This is all pretty self-evident but I still feel the need to put a disclaimer on all of this.
Tip'o the hat to Mikeno
Whenever you're going to break down a team's spring game, there's only so much you can read - good or bad. Plenty of past spring games have not looked indicative of the team to come that season, again, in good and bad ways (nobody, and I mean nobody saw LSU's offense tanking so badly after last year's spring game, ditto the 2008 defense in its spring game). So I'm going to ask (and perusing the message boards, clearly this is asking a lot) that everybody not freak out and jump to conclusions.
With that said, here are a few observations:
- Les Miles' comments about this team being one of his fastest are definitely spot on. There is speed at almost every position. The defensive line may be a little on the light side, but there's definitely athleticism to spare. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo (who absolutely abused Greg Shaw on several plays) have the tools to be excellent pass-rushers. The question will be how they hold up against the run. Inside, without Drake Nevis the team was hurting at D-tackle. There's not a lot there in the bulk department. I had hoped Chris Davenport might provide that, but I have to admit he wasn't too impressive Saturday.
- The defensive backfield is loaded. I'd throw some superlatives at Patrick Peterson, but frankly we need to save some for when the regular season starts. I really hope the coaches stick with him at kick/punt returner. Morris Claiborne did a great job as well, and looks like he'll have the speed to run with every receiver in the league, but needs more work on recognizing routes and such. Brandon Taylor and Jai Eugene flashed enforcer mentalities, and Eugene in particular has added a lot of bulk. It'll be interesting to see if this safety move keeps up. On that note...
- Craig Loston has everything you want at safety, but watch him play-to-play and you can see why Eugene got moved to FS. The competition's warranted, and Loston needs that extra push.
- Linebackers: looked a little lost at times without Kelvin Sheppard, but again, the athleticism is there. Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker are going to have to show they can hold up at the point of attack. Baker in particular had some tackling issues.
- Overall, the defense kept things really basic. A lot of cover-1 and cover-2 with linebackers dropping into zones much more than they blitzed. I think this played a big part in the quarterback play, but more on that later.
- On to the offense - the running game looked excellent, and the offensive line was a big part of that. Alex Hurst backed up all the pub he's gotten through the spring, as did Will Blackwell and P.J. Lonergran. Joe Barksdale did a solid enough job - a few issues with Montgomery but some of those sacks were of the coverage variety.
- Mike Ford's been getting all the accolades, but let it not be said that Stevan Ridley didn't look great as well. Ridley's shed a little weight and while he's a pure power guy, he has a little more quickness and balance than somebody like Charles Scott. He's not the lower-the-shoulder type - more likely to slip out of the tackle with good body control.
Let it not be said I do not recognize a meme when I see one.
- That said, Ford's a different animal. He splits the difference between the power of Ridley and speed of Richard Murphy and Russell Shepard. Up close, he's a compact ball of muscle. And with the ball in his hands his feet never stop moving. On Saturday, he always found a way to fall forward. In general, I loved watching the running game be a focus, and a I hope that holds up in the fall.
- As for Shepard, his transition seems to be going well for the time being, but I think right now he's going to contribute more on runs than catches. He's picking up the route-running aspect of the position well, but still struggles catching the ball. I have a feeling we won't see him much in the return game. But on slower defenses, I think a couple of his runs would have gone the difference. The shotgun counter got called a handful of times. I hope Crowton remembers that play, with maybe some of the motion plays that Florida used with Percy Harvin mixed in.
- And now, finally the quarterbacks. There's no way to sugarcoat it - they didn't look good. Jordan Jefferson still looked tentative getting through his progressions (with apologies to Jarrett Lee, he's not starting unless Jefferson gets hurt). There were some drop issues, but he missed on more than one deep pass as well.
That being said, last year he looked calm and confident with an 8 for 10 performance. In 2003, Matt Mauck threw FIVE interceptions. DO NOT PUT TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON THE SPRING FOOTBALL GAME.
On a closing note, if this new-found commitment to the running game holds up (and after last season I really think the if remains a big caveat so long as Crowton is around), the offense will be fine. Matt Flynn led the highest-scoring offense in LSU history with a passer-rating that was 10 points lower than Jordan Jefferson's in 2009. The difference was a dramatically (as in almost 100 more yards per game) improved rushing attack. If LSU has that in 2010, the offense will be good enough to win more games than it was last year.