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Les Miles Talks to Pensacola


LSU football coach Les Miles, a man normally quite reticent to tell us anything at all about his team, recently opened up to a group of Pensacola boosters, giving a broad range of solid information.  Assuming it's all true.  I was going to do a FanShot of this, but because it's so jam-packed with info, that would not have been fair to you, the reader.

Let's begin:

MEDIA QUESTION: Will Harry Coleman be the starter at outside linebacker after just switching from safety?

MILES: Yes, it looks that way. But I want to see Harry Coleman show that he's made the transition from safety to linebacker well. Harry Coleman was a high school linebacker - tougher than nails. He played a lot of football for us at safety, but maybe lacks some of the ability that Chad Jones does to roam the field, but he's still very cabable. But when it comes down to linebacker, he's got great speed. He'll hit you. I think those positions will certainly be improved for us.

See what I mean?  He's not exactly using a lot of double-talk or misdirection here.  OK, I guess there's a bit of a hedge there with "Yes, it looks that way."  I've never seen Miles as verbally adroit, though.  If he doesn't want you to know something, he'll usually just refuse to tell you.  He won't try to pretend to tell you without telling you.  

Harry Coleman then is our starting outside linebacker for now.  I suppose he replaces Kelvin Sheppard in the lineup.  I think it's a good move to put Coleman at linebacker.  It makes us faster at two positions: safety and linebacker.  Coleman was pretty average as a safety last year, but this is a kid who killed on special teams early in his career and who had a terrific BCSNCG performance after Craig Steltz got hurt.  He can play some football.  He struggled when asked to go into coverage consistently though, and also it didn't help that SEC receivers were a lot better than Ohio State receivers.

MEDIA QUESTION: So Kelvin Sheppard could be the backup at middle linebacker to Jacob Cutrera and at outside linebacker to Coleman?

MILES: Yes, he can go back and forth. Jacob Cutrera in my mind will be a very fine linebacker. There'll be no need for anybody to step in for him. But there might be an opportunity to spell him and move Kelvin in.

Again, confirmation that Kelvin Sheppard is going to be a backup.  I think Sheppard was OK last year, but not a standout on a defense that really struggled at times.  He was a young linebacker, of course, and there's room for improvement there.  I hope he doesn't take the demotion too hard, because having an experienced player like him at a backup position is a great luxury for this team.

Also, the comment on Cutrera is interesting.  I have, in the past, been less than effusive in my praise of Jacob Cutrera.  I've never criticized exactly, just damned him with faint praise.  To this point in his career, Jacob Cutrera has always seemed like just a serviceable backup-type player.  He's never gotten into any trouble or made any negative headline, but he's also never seemed to be on the verge of making a push for All-SEC type play or praise.  There's a lot of value in having solid role players, which is how I have always seen Cutrera, but this is not the first time this offseason that I have seen Cutrera referenced as a potential star on this team.

Again, we shall see.

FAN QUESTION: What happened last season?

MILES: Last season was one where we were certainly in position to do some special things. We started two freshman quarterbacks (Jarrett Lee and Jefferson). Whichever one it was, it was a freshman. With wins on the road at South Carolina and Auburn, we were in position, certainly if we finish the job against Alabama, to be really in the driver's seat in the conference. That football team had good character.

FAN QUESTION: How did you turn it around in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and whip Georgia Tech 38-3?

MILES: Our football team's got great pride. They wanted to end the season on a strong note. And we would go to these shared banquets at the bowl, and there was a mention kind of routinely (by Tech players) of the score that they had beaten Georgia (which beat LSU 52-38). Our guys just kind of recognized that as they seemed like they were prouder of that score than what game they were fixing to play. I just kind of felt like our guys would be ready. That gave us great momentum going into the offseason.

(Emphasis added).  There's nothing really substantive here, but I for one am glad that Les Miles isn't throwing last year's team under the bus and that he is praising their character.  It's easy to forget that we took Bama to overtime, and had we won that game the rest of the season could have gone differently.  Ifs and buts being candies and nuts and all that jazz, but let's not forget that this team was probably a couple of plays away from having a much better record.  

Last year's team tried very hard, but certain limitations held them back.  Among them were limitations at quarterback.  

In a pre-Auburn post last year, I commented on Jarrett Lee's body language in an interview, observing that I thought he showed confidence.  I thought he showed great resiliency in plugging away last year after he struggled early in the season, and he had some nice moments as starter.  There were limits to his mental toughness though, and eventually his psyche just appeared to crumble.

In retrospect, I think Lee had a lot of confidence, but probably had never struggled or failed before in his life.  When his struggles finally got the best of him mentally, he just couldn't get a grip on it.  I really hope he can put it together again, because I think he can be a fine quarterback.

I don't want to blame everything on Lee.  Our pass defense was abysmal, and that HAS to change for this team to have success.  But getting back to the original point, I don't think there was a failure of character last year, just a combination of bad situations.  Speaking of..

FAN QUESTION: Was having dual coordinators a problem?

MILES: It ended up seeming to be the dual coordinators. But in my opinion, that did not cost us a thing. It was more of the special circumstances that they were thrust into. Those guys (former LSU co-coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto) are wonderful coaches, and they'll have great careers. I wish them well.

