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Checking in on LSU's spring camp

3/22/2010

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Here are a few notes, thoughts and observations after spending some time with LSU coach Les Miles and his staff on Monday at the Tigers’ football complex:

• The Tigers are still waiting on junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson to take that next step.

He’s done it in spurts this spring, but Miles and the offensive staff want to see more.

“He’s more knowledgeable and coming of age,” Miles said. “We wish he’d just take it over. We wish he’d take some of the responsibility of the offense under his umbrella. I don’t know if he’s capable at this point, as young as he is, to do it.”

Miles said there was a two-minute drill in last weekend’s scrimmage that sort of defined where Jefferson is at this point.

“You think he’s coming along those lines,” Miles said. “But then you watch the two-minute drill, and he has a couple of throws where he could stand up and make them … and he didn’t do it.

“He still has opportunities to win games for us with his ability to throw and other things that he’s doing. We’d just like to see him grow a little bit more.”

• It’s still clearly Jefferson’s job to lose, but Miles said he’s not counting out junior Jarrett Lee in the quarterback race.

Miles said Lee has improved tremendously this spring. And in some situations, Lee has outplayed Jefferson.

“He comes to the field and wants to compete,” Miles said. “We had designs that somebody would go by him, but he isn’t allowing it. It’s nice to have another guy like that back there."

Lee would be one of the comeback stories of the year in the SEC. He started eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, but threw 16 interceptions -- seven that were returned for touchdowns.

• Both Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis think this will be an even faster defense than a year ago.

“Even though we’re young, I think our defense will be faster than we’ve been, and that’s a good sign,” Miles said.

• Junior Patrick Peterson has already established himself as the best returning cornerback in the SEC.

But the feeling among several on LSU’s staff is that there’s still another level he can get to next season if he bears down this spring and during the offseason.

• Among the younger players who’ve made the biggest splashes so far are sophomore cornerback Morris Claiborne, redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Montgomery, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Michael Brockers, redshirt freshman running back Michael Ford, sophomore offensive tackle Alex Hurst and sophomore receivers Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle.

If the season started today, Claiborne would be the starter. Chavis has been impressed with how physical he’s been at cornerback. Claiborne's emergence is one of the big reasons the Tigers were so comfortable moving Jai Eugene to safety.

Miles said the 6-4, 240-pound Montgomery has had as good a spring as anyone and is pushing for a starting role. Everybody you talk to on LSU's team, be it offensive coaches, defensive coaches or strength and conditioning personnel, rave about Montgomery's potential.

With Brockers and Pep Levingston, who moved over from end, playing inside, Miles said that will give the Tigers more speed and mobility up front than they’ve had the last couple of years.

Ford, who gave the defense fits last season while playing on the scout team, has been equally difficult to tackle this spring.

• Miles said the Tigers have run the ball better this March than they did the last couple of years.

However, he said the defense flexed its muscle in the scrimmage last weekend.

“The defense made some plays they hadn’t been making, and it’s time for the offense to answer there,” Miles said.

Center T-Bob Hebert is out for the rest of the spring after breaking a bone in his lower leg in last weekend’s scrimmage, but Miles said he should be back in time for the start of preseason practice.

Hurst’s development at right tackle is one of the reasons Miles thinks the Tigers will be better in the offensive line next season.

“Will Blackwell (at right guard) also comes in with a pretty nasty attitude,” Miles said. “We look forward to him being that guy.”

Actually, the Tigers would like to have more of those guys. As a unit, one of the challenges for this offensive line is to get tougher.

• As for Russell Shepard’s move to receiver, Miles said. “He’s taken a major step toward being an every-down player. You don’t just step over there and become a receiver. It happens over time.

“He’s a very bright kid and understands football. He’s getting it, but there are still some things to learn.”

• Senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis has been one of the Tigers’ most dominant defenders this spring.

“I think you’ll see Drake Nevis play his best football this year,” Miles said.

Nevis led the Tigers with 11 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries and didn’t start a game last season.

• Miles admitted that he was concerned about his defensive line coming into the spring.

But seeing Nevis take his game to another level, along with the development of younger guys like Josh Downs, Montgomery and Brockers, has changed Miles’ stance.

“They’ve been very impressive with their ability to get to the ball and make plays,” Miles said.

• LSU will play a full-fledged game during the first half Saturday during its annual spring game, which will be televised by ESPN. The second half will include more situational work.