2011 LSU Preview – Offense
LSU RB Spencer Ware
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - LSU Tiger Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Pick any offensive category and there's a good chance LSU was near the bottom of it last season. Changes were made with coordinator Gary Crowton getting booted for Steve Kragthorpe, who's renowned for developing quarterbacks. If he has any success settling the erratic Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers have the all the pieces in place. Leading running back Stevan Ridley and top receiver Terrence Toliver are gone, but the team is loaded with promising prospects waiting to shine. The line is deep and talented, there's speed in the backfield, and Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard are dangerous receivers. The line rebounded after a horrendous 2009 to anchor a rushing attack that finished 28th in the nation in what was the lone bright spot. The Tigers were dead last in the SEC in passing, and 107th in the nation, with the air attack never working on a consistent basis. Overall, LSU could muster only ten passing touchdowns – one of those by running back Spencer Ware – and now the spotlight is on Jefferson to see if he can use his experience to become a steadier playmaker.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Rueben Randle
Passing: Jordan Jefferson
209-118, 1,411 yds, 7 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Jordan Jefferson
123 carries, 450 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Rueben Randle
33 catches, 544 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore RB Stephen Ware
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Chris Faulk
Best pro prospect: Randle
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Randle, 2) Ware, 3) WR Russell Shepard
Strength of the offense: Line, Depth, Receivers, QB Experience
Weakness of the offense: Consistent Production, Youth at RB
State of the Unit: Unhappy. Or perhaps that's the state of the LSU fan base. Ever since head coach Les Miles kicked the talented/troubled Ryan Perrilloux off campus, LSU's quarterback play has been a comedy of errors. Three seasons later, and the Tigers appear on the cusp of finally breaking that trend. At 6-5, 240-pounds, Jordan Jefferson is likely to take the wheel for his third year as starter. Despite his experience, Jefferson regressed in 2010, throwing about 30% less (118-of-209 vs. 182-of-296 his sophomore year), with fewer touchdowns and more interceptions (7/10 vs. 17/7). Miles raved about the senior's productive spring – his growth in confidence, poise, leadership and grasp of the offense, simplified somewhat under new OC Steve Kragthorpe. Then Jefferson went out a chucked up a disappointing spring game: 4-of-14 for 102 yards, plus an interception. During the season, Jefferson does a magnificent job when he has time to prepare – in season openers, bowl games, and coming off bye weeks; six of his seven 2010 touchdown passes came in those three games. But that's not winning you a championship. What Jefferson can bring is experience and mobility – he ran for more than 600 yards last season before factoring for sacks. With all the talent around him, all Miles & Co. need from Jefferson for a truly special season is consistency.
If Jefferson starts to struggle like last year, don't be surprised if Miles goes instead with JUCO transfer (and ex-Georgia Bulldog) Zach Mettenberger. The 6-5, 250-pound Georgia native arrived in Baton Rouge in time for spring practice, and he's ready to roll if needed. He lit up the JC ranks last year, guiding Butler Community College to the NJCAA championship game, throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 32 touchdowns with just four interceptions. While the sophomore certainly doesn't lack for confidence, facing SEC competition week in and out is a far cry from carving up JC defenses. Few doubt Zach's pro-style arm and football IQ, but questions about his maturity continue to swirl. Can he develop quickly enough to steer this team should Jefferson falter? A steady, responsible Mettenberger could be the Tigers' best option.
Waiting in the wings – perhaps pushed further to the side – is Jarrett Lee. Many believe the 6-2, 210-pound senior was tossed to the wolves too early in his now infamous 2008 season (think interceptions returned the distance). However, without Lee's clutch performances in games against Tennessee, Florida and Alabama, the Tigers likely lose at least two of those contests – maybe all three. And perhaps lose Miles in the process. A consummate professional, expect Lee to provide leadership regardless of his eventual role/playing time.
Watch Out For … Mettenberger. He's simply too talented to stand on the sideline for long.
Strength: Experience. Two seniors with plenty of starting experience. They've seen nearly every stadium in the conference at least once, and are familiar with most of the defenses they'll face.
Weakness: Productivity. Consistency.
Outlook: If Kragthorpe is indeed the QB Whisperer many portray him to be, than this unit should improve, particularly given the talent around it, the simplified offense, and a schedule which conveniently spreads out LSU's more challenging games. However, the experience and options have to translate into consistent production. Finishing last in the SEC and 107th in the nation in passing, and 92nd in passing efficiency, won't work again if LSU wants to win the West.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The Tigers might have suffered a big loss when Stevan Ridley departed early for the New England Patriots, taking his 1,147 yards and 15 scores with him. But the Tiger backfield is loaded; after several consecutive years of top flight recruiting classes, the cupboards are stocked with running back one of the deepest spots. Sophomore Spencer Ware looks to pick up where Ridley left off. Miles didn't give the 5-11, 230-pound Ware much playing time until the Cotton Bowl, but the Cincinnati native didn't disappoint with 10 carries for 102 yards. At 5-11 and 225 pounds Ware has excellent size yet is slippery enough to get through the line. He also possesses the power/center of gravity to run over would-be tacklers and the speed to run around them. After a terrific spring, the electric Ware appears to have cemented his position as the heir apparent. Perhaps the best thing both Ware and Miles have going for them is the knowledge that Ware doesn't have to do it all by himself.
