I swear this will be the last installment of this series, as I think we've milked it about as much as the audience will tolerate. Yesterday, we talked about the 10 best players on the team and the schedule. The day before, we talked about Jordan Jefferson, the defensive coaches, and the high-profile incoming freshmen. Today, let's get into some other topics. Again, the links are preview, offense, defense.
On Charles Scott:
Senior Charles Scott broke free from the running-back-by-committee backfield to rush for 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The 5-11, 233-pound senior is extremely quick with a great burst and excellent power. He ran for 95 yards or more in eight of the first ten games, and then everyone loaded up on him and the production tailed off. Even so, he's plugger who's always falling forward and is unstoppable around the goal line. He can also catch a bit with eight grabs for 67 yards, and he's not a bad blocker.
Watch Out For ... Scott to score 25 times. While there's enough talent in the backfield to keep a steady rotation going, Scott is the star of the show and he's the proven producer who can can control games and take the pressure off the passing game. He's also tremendous when it comes to getting into the end zone, and he'll be one of the nation's leading scorers.
I don't see 25 touchdowns happening. I actually think Scott will get fewer carries this year than he got last year, because I think we will distribute the ball a lot more between the top 4 running backs than we did last year. Keiland Williams was supposed to share the load with Scott early in the year, but he really struggled and his carries did not come. He did not run very hard it seemed; he was too tentative. Later in the season, he came on pretty strong, averaging over 7 yards per carry against Arkansas and Georgia Tech, and having a really good game against Bama. I think Keiland's going to earn more carries this year than last year.
Richard Murphy is another that could earn more carries. A proposed breakout star for the last two years running, no one is really talking about Murphy after his very weak season last year, but this is the same kid who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, averaging about 7 yards per touch.
The coaches love Stevan Ridley, and he got some garbage-time carries last year. He is not healthy right now, and who knows if he will get healthy, but if he is at 100% at the start of the season, his workload is likely to increase at least a little, taking more carries away from Charles Scott.
Then there are the quarterbacks, Jordan Jefferson and Russell Shepard. We know that they liked to run with Jefferson when he was in the game, and while they may cut down on his rate of planned running plays, he is not going to be a part-time player this year. He's going to be playing full time, and I would expect them to probably call about 5 planned runs per game with him. We're still not sure how they're going to use Shepard, but his wheels are just going to be too good not to use.
My tentative prediction is that, barring injuries, the coaches will give the ball to Charles Scott about 170 times, down from 217 last year. What they may do as well is give him the ball more in the passing game. Scott's a pretty good pass-catcher. He caught 12 passes in 2007, when he was a much smaller part of the offense than he was in 2008, when he only caught 8 passes.
Step one is replacing Darry Beckwith in the middle, and the Tigers have their man in Jacob Cutrera, a 6-4, 236-pound senior who was a key backup over the last few years and got two starts finishing with 33 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. He had a tremendous spring showing great toughness and enough range to be the leader and the anchor of the corps to work around. He has been groomed for this job for the last three years and he appears to be ready.
Is Harry Coleman really going to be the starter on the outside? The team's leading tackler, who made 71 tackles with seven broken up passes, was tried out in the linebacking corps this spring and he might be the main man after showing tremendous toughness on the strongside and good range on the weakside. A monster hitter and strong enough to handle the job despite being 6-2 and 205 pounds, he's not starting from scratch having played linebacker in high school. As good as he is, he might move back to safety from time to time just to get all the linebacker prospects on the field.
Strength: Tacklers. If Coleman is a linebacker, the corps will have the team's top three tacklers from last year in Coleman, Sheppard, and Riley. The linebackers don't miss many plays and they'll be all over the field doing a variety of things under the new coaches.
Weakness: Pass coverage. It's not a glaring problem, but it could stand to be better. The addition of Coleman would help change that up in a real hurry, and it would be nice if there were more broken up passes and tighter coverage on short to midrange plays.
Outlook: The position should be the star of the show. This isn't the most talented linebacking corps LSU has had, but there are producers all across the unit with Curtera about to blossom into a force and with Coleman, Sheppard, and Riley all possible all-stars. This could end up being the team's biggest strength as the season goes on.
We talked about Perry Riley yesterday, so I omitted the discussion of him here.
Like a lot of people who will read the CFN preview, I think this is gloriously optimistic. The linebacking corps did not make a lot of headlines for LSU last year. Nor did Harry Coleman. Again, it is possible that the coaching situation did not get all that it could out of the group in 2008, but I'm going to have to see it turn around for myself before I'm going to go around rating our linebackers a 9 on a scale of 10.
Just for comparison. CFN rated Alabama's linebacking group as a 9 out of 10, and I just can't see giving LSU's linebackers the same grade.
On the Offensive Line:
Watch Out For ... the battle at center. Lonergan was great this spring and looks the part as a leader and quarterback of the front five. However, Hebert will need to find a space when healthy. It's a good problem to have, considering either one can move to guard, but it should end up being a good battle for the job this fall.
Strength: Durability. LSU didn't have to change its starting five once, with all the starters going from pillar to post. While it's asking a lot to get the same injury luck two years in a row, Black, Hitt, and Barksdale are rocks to build around. However, because of the durability of last year's front five ...
Weakness: Proven depth. This was supposed to be a problem two years ago, and last year, and it wasn't. There are a slew of redshirt freshmen needing to shine and players like Hurst and Parsons have to be productive, but there's a massive drop-off from the ones to the twos.
Outlook: Disappointing last year, the pass protection was mediocre and the run blocking was fine, but nothing special. This year's line has plenty of talent with Black and Barksdale a nice tackle pair, and Hitt a great blocker who should get more attention. This might not be a dominant front five, but it'll be great at times.
Let me just ask this question. Is there any college football team that has a wealth of proven depth on the offensive line? Teams don't sub out offensive linemen all that much, and it's a position that always suffers a lot of attrition. There aren't a whole lot of teams out there that have multiple offensive linemen with real experience on the bench.
OK, enough of picking on the obvious. I don't really think there's a "battle at center" unless T-Bob Hebert is not healthy yet from his torn ligament suffered in the middle of the 2008 season. By all accounts, Hebert was the #1 guy in Spring despite being slowed by the injury
If there is a real weakness on this unit, it is probably size. Replacing Herman Johnson with Josh Dworaczyk is a big downgrade in size. It may be an upgrade in quickness, and size is not everything in life, but this will be a much smaller unit as a whole than it was last year. T-Bob is also a fair bit smaller than Brett Helms was (I'm not sure I believe LSUsports.net's listing of 282 pounds for him).
This will be a different unit than it has been the last couple years. Who knows? It may be a better unit, but it will not be able to rely strictly on bulk on the left side this year.
That's all for this series. Tune in next time.