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LSU Spring Football Recap 2011: Plenty of positives for the high-touted Tigers

Zach Mettenberger, LSU redshirt sophomore quaretrback, at the annual spring game 2011.Zach Mettenberger, LSU redshirt sophomore quaretrback, at the annual spring game 2011.First and foremost, the goals for spring football practice are to teach, experiment and avoid any serious injuries. The LSU Tigers took home passing marks on all of the above.

Although the results are always important, statistics in the spring do not make the total gauge on how a player may have performed. You have to view the overall spring performance. Most of the apring action was not witnessed by anyone outside of the LSU family either.  It is vital to observe where the player was at the beginning and compare that to the finished product. Projection by the coaches is a major part of the equation.

One of the players who had all eyes on him when he stepped between the white stripes was senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson. A 4 out of 14 passing performance with an interception in the spring game is nothing to write home about, but from what I’ve seen and heard, a light has apparently clicked on with the arrival of offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe. The Destrehan native was also nursing a sore thumb which he wouldn’t use as an excuse, but I wouldn’t dismiss it totally either.

Throughout spring drills, Jefferson has been more decisive with command than he has been throughout his time in Tigertown. Teammates have chimed in that they have noticed an improvement. Jefferson looks comfortable in the pocket while not rushing his throws and surveying the field. Jordan had good placement on his tosses, stepping into his throws.

Senior backup Jarrett Lee from Brenham, Texas, is an example of someone who has endured, stayed the course and believed in his abilities. He does deserve to be rewarded in some way before his days at LSU are over. I hope that the fans cheer long and loud when he is introduced at Senior Day for his last home game in Tiger stadium. I believe that Lee has shown enough skills to find a spot in an NFL training camp in 2012.

The fans finally had a good look at the much anticipated JUCO transfer, Zach Mettenberger. He had a 5 out of 8 showing for 86 yards. He was accurate at times. Zach can smell his opportunity in the offing. His time will come. If an injury occurs early, Jarrett Lee would step into the lineup before the redshirt sophomore newcomer. History tells us that a bump in the road through injury or performance at the QB position will afford Mettenberger his chance.

This spring, the Georgia native hit pinpoint spots. He had good touch on medium and long throws. Zach does possess the knowledge of what the offense entails, but you can’t expect him to catch up with Lee and Jefferson in such a short span. In spite of adding a new offensive coordinator, the playbook has general similarities to last year.

One area that caught my attention was the offensive line. Starting left guard Josh Dworacyzk was not available, but the starting five of right tackle Alex Hurst, right guard Will Blackwell, center P.J. Lonergan, left guard T-Bob Hebert and left tackle Chris Faulk looked in sync; they meshed as a unit. Hebert shows the flexibility to plug in at center or guard and not lose a beat.

Blackwell returned to reclaim his starting spot. He looked good on pull and trap blocks. He also threw a key or block or two downfield.

Hurst showed real good bend in his knees. He comes off the ball low and hard. He and Blackwell were in concert on the right side.

Dworacyzk and Hurst have the potential to land on the 2011 All-SEC team.

Lonergan, a junior out of Rummel High, could leave LSU as one of the better snappers in recent history.

The opening at the left tackle spot was one that attracted a lot of attention. Sophomore Chris Faulk (Northshore High) seems to have answered the call. He may not be as polished as they want him to be, but he has demonstrated the skills necessary plus he teams with Dworaczyk to his right that will offer all the support that he needs on the field.

Spot starter Josh Williford looks to be improved at guard. He has good hands and the necessary feet. He’s also very smart.

Right tackle Greg Shaw looked sharp. He slides his feet well and didn’t get beat off the edge very often. He sustains his blocks.

Two seldom-used offensive linemen earned some positive attention. One-time tight end Matt Branch, a junior, is now at guard and walk-on center Ben Dominique, a sophomore out of St. Thomas More, represented themselves well and earned meaningful, productive snaps. Both should provide a little depth on the O-line.

The tight end position is in capable hands with super-athletic DeAngelo Peterson, excellent blocker Mitch Joseph and redshirt freshman Nic Jacobs, along with a pair of pass catchers in Travis Dickson and Tyler Edwards.

This season ahead will be Rueben Randle’s time to grab the baton and continue the tradition of outstanding wide receivers at LSU. He has gained confidence and will now be the leader among the youthful receiving corps.

Russell Shepard has the skills that afford Steve Kragthorpe numerous options. Sophomore James Wright displayed sure hands and much more. The Belle Chasse product gains separating from the defensive back because frees up quickly off press coverage to run his patterns.