Many have been waiting patiently for the coronation of 5-10, 215-pound tailback Michael Ford, and now he'll be a major part of the attack. The redshirt sophomore got nearly twice as many carries (45) last season as Ware (24), and averaged a solid six yards per carry with three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 30 yards and a score. No. 1A next to Ware, he's good enough to start; they will push each other for playing time.
Another sophomore, Alfred Blue got more playing than both Ware and Ford early in the season before being nicked with injuries. At 6-2, 207-pounds, he has good size and also provides a bit more speed around the edges. Blue started in the Mississippi State game last year, getting five carries for 36 yards, and finished the year with 101 yards on 20 carries. Also bringing the speed is redshirt freshman Jakhari Gore, a 5-9, 175-pound Miami native who tried his hand this spring at receiver, before being moved back to his natural position. A good thing, as some observers felt the cousin of San Francisco 49er Frank Gore pushed Ware for the best performance of the spring.
Kenny Hilliard joins the Tigers as part of another solid recruiting class. At 5-11, 230-pounds, the true freshman has the strength to play immediately and provide some thump. The nephew of former Tiger and New Orleans Saints great Dalton Hilliard, Kenny arrived on campus in time to participate in spring drills, after amassing 8,603 rushing yards in his prep career.
Watch Out For … Gore. He doesn't have the size of any of the other backs, but he's tremendously quick with a great initial burst, combined with excellent vision. According to those in Baton Rouge, Gore will be running between the tackles, where he actually might be most dangerous.
Strength: Depth. All of the running backs are likely to see significant playing time. On the surface, it would appear there's an opportunity to redshirt Hilliard; however, it has been suggested he might be able to compete for the starting role in 2012.
Weakness: Experience. There aren't many weaknesses from this lot, but losing Ridley is still a problem. LSU's stable of underclassmen will have to learn on the job. Fortunately, they have an experienced and deep offensive line to steward them.
Outlook: Call it strength in numbers as at least one of the talented backs – more likely two - will end up taking over the ground game. Although the pressure will certainly be on, given it's unlikely the Tigers can win consistently if they must rely on QB Jefferson to win games, this group should do a terrific job in a rotation. There are plenty of very good, very promising players waiting to break out, and even after losing Ridley, all will be fine.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: In terms of pure athletic ability/talent, this could be the highlight of the Tigers' offensive roster, though it takes two to tango. The quarterback situation was lousy, but the receivers didn't help the cause in the miserable passing game. Other than Terrance Toliver – who led the team with 41 catches for 579 yards and five scores - nearly everyone returns for 2011. Kragthorpe has made it clear he plans on opening the offense up, which has to be music to the ears of LSU's top receiver, 6-4, 210-pound Rueben Randle. After his first full year as a starter, the junior returns as the Tigers' leading receiver – though he only made 33 receptions for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Nevertheless, the SEC coaches named him a second team preseason All-SEC selection. Defensive coordinators are already game planning how to slow down LSU's speedy, tall receiver, who some considered to be the best prep player in the nation before arriving in Death Valley.
Speaking of highly ranked prep players, the rarely bashful Russell Shepard appears to have finally found a place on the roster with which he's comfortable. At first, ex-coordinator Gary Crowton struggled to find a role for the uber-talented Shepard; eventually the prep quarterback phenom was assigned full wide receiver duties, and he had to learn the position virtually from scratch. It was painfully clear last season that Shepard was still digesting the position; even when he was on the right page, either Crowton or Jefferson seemed off it. Entering his junior season, the 6-1, 194-pound Houston native has bulked up and is ready to make this season his official coming out party as he finally lives up to his tremendous hype.
Sophomore Kadron Boone will step into a starting role after catching four passes for 52 yards. The 6-0, 200-pound Florida native turned heads in his freshman campaign and continued to do so throughout spring drills. It hasn't been so much what Boone has done on the field, but rather his development through the winter into spring practice. Behind him a streak of Tigers are vying for playing time, among them junior Chris Tolliver, sophomore James Wright, redshirt freshman Jarrett Fobbs and incoming super-prep recruits Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham
Senior TE DeAngleo Peterson, himself a converted receiver, looks to have that breakout season many have been predicting, but has yet to materialize catching just 16 passes for 198 yards last year. At 6-4, 245-pounds, he's known more for his running and blocking than receiving, after last season's fabled reverse on fourth down and one late in the victory over Alabama. Peterson possesses size and speed that are unique, and with just a little better quarterback play, the sky's the limit.