Again, not throwing anyone under the bus, but come on.  The defensive coaching situation clearly needed to be addressed in the offseason.  And by "be addressed", I mean in the Joe-Stalin sense of the term.  Again though, these guys were clearly Miles' friends and he's not interested in criticizing them publicly.  After the season, he did what he had to do, and that's all the proof I need to know that he saw the problem for what it was.

FAN QUESTION: Who's the quarterback?

MILES: I like the guy we finished the season with. (APPLAUSE.) I think Jordan Jefferson is the guy. He seems to get better and better. He's 6-foot-4 with good speed. He came in as a 202 pounder, weighs 219 now. He's much more capable certainly than he was a year ago. And I have to be honest with you, Jarrett Lee, he certainly made some mistakes that we'd all love to have had back, including him. But I have to say he was thrust into a tough position. With the three years left in his development, I see him continuing to compete there. Chris Garrett I think he'll develop into a heckuva quarterback, and the same thing with Shepard. I just see Russell as a guy you may want to play early with the idea of his athleticism and feet doing something good.

He comes right out and names a starting quarterback.  He also lets out the most poorly kept secret in LSU football:  Russell Shepard will play as a running option at quarterback.  We've known this since the day he committed over a year ago.  Speaking of...

FAN QUESTION: Can you talk about your new quarterbacks?

MILES: We needed quarterbacks, and this Chris Garrett is a big, tall guy and really had a nice spring game. And this Russell Shepard (APPLAUSE), he really has a lot of athleticism and is working hard on his ability to throw it. And I have to tell you that in the first practice, I said, "Oh My Gosh. Geez he can throw it!" He was 1 of 2, and then 2 of 3 and then there were some three in a rows, and he continues to get better. He's a guy who has personal character and works hard. To me, I'll bet he's at quarterback before it's all said and done.

Miles seems pleased with Russell Shepard's throwing ability as well.  We'll get into this another day, but among LSU's considerations this year in recruiting will be the question of whether or not Russell Shepard is a quarterback or a receiver in the long run.  If Shepard is a quarterback, we may not really need to recruit a quarterback this year.  Right now, Miles seems to think Shepard has a future at quarterback.  

And lets not forget Chris Garrett, who I think is an outstanding prospect.  He's one of the two guys in the 2009 recruiting class that I look at and wonder, "How on earth is this guy a 3-star?"  The other is Kevin Minter, but more on that another day.  If you look at Garrett's film, he has the size, the mobility, and the arm to be not just good but outstanding.  

Don't take me wrong here.  There are limits to what you can glean from recruiting film, especially for a quarterback, but he looks like his talent and physicality won't hold him back at all.

MEDIA QUESTION: What are your areas of concern?

MILES: Offensively, I'd like to have the depth in the offensive line come around with some of those young offensive linemen in backup positions getting ready to play. I think three games into the season, I think we'll be there with those guys. I'd like to see a big back be a go-to guy and say, "Hey this is going to be my year." Defensively, I want to see Chad Jones get comfortable at safety. His speed and size, he's just a natural for safety. He's one of those guys that if baseball doesn't just snap him up, he'll be another first-round (NFL) pick. He's comfortable back there, very much like center field. Ball goes up in the air, he runs over and catches it.

No coach is ever going to say he's satisfied with his line depth.  The curious thing here is that this is not the first time that Miles has alluded to wanting a running back to step up and improve.  No returning running back in the SEC rushed for more yards than Charles Scott did last year.  I realize we need more than one running back, but it's hard to argue with Scott making the case for being "a big back" and "the go-to guy".  I wonder what is going on here.  Is this Miles just trying to light a fire, or is there an issue?

FAN QUESTION: Who are some linemen to keep an eye on?

MILES: Joe Barksdale has great potential at offensive tackle and could be another first round draft pick along with Ciron Black. I think Al Woods is a guy who's really paid his dues on defense. His weight is down now from 327 to 310, and I think it may make a difference. I think he'll have a great year.

Les Miles is heavily invested in Joe Barksdale as a player.  Barksdale was one of Miles' first real recruiting coups, plucking him out of Michigan as one of the top recruits of the 2007 class.  He then moved Barksdale from defensive tackle to offensive tackle, which happens to have been Miles' own position when he played at Michigan.  He then named Joe the starter as a true sophomore.

Barksdale was OK last year starting at right tackle as a true sophomore.  He was good, but not dominant.  He's no longer a young player though, and it's time for him to be not just OK but a cornerstone.  Every player has the opportunity to improve, and my hypothesis in player development is that by the time you're a junior, you're usually pretty much the player you're going to be.  Barksdale is now a junior, and Les Miles thinks he's going to be a player.

Al Woods is also a guy who's been talked up this offseason.  He's a senior now, and up until this point in his career he has really only been a depth player, but he arrived as a 5-star recruit in the 2006 class.  He's always been big, but always seemed to lack a little something that makes defensive tackles special.  They're saying the coaching change has benefitted Al Woods tremendously and may have finally unlocked the talent he showed in high school.

No one asked Miles about the young receivers or about Ron Brooks, and it would have been interesting to hear about them.  You really rarely catch Les Miles in a mood to be this willing to talk openly about his team.  You wonder if he realized his words would be copied word for word onto the internet.