Monday, August 29, 2011
Les Miles says LSU moving past issues
ESPN.com news services
BATON ROUGE, La. -- No more extra running for the LSU Tigers, at least not as punishment for their roles in a recent bar brawl.
With the season opener against No. 3 Oregon looming this Saturday night, coach Les Miles and the fourth-ranked Tigers are turning their focus toward the Ducks.
"We don't want to just run them into the ground," Miles said Monday afternoon. "There's a point in time where, OK, that's enough. ... Let's go forward. Let's look forward to playing an opponent. ... I'm not going to punish a team that really has been punished many, many times."
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The recent offseason has been a series of setbacks, distractions and disappointments for LSU, a team that has most key players returning from a squad that went 11-2 last season and counts itself among the contenders for a national title.
Last week, projected starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson turned himself in after police obtained warrants for his arrests and reserve linebacker Josh Johns' arrests on felony second-degree battery charges stemming from an Aug. 19 melee outside a bar. More players have been implicated and police have said their investigation is ongoing.
Also last week, LSU suspended starting receiver Russell Shepard for an unrelated NCAA rules violation.
"There's a heartfelt loss, if you will, of missing two players," Miles said. "That being said, it's just all about (looking) forward and pulling together and going with a little different cast of characters. There are some things we can control and some things we can't, and right now there are two who aren't in the huddle and we'll line up and play in their absence."
If Jefferson's attorney has his way, however, there won't be any absence.
Jefferson's defense attorney Lewis Unglesby said he will ask Miles on Tuesday to consider lifting the quarterback's indefinite suspension while the legal process plays out.
"It is more than unjust to destroy this young man's career if it's all about a bunch of nothing, which is what I think," Unglesby said Monday.
"I have no criticism, nor knowledge base, to say what Les Miles is doing is wrong, but I want to make sure he is fully informed that there's a whole other side to this, and that Jordan is not only presumed innocent, but I'm saying that he is," Unglesby said.
LSU vice chancellor for communications Herb Vincent said the school would have no immediate comment on Unglesby's comments.
The loss of two key starters came only weeks after the team learned at the opening of fall camp that they would have a new offensive coordinator because Steve Kragthorpe, who was hired for that job last winter, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Kragthorpe has remained as quarterbacks coach, while offensive line coach Greg Studrawa has been promoted to offensive coordinator.
That turned out to be only the beginning of the upheaval LSU's team would be dealing with before opening their season in a nationally televised game in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They've had a month to adjust to the coaching shuffle, but have been forced to move on from last week's losses of Jefferson and Shepard quickly.
If there is any good news for LSU, it is that newly promoted starting quarterback Jarrett Lee is a senior with nine previous starts, not to mention his clutch play in relief of Jefferson last season during victories over Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.
"It's an unfortunate situation, how it's all played out," Lee said in reference to his promotion to starter late last week. "But I feel like the best thing to do is fill in, because I know that's what Jordan would do. So we're just excited about this week and I'm just trying to do what I can for the team, whatever the coaches need.
"We're a strong, close group of guys," Lee continued. "We know maybe the best medicine is just to prepare hard for Oregon."
Lee did not discount the loss of Shepard, who would have been his No. 2 wide receiver and is a speedy, versatile big-play threat in both the run and pass, but he hopes LSU has the depth to compensate.
"Russell, as we know, he's a great athlete," Lee said. "He brings a lot to this team. He will be missed for sure, but we've got some young guys who can come in and do a good job for us as they've done all of fall camp."
Miles said emerging freshman receiver Odell Beckham would have more playing time in Shepard's absence.
Lee also will be able to lean on a host of promising running backs including Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue, and Michael Ford.
His offensive line is experienced and mostly healthy with the exception of former starting guard Josh Dworaczyk, who Miles said is expected to have knee surgery soon and could be out for "some time."
Dworaczyk, however, had not worked with the first team since having arthroscopic surgery last winter, and the Tigers have other experienced players at guard. Miles added that freshman La'El Collins, one of LSU's top recruits of 2011, is showing the potential to be ready to play sooner than later.
LSU's defense, with its exceptional depth at defensive back, and with top defensive end Sam Montgomery back from injury, also might be able to take some pressure off of the Tigers' offense.
And as far as senior linebacker Ryan Baker is concerned, the game with Oregon is coming at just the right time.
"What better way to get out and get rid of the distractions than to play a ballgame," Baker said. "Guys are just ready to get this out of the way and just start our season.
"We have a job at hand," Baker continued. "We have high expectations for this season and we don't want those expectations to be (undermined) by any distractions at all."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.