Kadron Boone runs good routes and catches with his hands away from his body. Boone showed no fear on shallow crossing routes.

Jarrett Fobbs has the speed and skills to pose a deep threat.

The primary foot soldier for the offense is Spencer Ware, who finished the Spring game with 94 yards. He showed good balance with 2nd effort. He does not go down upon initial contact.

The sophomore running back out of Cincinnati, Ohio is blessed with excellent vision, allowing him to find the cutback lane immediately. He had good pad level, explodes through the hole, and takes no wasted steps. He displayed his top-shelf athleticism, breaking stride and adjusting to catch a pass thrown behind him.

New arrival Kenny Hilliard will provide a tireless power presence that will be more effective as the game progresses for the run-happy Tigers.

Fans alos had their first look at redshirt freshman Jahkari Gore. The diminutive (5’9-175) back slashed for 59 yards on 10 attempts. Gore plants a foot and accelerates into his cut.

Sophomore Alfred Blue continues to show that he is a good broken field runner with fluid moves, an extra burst and cutting ability.

I also do not want to overlook deep snapper Joey Crappell, who will be sorely missed when his eligibility runs out at season's end. The senior from Patterson has been a reliable constant on all snaps for special teams.

Tyrann Mathieu deflects a pass away from James Wright at the annual LSU spring football game 2011.Tyrann Mathieu deflects a pass away from James Wright at the annual LSU spring football game 2011.The two key areas that drew the most focus on defense were the D-line and the linebacking corps. The secondary, as a group, is among the elite nationwide. Minus All-American Patrick Peterson, the Tigers have reloaded in the defensive secondary.

Sophomore Tyrann Mathieu has demonstrated outstanding skills and have the markings of the next special corner produced by the Tigers. He is adept in coverage as well as getting off of blocks to make the stop.

Junior cover man Morris Claiborne would be the marquee player on any other backfield. He is special with lockdown skills. Sophomore Tharold Simon really jumped into the fray as a true freshman in 2010. He possesses abilities of a wily veteran. He finds the ball in flight in a hurry. Senior Ron Brooks proved to have big play skills in 2010. There would be little to no drop off with him inserted into the lineup.

The safety spot is in capable hands. Senior Brandon Taylor is the leader. He is always around the ball. Craig Loston also reacts to the ball quickly and is a big time hitter.

Eric Reid reminds me of LaRon Landry with his skills and mannerisms. He showed quick recovery skills and reactions. He is very active playing centerfield. Redshirt freshman Ronnie Vinson out of Newman in New Orleans grabbed everyone’s attention during spring. He continues to make strides with 10 tackles in the spring game and one interception. Vinson reads the play and follows the ball. He has outstanding instincts and ball skills.

Senior Derrick Bryant out of Lawrenceville, Georgia breaks down prior to the tackle. He showed skills in coverage.

Linebacker is still one of concerns. The staff is expecting someone to step up and seize the Mike spot. Sophomore Kevin Minter is one of the players coaches are counting on to play a major role. He needs to gain experience and confidence in that spot. Redshirt freshman D.J. Welter can be a key asset, playing inside or outside. Ryan Baker is now the elder statesman. He has skills to plug a hole quickly with good reactions and instincts. Luke Muncie played some productive reps throughout spring. Lamin Barrow has a future and could be special.

The defensive line offers a wealth of promise. Michael Brockers is maturing into a dominant SEC tackle heading into his sophomore season. He collapses the pocket, has a long reach to bat away passes and fights off blocks with relentless effort to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. He is tough to single block.

Josh Downs was absent from the spring game. He is explosive out his first step as a three-technique tackle. Bennie Logan, a sophomore out of Red River, warranted some attention. He has the ability to fill the gap quickly and is quick to disengage from blockers. He keeps his eyes on the ball and doesn’t allow blockers close to his body while moving along the line laterally well. Logan showed good anticipation on some plays.

Freshmen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are a pair of young Tiges who showed good physical skills but still have a learning curve. They’ll get better with experience. Johnson, relying on his natural talents alone, can be a dominant player in spots early.

Barkevious Mingo impressed onlookers during drills as a speed rusher at end. I expect sophomore Sam Montgomery, coming off knee surgery, to grow into a terror as a pass rusher in the SEC.

In closing, I know many fans are anxious to see Mettenberger running the offense, but be patient. The upside to not seeing a change at quarterback would indicate that Jordan Jefferson is operating the offense smoothly, which translate into winning for LSU plus a date in the BCS title game at the Superdome in January 2012.

 
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