2010 overall record: 11-2
2010 conference record: 6-2
Offense: 8, defense: 7, kicker/punter: 0
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ridley (1,147 yards)
Passing: Jefferson* (1,411 yards)
Receiving: Toliver (579 yards)
Tackles: Sheppard (116)
Sacks: Baker* (7)
Interceptions: Claiborne* (5)
1. Jefferson takes charge at quarterback. His spring game performance wasn’t the best, but senior Jefferson left little doubt during spring practice that he was the Tigers’ quarterback. Jefferson improved his footwork and also did a better job of getting rid of the ball after struggling to find any consistency throwing the ball last season. First-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe was a huge help to Jefferson, who knew junior college newcomer Zach Mettenberger would be breathing down his neck.
2. Ware steps right in for Ridley. It was somewhat of a surprise that Ridley elected to turn pro after rushing for 1,147 yards last season, but Ware showed this spring that he’s plenty capable of being the Tigers’ next 1,000-yard rusher. He had 102 yards on 10 carries in the Cotton Bowl last season and possesses that shifty, explosive style that makes him a load to get on the ground. A quarterback in high school, he can also throw it and is one of those players you can do a lot of different things with on offense.
3. Depth to go around in the secondary. The Tigers are deep enough and talented enough in the secondary that defensive coordinator John Chavis moved Karnell Hatcher from safety to an outside linebacker spot. Hatcher started 11 games last season and was the team’s third leading tackler. Chavis has a history of turning safeties into hybrid linebackers. Plus, he’s brimming with young talent in the secondary in the form of Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Craig Loston and Tharold Simon.
1. Can Jefferson do it in the games? Jefferson has passed his first test by having the best spring he’s had since coming to LSU. But the real test is getting it done in games and generating the kind of passing game the Tigers have lacked the last couple of seasons. He should get a lot more help next season from junior receivers Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard, both of whom have everything it takes to be marquee playmakers in this league.
2. Who’s going to replace Kelvin Sheppard? Forget for a moment everything Sheppard did from a production standpoint from his middle linebacker position. He finished third in the league last season with 116 tackles. But he was also the rock of that defense, the quintessential leader and one of those guys who fixes mistakes before they happen. He won’t be easily replaced. Sophomore Kevin Minter ended the spring as the starter, but that competition will continue into the fall.
3. What about special teams? The Tigers were truly special on special teams last season. Place-kicker Jasper had great range and was as dependable as they come. He wasn’t too shabby on those fake field goals, either. Punter Derek Helton finished second in the league with a 45.7-yard average, and then there was Peterson leaving vapor trails in the return game. He took two punts back for touchdowns. All three are gone, which means there will be some big shoes to fill across the board in LSU’s kicking game.