Peterson was a bit banged up to start the year, and junior Chase Clement filled in and played in all 13 games, starting eight. The 6-5, 260-pounder is a more effective run blocker than Peterson, after making the transition over from defensive end. Nevertheless, the Thibodaux native possesses good hands, even though he reeled in just two catches for 42 yards. Clement will see plenty of playing time with Tigers are looking to run the ball first and foremost.
Watch Out For … Peterson to finally have that breakout season everyone has been expecting. Given the Tigers' youth at running back, Jefferson will rely even more on Peterson to be a short-range safety valve when checking down through his progressions.
Strength: Talent. There are at least four, perhaps five, top shelf prep receivers in this unit. Speed and core skills are not the problem. Shepard is a special talent who's overdue to break out, and Randle might be the offense's most talented player.
Weakness: Quarterback. Can someone consistently deliver the ball? At some quarterback can't be blamed for all the problems and the receivers have to take their game to the next level. 2009 was considered an abysmal year in terms of production, and this unit came up with fewer receptions in 2010 (196 vs. 198) and its per completion average also dropped (11.7 yards vs. 11.9).
Outlook: With just a marginal improvement in quarterback play, this unit will improve by leaps and bounds. If its new offensive coordinator does indeed open this offense up with more deep routes, this unit could see significant improvement. There's speed and size to burn, and there's more talent waiting in the wings to show what they can do, but the production has to come.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The SEC has some strong offensive lines, but few has the depth and experience of the LSU front five. The Tigers lost only one of its top ten linemen (starting LT Joe Barksdale, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round). As a result, the Tigers return multiple starters, and 6-4, 303-pound Will Blackwell was actually a starting guard before injuring his ankle on the first play of the season. At the other guard position, 6-6, 295-pound senior Josh Dworaczyk returns, and looks to forget a knee injury that caused him to miss parts of spring practice. Behind Blackwell and Dworaczyk, 6-7, 324-pound redshirt junior Josh Willford and 6-6, 287-pound redshirt sophomore Matt Branch saw some playing time last year and performed admirably. They're built like tackles, but they can provide a push.
6-3, 280-pound redshirt senior T-Bob Hebert filled in as a starter last season for the injured Blackwell, and this year will return to backing up starting center, redshirt junior P.J. Lonergan. The 6-4, 300-pound Lonergan excelled in his first full season as a starter, leading the Tigers with 76 knockdown blocks while serving as a terrific leader. His father, Pat, was also an LSU offensive lineman in the late 1970s.
The interior is set, but the tackle situation is a bit more interesting. On the right side stands 6-6, 335-pound returning starter Alex Hurst, who took over the starting role last year, having backed up the guard position in 2009. A gifted athlete, he was injured in the first quarter of the Alabama game, and missed it and the remaining three regular season games. The redshirt junior returned for the Cotton Bowl, where he tallied six knockdowns – second only to Lonergan. Hurst is one of the Tigers' strongest players, and combined with his size he has NFL potential as a right tackle or at guard.
Debuting as a first time starting left tackle is 6-6, 320-pound redshirt sophomore Chris Faulk. The Slidell, LA prospect had a strong close last year, starting two games at right tacke in place of the injured Hurst. A Parade All-American in 2008, Faulk has earned the confidence of the Tiger coaching staff, and will benefit from the experience around him.
Faulk will be pushed by incoming freshman La'el Collins good enough to be considered by some to be the best offensive lineman the state of Louisiana has ever produced. The 6-5, 315-pound superstar prospect was one of the highest ranked prep players in the nation last year, regardless of position. Don't be surprised to see Collins to get even bigger after a full year under renowned Strength and Conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt. Collins grew up virtually in the shadows of Tiger stadium, gave his verbal commitment a year in advance, and admits he has been clawing at the chance to play for the Bayou Bengals for most of his life. His massive frame comes with a motor that doesn't quit, and according to scouts, he possesses every skill set necessary to excel at the position at the highest of levels. He's also a model student and Eagle Scout.
Watch Out For … Collins. As good as many expect Faulk to be, it could be difficult to keep Collins off the field, even as a true freshman. The super-recruit is way too good to be kept off the field early on.
Strength: Depth. LSU returns nine of its ten two-deep linemen, and all have playing experience. Nearly all redshirted, and outside of Collins, this is a mature group that knows what it's doing.
Weakness: Inexperience at left tackle. The Tigers may have Parade All-Americans galore at the position, but the starter will have to hit the ground running. LSU has had phenomenal prep prospects before that looked the part and should've dominated, but didn't.
Outlook: Who wants to play running back for the Tigers? This veteran group should hammer away for the ground game and should provide a tremendous push. Now the pass protection has to be more consistent and far better. It wasn't awful last season, but the quarterbacks need as much time as they can get and this front five has to play up to its talent level on a regular basis.
Unit Rating: 8
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