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The Case for Jordan Jefferson

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 4, 2009


The 2009 LSU Tigers are the subject of a lot of debate amongst the media and punditry/blogosphere, who seem split on whether last year was a fluke or sign of a program downturn.

Sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson is often at the center of that debate. Jefferson seems to draw much more skepticism, particularly amongst opposing fans. But LSU fans, for the most part, are pretty optimistic about the offensive MVP of the 2008 Chick Fil-A Bowl, but the skepticism is understandable. It was, after all, one game, and while a strong performance, 16-25 for 142 yards and a touchdown doesn’t exactly scream future star.

However, the optimism is still valid when you look at the big picture.

Talent

Physically, Jefferson’s the 6-4, 210-pound prototype of a spread offense quarterback, with the skill set of both the pocket-passer and the dual threat. His arm strength might not bring Matt Stafford or Jamarcus Russell to mind, but it’s more than enough to make every throw asked of him. But what sets Jefferson apart from Jarrett Lee, is his accuracy and touch. Lee had plenty of arm to power the ball in between defenders, but his tendency to throw off his back foot led to a lot of those passes sailing high. Jefferson showed a knack for hitting his players in stride, crucial in an offense that makes heavy use of screens and crossing routes. His deep passes were particularly crisp at times, and you’d be hard pressed to find better throws than Jefferson’s 32-yard touchdown to Brandon Lafell in the Arkansas game or the 80-yarder against Georgia Tech that was brought back on penalty. Ball placement was an upgrade as well, particularly keeping the ball away from the covering defenders – whether that meant throwing low and away or to the outside shoulder of the receiver.

As a runner, nimble seems to be the best adjective to describe Jefferson. He’s not necessarily going to break down defenders in the open field and take off long runs, but he has the speed to break containment looking for the open receiver, and will grab open yardage when it’s available. He shows a real talent for throwing the ball on the move.

Intangibles

The most exciting thing about Jefferson was his improvement through the final three games of 2008. Against Ole Miss he definitely looked the part of the true freshman pressed into duty (probably because he was a true freshman pressed into duty), nervously and robotically attempting to run the offense. The next week in his first start at Arkansas, Jefferson flashed a calmer presence, converting four first downs on third-down scrambles and leading five consecutive scoring drives. Little things began to stand out, such as pump fakes and looking off safeties before throws. But he still had issues with a labored, wind-up-style release and that helped lead to four sacks. After a month of prep those release issues were no more in the Chick Fil-A Bowl, as Jefferson calmly completed his first nine passes and led LSU to a 14-3 lead before Georgia Tech turnovers allowed the Tigers to take complete control. The game seemed to slow down even more for him, as Jefferson went through progressions steadily, finding outlet receivers and running backs when necessary.

A subtle moment that stood out came on the famous left-handed-shovel-pass-to-Charles-Scott play in the second quarter. Pre-snap, Jefferson noticed that Demetrius Byrd was uncovered to his far left and frantically tried to hand-signal a sight-adjustment to the senior receiver before the snap. Byrd never noticed, but it was a veteran move by the freshman. That type of audible is typically something a quarterback and receiver will work out during summer seven-on-seven drills.

Additionally, Jefferson shortened his release from a wind-up to more of a wrist-flick, which allowed him to still operate quickly without looking hurried in his decision making. Most importantly, he displayed an icy confidence in the huddle and the pocket – a stark contrast to Lee, who often looked nervous and hurried in his approach. This spring, that confidence seemed to spread to his teammates, who spoke of Jefferson as though he was a veteran starter, despite the presence of Lee and exciting freshmen Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett. While Lee and Shepard wll be expected to play roles in 2009, it seems almost a given amongst players that Jefferson will hold down the starting job.

Question Marks

Jefferson’s mobility is often overstated. While he is definitely a dual-threat quarterback, he won’t be reminding anybody of Vince Young. He also showed awkwardness at times running the option, which, given that he didn’t play in an option-oriented offense in high school, he probably doesn’t have a lot of repetitions running it. While that could change over the offseason, expect Shepard to take more of the option plays, while Jefferson uses more designed quarterback runs like draws, counters and sweeps. He will still be effective as a runner, do not expect many 50-plus yard games this season

Another issue that has to be looked at is the fact that Jefferson was sacked more times than Lee (nine times to eight) in just a third of the total pass attempts. Granted, part of that was playing behind a (both mentally and physically) battered offensive line and against defensive lines that featured players Greg Hardy, Peria Jerry, Malcolm Sheppard and Michael Johnson. However, the progression Jefferson showed in his decision making – especially that quick release – will have to continue.

It’s admittedly a small sample size, but when you break down Jefferson’s progression through those final games of 2008, it’s not hard to see his potential. Those signs, coupled with a veteran offense around him, are why LSU fans expect the quarterback position to be a strength this season.

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