Winning eight games and crushing your bowl opponent, if not cause for celebration, is at least reason for satisfaction for most college football teams.
Last season's 8-5 final record, which including a 38-3 whipping of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, left the Tigers feeling they had underachieved.
The record included a 30-point loss at Florida, losses at home to Georgia and Ole Miss, and an overtime loss to Alabama, coached by former LSU boss Nick Saban. Those defeats have had a tendency to stick to the memory more than the wins over Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State and the like.
But the spring offers the opportunity for a fresh start for the Tigers, who have four new assistant coaches, three of them on the defensive side of the ball. At the top of that list is former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis.
Chavis is the one man in charge of the defense, taking over for last year's co-coordinators, Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto. That should lend some stability to what was a schizophrenic unit in 2008.
The Tigers have a nice nucleus to build around on both sides of the ball with returning stars like end Rahim Alem, safety Harry Coleman, safety Chad Jones and tackle Charles Alexander on defense and tackle Ciron Black, receiver Brandon LaFell and tailback Charles Scott on offense.
The interesting situation is at quarterback. Coach Les Miles says the competition among four players is open, even though it appeared Jordan Jefferson had earned the right to enter spring as No. 1 after his play over the final three games of last season.
But Miles supposedly is keeping Jarrett Lee in the picture along with two signees from February who enrolled early, Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett.
"There's a lot of competition," Miles said of the quarterbacks. "We're allowing the young guys to gain reps at the expense of the older guys' development. Both Jefferson and Lee look like they've been in the system and look like they're ready to play and will be ready to play quickly."
"Both young guys are still a ways away."NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: LSU is looking to find five new starters on defense, but one of them should be no mystery. DE Rahim Alem, the team's top pass rusher who had only one start in 2008, should take over one of the spots up front.
That leaves the other end and both tackle spots to be filled upfront along with middle linebacker. "There's going to be some competition on the defensive side," coach Les Miles said.
There's an interesting situation on offense, where Miles declined to name a starter at quarterback going into the spring. Jarrett Lee had six starts as a redshirt freshman in 2008 but had interception problems with seven of them being returned for touchdowns. Jordan Jefferson started the last two games as a true freshman and earned Offensive MVP honors in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
There are also a couple of freshmen, Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett, in the picture.
Enough veterans return to make wide receiver and running back solid.
Up front, the Tigers must replace two lost starters on the right side of the offensive line. It could have been worse there, but LT Ciron Black is back for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Miles may be holding off on naming a starter at quarterback, but it will be a big surprise if Jefferson isn't the guy. Seeing most of his playing time late in the season, Jefferson was only 36-of-73 passing, but the big thing was he threw only one interception.
Lee, who got the starting nod after Andrew Hatch, the starter the first three games, was injured, had 16 interceptions in 269 pass attempts.
The Tigers return one of the league's top receivers, Brandon LaFell, and runners, Charles Scott, on offense, and one of the top sack guys, Alem, on defense. Five other starters return on defense.
At times, the defense was a disappointment in 2008, but some of that could have been more of its philosophical approach than personnel. The Tigers, who had co-defensive coordinators last year, will have only one, John Chavis, running the show in 2009. He comes to LSU after 14 years at Tennessee. Two other new assistants, Ron Cooper (defensive backs) and Brick Haley (defensive line), also are on the defensive side.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never felt like you have to make premature announcements. I think weOll let competition play out, and I want to see all the skills. If it's very obvious who the starting quarterback is going to be, then we'll make the obvious announcement." -- Coach Les Miles, declining to name either Jefferson or Lee No. 1 quarterback going into the spring.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
STARS OF 2009:
WR Brandon LaFell -- LaFell toyed with the idea of entering the NFL draft, entering his name and then almost immediately withdrawing it. LaFell has 1,725 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in his career, including 929 yards and eight TDs last season. He also is a good downfield blocker to help with running game.
TB Charles Scott -- The 2008 season began with a question of who would take over at running back, but Scott answered that rather quickly. He opened the season with four consecutive 100-yard rushing games and ended up starting every game at the position. His 90.8-yard average ranked fourth in the SEC.
DE Rahim Alem -- Alem started only one game in 2008 but his pass-rushing ability (eight sacks) got him second-team All-SEC honors. He has 10 career sacks and 17 career tackles for loss, 11.5 of them coming in 2008. He could match those career totals this season.
QB Russell Shepard -- The quarterback position looks to be settled, but Shepard was rated one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country coming out of Cypress Ridge High in Houston. Consider, too, the two "veterans" ahead of him will only be sophomores and don't have all that great an edge in experience. Shepard is an early enrollee and could get a look at another position before spring drills end.
DE Chase Clement -- Clement took a redshirt year in 2008 but is contending for a starting spot in 2009 with the departures of Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman. Clement, out of E.D. White High in Thibodaux, La., was one of the top-rated players in the state as a senior in 2007. He also could benefit from the attention that opponents likely will give veteran Rahim Alem.
WR Tim Molton -- Molton took a redshirt season in 2008 and looks to contend for playing time in 2009. The Tigers look solid at the position with a couple key returnees but must replace speedster Demetrius Byrd. Molton is 6-3, 173, and Rivals.com rated him Louisiana's No. 13 prospect when he came out of Destrahan High in Montz, La.
--LSU got three big breaks when RB Charles Scott, LT Ciron Black and WR Brandon LaFell all decided to return for their senior seasons. Black is a three-year starter who has played 40 consecutive games for the Tigers. Scott broke out with 1,174 rushing yards in 2008 after netting 601 in his first two seasons combined. LaFell has 22 starts over the last three years, with 12 coming last year, when he caught 63 passes for 929 yards and eight touchdowns.
--C T-Bob Herbert is being held out of contact work after having knee surgery in the fall. LB Kellen Theriot, a redshirt freshman, also is out for the spring because of an undisclosed injury.
--FB Stevan Ridley injured his knee and is expected to miss the rest of spring practice, but he is expected to be back by the fall.
Previous Report: 02/06/2009