mitch Joseph, Tyler Edwards and Matt Branch. Wide receiver DeAngelo Peterson has gotten some reps with the tight ends, but he likely won’t factor in at that position.
Miles did say Peterson has great pass catching abilities and could add some weight and move to that position with ease.
Expected to be an area for concern for the Tigers heading into the 2009 season, the defensive line is looking up recently, especially after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Forced to replace three of four starters from last season’s front four, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Sure enough, Kirston Pittman, Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois are gone, but players like Rahim Alem, Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Pep Levingston and most notably Charles Alexander have lots of game experience under their belts.
Nevis and Levingston had standout performances in Saturday’s scrimmage. Alexander, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, was granted a sixth year by the NCAA and Miles said is finally at full strength.
“He really wants to play his best football,” Miles said of Alexander. “It has been frustrating for him. He keeps getting nicked and nicked and he’s been held out. But he’s ready to be very competitive up front.”
Aside form those players who have some much game experience, there are those unknown factors that could come as pleasant surprises. Miles pointed out the progression of Lavar Edwards. Also, Chancey Aghayere and Sidell Corley came to LSU as a highly-touted recruits.
Not to mention, LSU reeled in one of its best collection of defensive line prospects last February signing Josh Downs, Sam Montgomery, Mike Brockers, Bennie Logan, Akiem Hicks and Chris Davenport. You can bet more than one of these newcomers might get the opportunity to play.
Miles beamed when asked about how the defense has warmed up to new defensive coordinator John Chavis.
The former Tennessee defensive boss was well-known for his development of elite linebackers – and he looks to bring that tradition to LSU.
Miles indicated Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard are holding down the top spots at outside linebacker. Ryan Baker and Kyle Prater are running second team on the outside.
Jacob Cutrera should be the Tigers No. 1 middle linebacker, but he has missed all of spring drills recovering from an injury and is not expected to be back until fall camp. Ace Foyil and Shomari Clemons have gotten reps at middle linebacker.
And like on the defensive line, Miles did a great job of securing signatures from an outstanding class of linebackers including Barkevious Mingo, Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow.
As far as the safety position goes, Chad Jones (free) and Harry Coleman (strong) have locked down the No. 1 spots heading into the 2009 season.
But some other guys have made some noise recently.
Ron Brooks, who Miles indicated could play safety or corner, drew high marks in last Saturday’s scrimmage. It has also been noted Brooks will share time with Trindon Holliday returning kicks in 2009.
Another defensive back mentioned by Miles Saturday was… Daniel Graff?
Now, you’re likely asking yourself, who is Daniel Graff? A junior from Archbishop Rummel and former high school teammate of Craig Steltz, Graff is a walk-on who logged five tackles in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
Graff isn’t the biggest of players (5-11, 171), but Miles indicated he has “explosive strength” and runs a 10.5 in the 100 meters.
Danny McCray will line up as Coleman’s back up at strong safety while Brooks is the No. 2 free safety behind Jones.
Chris Hawkins and Patrick Peterson are running as the No. 1 cornerbacks followed by Jai Eugene and Brandon Taylor line up as the second string corners.
Keep an eye on true freshman Craig Loston in the fall. The nation’s top-rated safety could work his way into the lineup as a rookie, much the way Peterson did last season.
Miles isn’t happy with the situation, but Josh Jasper is currently No. 1 in field goal and punting duties. Miles doesn’t typically like to have the same person doing both.
Junior college punter Derek Helton is participating in spring drills, but Miles has yet to mention him to date.
As stated above, Brooks is expected to assist Holliday in returning kicks.