We look closer today at the Tigers’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring.
Strongest position: Secondary
Key returnees: Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson (52 tackles, two interceptions, 15 passes defended), senior safety Jai Eugene (26 tackles, one interception), junior safety Brandon Taylor (41 tackles, two interceptions), junior cornerback Ron Brooks (nine tackles), sophomore cornerback Morris Claiborne (seven tackles)
Key departures: Safety Chad Jones (74 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions), cornerback Chris Hawkins (43 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended), safety Danny McCray (49 tackles)
The skinny: LSU coach Les Miles commented recently that the Peterson-Claiborne cornerback combo might be as good as any in the country. We know Peterson returns as perhaps the best cornerback in college football with his blend of size, speed and superb tackling ability. He can take away one whole side of the field. The LSU coaches think Claiborne is also on his way to being equally complete as a cornerback. He’s not real big (171 pounds), but has outstanding speed. The Tigers certainly won’t lack for speed in the secondary next season. Eugene has moved to safety, and Taylor has also played cornerback in the past. So, in effect, LSU will have four cornerbacks on the field, which should help improve the Tigers’ pass defense. They ranked eighth in the SEC last season in defending the pass. One of their challenges will be in run support, although defensive coordinator John Chavis will have some options. Redshirt freshman Craig Loston could also be a factor. The Tigers want to see him become more physical and more consistent, but he has all the physical tools to be a top-notch safety in this league.
Weakest position: Quarterback
Key departures: None
The skinny: This one changed a bit after the spring simply because Jefferson didn’t take the job and run with it like most on the LSU staff thought he would. In fact, Lee outplayed him a lot of the time in the spring. Jefferson will have this summer and the preseason to re-establish himself. He’s still the starter, but Miles has said on numerous occasions now that he wouldn’t have a problem playing Lee if that’s how it all shakes out. Lee played in a backup role last season. But it’s hard for LSU fans to get out of their minds the 16 interceptions (seven returned for touchdowns) that Lee threw as a redshirt freshman two years ago. Jefferson didn’t play poorly last season. At times, he held onto the ball too long and was also a victim of an offensive line that didn't do a good job of protecting him. But he completed 61.5 percent of his passes and only threw seven interceptions. Against the best defenses, though, he was ineffective. He needs to play more instinctively in 2010 and has the talent to do so. If he doesn’t, it could be one of those situations where the Tigers are going back and forth among quarterbacks. Sophomore Russell Shepard could still line up some at quarterback in special situations, but he’s a full-time receiver now, and that’s where he will spend his time practicing.