LSU Football 2011: 5 Things Les Miles Will Be Looking for in Spring Practice
LSU is less then two weeks from the start of spring practice on March 11. The spring game will be televised nationally on ESPN on April 9 at 3:00 pm.
Normally, LSU spring practice does not draw the kind of attention other major college football powers get, but with the blowout victory in the Cotton Bowl, a top-10 recruiting class, juicy story lines surrounding the new offense and this shaping up to be the best LSU team since the 2007 National Championship squad, this spring practice will have Tiger Nation buzzing for the next month.
With that in mind, here are five things Les Miles will be looking for during the Tigers spring practice.
1. Who Will Emerge as the No.1 QB?
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Seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will be battling sophomore Zach Mettenberger, a junior college signee, for the starting quarterback job.
The Tigers passing offense has been the dreadful the past two seasons, ranking 99th in 2009 and 107th last year. Jefferson showed marked improvement toward the end of last season but still barely threw for 1,400 yards and only seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
Lee began the year well but regressed as the season progressed.
Mettenberger, who was dismissed from the Georgia Bulldogs squad in 2010, threw for 2,678 yards and 32 TDs to four INTs for Butler Community College (El Dorado, KS) last year. The 6'5", 250-pounder has the prototypical NFL body and arm strength.
Miles has shown loyalty to Jefferson, so will likely give him a long leash at spring practice. However, if he can’t carry the momentum of his Cotton Bowl performance forward, Bayou Bengals fans will again be calling for his replacement.
This will be the most scrutinized quarterback battle in college football.
2. How Will the Offense Improve Under Steve Kragthorpe?
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LSU hired former Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe as their offensive coordinator to reinvigorate a Tigers offense that grew stagnant under Gary Crowton. LSU finished 108th in 2009 and 92nd last year in total offense.
In his first year as Cardinals coach in 2007, Kragthorpe's offense gained nearly 500 yards a game (eighth best). But by 2009, Louisville's offense fell to 92nd (334 yards a game), so Kragthorpe needs to prove he is more than a one season wonder.
Also, he and Les Miles have contradicting offensive philosophies. Kragthrope is pass happy and likes big plays. LSU needs more of that since they have ranked near the bottom of the SEC in offensive plays of 20 yards or longer the past two seasons.
Miles prefers a balanced attack predicated on a punishing rushing attack. How Miles and Kragthorpe mesh their offensive identities will a major issue to resolve in spring practice.
3. Reloading Special Teams
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LSU had the best special teams in the country last season. Now all the pieces are gone. Return specialist Patrick Peterson will be a top-five NFL pick, All-SEC placekicker Josh Jasper and punter Derek Helton graduated, and special teams coordinator Joe Robinson left for North Carolina.
The Tigers have enough good athletes on the roster to find a decent replacement for Peterson, and it looks like Drew Alleman will be handling kicking duties for LSU early on.
The special teams played a huge role in LSU winning 11 games last year. It will be interesting to see how Miles fills all the holes in that unit.
4. Which Freshmen Will Start & Which Will Reshirt?
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With a roster as deep and talented as the LSU's, it's hard for even highly recruited freshmen to crack the lineup. Not everyone can make an immediate impact like safety Tyrann Mathieu did last season.
Currently, RB Kenny Hilliard and DT Anthony Johnson are the only freshmen on campus. Johnson will get lots of reps in spring practice. I give him a better chance to be on active roster next season.
Hilliard will definately get redshirted. He plays at the two areas LSU is most loaded: running back and secondary. Plus, redshirt freshman cornerback Ronnie Vinson is returning after missing all but three games last season wih an injury.
5. Will the Defense Be as Good as Last Season?
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LSU ranked eighth in total defense last season and allowed under 18 points a game. How will the 2011 unit fair without Kelvin Sheppard, Drake Nevis and Patrick Peterson?
As long as John Chavis is the defensive coordinator, the Tigers should be just fine. However, one area he will need to improve for next season is not allowing big plays.
Few teams sustained long drives against the LSU defense in 2010, but some were able to score touchdowns on big plays when they picked up the Tigers blitz packages.
Chavis needs to correct that problem before LSU faces Oregon in the season opener.