LSU spring wrap

2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 4; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Jordan Jefferson, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Terrance Toliver, WR Russell Shepard, OT Joseph Barksdale, DT Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Patrick Peterson

Key losses

RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, TE Richard Dickson, DT Al Woods, LB Perry Riley, LB Harry Coleman, S Chad Jones

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Charles Scott (542 yards)

Passing: Jordan Jefferson* (2,166 yards)

Receiving: Brandon LaFell (792 yards)

Tackles: Kelvin Sheppard* (110)

Sacks: Rahim Alem (4.5)

Interceptions: Chad Jones (3)

Spring answers

1. Shepard on the move: It looks like the Tigers are finally serious about getting the ball into Russell Shepard’s hands. He’s washed his hands of wanting to be an every-down quarterback and moved to receiver full time this spring. He’ll still line up in some different spots, and the Tigers would like to get him touches throwing it to him, handing it to him and snapping it to him in the Wildcat formation. The bottom line is that Shepard is too talented and too good of a playmaker to be playing a part-time quarterback role.

2. Establishing the run: LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers worked overtime on running the football this spring, and he’s confident that they will be a better running team in 2010. That part of the offense let them down in most of the games a year ago. Steven Ridley has all the tools to be a big-time back in this league. Speedy Richard Murphy hopes to be all the way back from his knee injury, and Miles is also eager to see what redshirt freshman Michael Ford can do.

3. Speed in the secondary: By moving Jai Eugene to safety, the Tigers essentially have four cornerbacks in the secondary. And most importantly, they all have outstanding top-end speed. Junior cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best shut-down corners in college football, and the LSU defensive staff thinks that sophomore cornerback Morris Clairborne will be equally difficult to throw against on the other side. Brandon Taylor is the other returning starter at safety. Taylor also started his career as a cornerback.

Fall questions

1. Next step for Jefferson: Even though his numbers last season as a first-time starter were solid, Jordan Jefferson was hesitant at times in the pocket, and the Tigers’ passing game tended to go belly-up in key situations. Jefferson didn’t have his best spring, either, which caused some concern in the LSU camp. He’s still the guy to beat, but Miles has been talking up Jarrett Lee, who threw 16 interceptions two years ago as a redshirt freshman. Fall camp should be interesting on the Bayou at the quarterback position.

2. Making more plays: The Tigers lacked a lot of explosive plays down the field last season, and having to go the distance all the time against SEC defenses is like beating your head into the wall. Shepard certainly fits that playmaker mold and will get more chances next season. Receivers Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle combined for five touchdown catches last season. The Tigers would like to see that number climb to 10-plus in 2010. Neither Toliver nor Randle had a pass reception over 45 yards a year ago.

3. Playing better up front: There’s no other way to say it other than just to say it: The Tigers played poorly on the offensive line a year ago, as evidenced by the fact that their top guy, senior tackle Ciron Black, didn’t even get drafted. They’ve moved some guys around. Joseph Barksdale switched from right tackle to left tackle, while right guard Will Blackwell and right tackle Alex Hurst both won awards for their performance this spring. Of course, the real test will come this fall.