Two-a-Days rolls on with our sixth installment, in which we take a closer look at the LSU Tigers.
To read previous entries, click HERE.
LSU in a flash:
Head Coach: Les Miles, 6th season
2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC), lost to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl
2009 Stats: Total offense, 304.54 ypg (12th SEC, 112th nationally), Total defense, 327.62 ypg (6th SEC, 26th nationally)
Coaching Changes: The offensive staff was largely overhauled with former Tennessee assistant Frank Wilson taking over for Larry Porter as running backs coach (and recruiting coordinator), Billy Gonzoles, formerly of Florida, taking over passing game coordinator and WR coach duties from D.J. McCarthy and tight ends coach Don Yanowsky leaving in favor of former LSU QB Steve Ensminger, who had previously worked at Auburn and Georgia.
Starters Returning: Offense (6), Defense (4), Special Teams (2)
Key Player Losses: KR Trindon Holiday, DE Rahim Alem, S Chad Jones, OT Ciron Black, WR Brandon LaFell and RB Charles Scott
Big Games: West Virginia (9/25), @ Florida (10/9), @ Auburn (10/23) and Alabama (11/6)
Non-Conference Slate: North Carolina (9/4, in Atlanta), West Virginia (9/25), McNeese State (10/16), Louisiana-Monroe (11/13)
LSU was probably the third-best team in the SEC last season, yet for many Tigers fans, it still felt like a bit of a disappointment. Les Miles will have his work cut out for him in 2010 with the departure of many key figures on both sides of the ball, but the Bayou Bengals still have some solid parts to work with.
As to how things are going in Baton Rouge, I checked in with LSU beat writer Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to get some answers…
David Hale: Without some of those veteran receiver threats and without Charles Scott in the backfield, the pressure will surely be on Jordan Jefferson to take a step forward in 2010. Has he embraced that role this spring, and what are your expectations for him going forward?
Jim Kleinpeter: Actually Jefferson has not progressed as much as the coaching staff had hoped. He still seems to struggle making decisions in the pocket and is much better on rollouts. Some insiders say Jarrett Lee outperformed Jefferson throughout the spring and that was the case in the spring game, which is the only time the media saw the players in scrimmage situations.
DH: Despite having an All-SEC performer in Ciron Black last year, LSU's offensive line was among the worst in the league. Has the line shown signs of improvement this spring? And has Les Miles' emphasis on improving the running game helped build some momentum for the guys up front?
JK: The offensive line should be a case of addition by subtraction. Ciron Black was the unit's best player but simply had a bad year. He was overweight and battled sore knees. The other senior Lyle Hitt probably should have been benched but Les Miles is loyal to his seniors. This year's line should be more athletic, better able to get downfield and move laterally. Running the ball was heavily emphasized during spring and two backs went over 100 yards in the spring game. There was a general emphasis on being more physical.
DH: I'm guessing a few more LSU fans will be clamoring for Russell Shepard to see plenty of action this season. How is Les Miles planning to use him this year?
JK: Shepard is anchored at wide receiver but will still get the ball as a running back and occasionally run the wildcat. He's going to be on the field more rather than coming in and out as the situation dictates. Miles said this will make it more difficult for the defense to know from play to play how he's going to be used. He looked great in the spring game. LSU is hoping he can become its version of Percy Harvin.
DH: John Chavis did a nice job of turning around the defense in 2009, but he'll need to find some replacements for departed stars like Rahim Alem and Chad Jones. Who stood out this spring that might be ready to step into a bigger role this season?
JK: LSU's defense should be better overall from being in the second year under John Chavis. His defense was new and significantly different. The biggest standout has been redshirt freshman DE Sam Montgomery, who was constantly in the backfield in the spring game. Also, Stefoin Francois takes over at the hybrid linebacker spot, where the player is actually a safety. Harry Coleman played there last year to great effect. Jai Eugene, who started at cornerback last year, has been moved to free safety, giving LSU two former cornerbacks at the safety position and better overall speed on defense. That move was made possible by the emergence of CB Morris Claiborne.
DH: Generally I consider the "hot seat" talk surrounding coaches who are proven winners as more bluster than reality, but Les Miles certainly heard a good bit of it a year ago, despite the 9-4 record. Miles has overhauled both his offensive and defensive staff in the last couple of years. He made some serious tweaks to spring practice in terms of competition and physicality. And while there's still lots of talent in Baton Rouge, he will need to replace some accomplished veterans. So, is it fair to ask if Miles might be feeling some heat?
JK: There is absolutely heat on Miles and it may get hotter early. LSU plays a North Carolina team with 19 returning starters in the season opener in Atlanta. Losing that game will increase the scrutiny. LSU also has to play West Virginia non-conference and travel to Florida, Auburn and Arkansas. On the other hand, Les made some great assistant coach hires for the second straight season and I think some of the seniors who are gone took some baggage with them that dragged the team down the last two seasons.
Is it just me, or does that last part sound a lot like what was said at Georgia last spring? For Miles' sake, he should hope things go better in Baton Rouge in 2010 than they went in Athens in 2009. In any case, many thanks to Jim for all his insight into the Tigers. You can read his LSU coverage for the Times-Picayune HERE, check out his blog HERE or follow him on Twitter HERE.
So, do you think Miles will be getting his walking papers in 2010 or will the addition by subtraction keep LSU in BCS contention?
And don't forget, we'll be wrapping up Two-A-Days with an in-depth look at Georgia, so if you have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments section here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT UP: Florida on Friday morning.