Since winning national championships in 2003 and 2007, LSU has fallen out of the national title picture, going 17-9 over that span and seeing Alabama take over the SEC Western Division.
The pressure is on coach Les Miles and his staff to get the Tigers back into contention not only in the conference but nationally. Though they will be competitive this fall, a return to national prominence is probably at least a year away.
The Tigers came out the spring with what looks to be an improved running game with the emergence of redshirt freshman Michael Ford at running back, but the situation at quarterback remains iffy.
Junior Jordan Jefferson is the returning starter, but his play in the spring did not exactly inspire confidence.
He completed only seven of 20 pass attempts for a meager 84 yards and had one interception for the White team and hit on only one of three attempts for the Purple team in the spring game, opening the way for junior Jarrett Lee to work his way back onto the competition.
Lee was a starter as a redshirt freshman but had the disturbing habit of throwing interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. He played in only seven games last year.
In addition to the issues on offense, there are also questions on defense. The Tigers are looking to replace seven lost starters on that side of the ball.
There is potential on the unit, however, but it could use some seasoning, especially in a division that features not only defending national champion Alabama but Ole Miss and improved teams at Auburn and Arkansas as well.
"It was a good spring," Miles said. "As we go into the offseason, it's the time to get strong and improve."NOTES, QUOTES
--CB Patrick Peterson has assumed kick return duties for the Tigers. One of the country's top cover corners, Peterson, a junior, hasn't returned kickoffs since his high school days, when he had three kickoff returns for touchdowns as a junior at Pompano Beach, Fla.
--Don't adjust your TV sets this fall when LSU plays in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have announced plans to install purple Field Turf in Tiger Stadium, following the lead of Boise State and the University of New Haven in having stadium turf in school colors.
The "eye of the tiger" will remain at midfield and SEC logos will be at the 25-yard lines.
RB Michael Ford -- The redshirt freshman established himself as a potential game-breaker with his play throughout the spring, finishing off drills with a 139-yard rushing effort on just 19 carries for the Purple team in the spring game. He also caught three passes.
DE Sam Montgomery -- Montgomery, a redshirt freshman who needs to come through next fall if the Tigers are to bolster their defense, finished off a solid spring with two sacks among his three tackles.
DE Barkevious Mingo -- Mingo "made some plays that I don't know that many guys make" coach Les Miles said after the redshirt freshman registered seven tackles (two sacks) in the Purple-White scrimmage. He and Montgomery need to step up to give LSU much-needed pass rushers.
WR Russell Shepard -- Shepard, who came to LSU as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks just a year ago, looks to be even more involved in the offense in 2010. In addition to duties at wideout, he will still take direct snaps at quarterback and play at running back as well.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to get the playmakers the ball, and I think he averaged nine yards a touch on two teams running the football. He made a couple of nice catches, and there might have been another one had he put his hands on it. I think he is going to make some people miss in every game we play, and I think he'll get better." -- Coach Les Miles, speaking of WR Russell Shepard.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: There's no question LSU fans are expecting more out of their favorites than eight or nine wins and a trip to a second-tier bowl, but the Tigers will have to have several things fall their way for them to compete for a BCS bowl berth.
The defense has potential but needs more seasoning, and the jury is still out on whether junior Jordan Jefferson has the stuff at quarterback to make the Tigers legitimate contenders in the SEC Western Division against the likes of Alabama.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The ground game expects a boost -- redshirt freshman RB Mike Ford joins veterans Stevan Ridley and Richard Murphy to give LSU more punch. Wide receiver also took a hit with the departure of Brandon LaFell, but Terrence Toliver and Russell Shepard both have big-play capability. The question is at quarterback, where Jordan Jefferson was brought along slowly as a sophomore last year but now has to assume more leadership responsibilities. New assistant Billy Gonzales, brought from Florida to coach wide receivers and coordinate the passing game, has a big job ahead to add life to a passing game that averaged just over 180 yards a game last season, 97th out of 120 FBS teams.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Help is needed up front, where three of four positions will be filled by new starters. Lazarius Levingston is the only returnee, but he is moving from end to tackle. Senior Drake Nevis didn't start but played in all 13 games and led the defensive linemen in tackles with 48. Top tackler Kelvin Sheppard is back at linebacker, and CB Patrick Peterson is one of the top pass defenders in the country. Newcomers like Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo at defensive ends and Craig Loston at safety have huge upsides, but have yet to show what they can do in games.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicking will be no problem in 2010 with the return of PK Josh Jasper (17-of-20 on field goals) and P Derek Helton (40.0), but the Tigers will be looking for a new punt returner with the departure of Trindon Holliday and Chad Jones. They returned 26 of 27 punts last season. Holliday also led the Tigers in kickoff returns (22 for a 22.4 average), but junior CB Ron Brooks (13-19.4) is back. Junior CB Patrick Peterson also will return kickoffs for the first time as a collegian.
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.
--RB Richard Murphy did not take part in contact work in the spring while recovering from a knee injury.
--LB Kelvin Sheppard and DT Drake Nevis did not play in the spring game because of what were called minor injuries.
--PK Josh Jasper had a 57-yard field goal in the spring game, which is three yards longer than the school record shared by Wade Richey (vs. Kentucky in 1996) and Ron Lewis (vs. North Carolina in 1985).
Previous Report: 03/25/2010