After sour ends to the last two seasons, LSU is facing a critical time in Les Miles' tenure.
The Tigers won nine games last season but lost two of their last three when clock management miscues cost them shots at victories.
And they were fortunate to get the lone win after blowing a lead against Arkansas, managing to pull out an overtime win.
But if things go right, the Tigers could be on the verge of a big comeback year in 2010.
They have an experienced quarterback in Jordan Jefferson, who figures to be more productive after a sophomore season in which he played on a tight leash at times. And they have some big-play capability at wide receiver in Terrance Toliver, Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard.
Running back is unsettled, but redshirt freshman Michael Ford could be the answer there. He has had an impressive spring running the ball.
Defensively, the Tigers have several key holes to fill, but several members of the outstanding 2009 recruiting class -- specifically end Sam Montgomery, tackle Michael Brockers and linebacker Kevin Mintner -- and junior college transfer Kendrick Adams were enjoying solid springs and playing key roles on a unit that was overpowering the offense.
That's putting a lot of pressure on the newcomers. But if the veterans in the mix -- like Lazarius Levingston up front, Kelvin Edwards at linebacker, and Patrick Peterson and Brandon Taylor in the secondary -- also step up, the unit should be improved over 2009.
The early schedule is arduous. The Tigers open their season in Atlanta against a veteran North Carolina team and get West Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida in consecutive weekends in late September-early October.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The Tigers must rebuild a defense that loses seven starters, but there are plenty of young candidates to fill many of the gaps. Senior Lazarius Levingston is the only returning starter up front, and he likely will move from end to tackle. Offensively, six starters return, but the Tigers have to get more settled at running back with the departures of Charles Scott and Keiland Williams. Wide receiver is another position that must be addressed. There also will be some juggling up front with junior Josh Dworaczyk getting a look at tackle and senior OT Joseph Barksdale moving from the right side to the left to replace Ciron Black.
BUILDING BLOCKS: QB Jordan Jefferson is 9-5 as a starter over two years, including 8-3 last season. He threw for 2,166 yards and had 17 touchdown passes to offset seven interceptions. WR Terrance Toliver, who has shown an ability to make a big play, is the leading returning receiver (53 catches, 735 yards). Sophomore Russell Shepard has moved to receiver after spot duty as a shotgun quarterback/wide receiver. LB Kelvin Sheppard was the leading tackler in 2009 (110 stops, one sack) and CB Patrick Peterson was one of the top cover corners in the league. Brandon Taylor had 10 starts at the other corner and had two interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like our progress. The team understands what we are expecting from them. They want to be a physical football team. They are getting better." -- Coach Les Miles, as the Tigers approached the end of spring practice.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Tigers have had back-to-back disappointing finishes in the conference (5-3 in 2009, 3-5 in 2008), but if they get more consistent play out of QB Jordan Jefferson, as expected, they could challenge for the No. 2 spot behind Alabama in the SEC Western Division. There are some holes to fill at running back, on the line and at wide receiver on offense. And there are holes all over on defense, although the unit looks ready to step up with players from an outstanding 2009 recruiting class playing key roles.
RB Michael Ford -- A redshirt freshman, Ford looks to step into the rotation in the backfield. Ford was a Parade All-American out of Leesville, La., and a member of the highly regarded 2009 signing class.
DE Sam Montgomery -- Montgomery put his name in the mix with some impressive play in the early spring. He is a 6-4, 240-pound redshirt freshman who was considered one of the top defensive end prospects in the country when he came out of Greenwood, S.C.
DE Kendrick Adams -- A junior college transfer from Copiah-Lincoln CC in Mississippi, Adams originally signed with Auburn out of high school. He might now come back to haunt his former choice.
DT Michael Brockers -- At 6-6, 285, Brockers is "becoming a bear to handle inside," according to coach Les Miles. From LSU's fertile recruiting ground in Houston, he was another bright prospect in the 2009 class.
--Junior C T-Bob Hebert, a returning starter, sustained a broken lower leg in a scrimmage and missed the last days of spring practice. He is expected back for the fall.
--Senior WR Terrance Toliver broke his hand in a fight but still managed to continue in spring drills. He managed two catches in LSU's second major scrimmage despite playing with a cast. Toliver issued a formal apology for the fight, which he called "embarrassing."
--Among position changes for the Tigers: Sophomore Russell Shepard, who took snaps at quarterback in the shotgun formation last fall, is listed as a wide receiver; redshirt freshman Drayton Calhoun moved from running back to cornerback; senior Jai Eugene moved from cornerback to safety; sophomore Chase Clement switched to tight end from defensive end.
--DB Daniel Graff, a special teams standout, was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He originally enrolled at Louisiana-Lafayette on a track scholarship in 2005 but spent only one year there before returning to Metairie to help his family rebuild their home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He enrolled at New Orleans in 2006 before transferring to LSU in 2007, when he joined the squad as a walk-on. He has played three seasons on special teams and as a defensive back.
--S Craig Loston, who appeared in two early games last season on special teams before suffering a hand injury, has been granted a medical redshirt and will be listed as a redshirt freshman this season, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate reported.
Previous Report: 02/05/2010