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Monday, August 31, 2009

Shepard in game plan; Lee is not

BATON ROUGE - Can't wait to see all the varied personnel groupings that LSU coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton will throw at Washington Saturday night on ESPN.

Kickoff is not until 9:36 p.m. central time, so have the Seattle's Best brewing so you don't miss anything.

There could be a lot of substituting, particulary as the score gets out of hand in LSU's favor, which will happen. Washington was 0-12 last season. Look for multiple personnel groupings to feature quarterback/tailback/receiver Russell Shepard in various roles.

"We'll play him at quarterback," LSU coach Les Miles said at his first weekly press luncheon on Monday. "We'll play him at wide receiver, possibly at running back. What he does with his feet certainly make him special, has great ball skills, can catch it. And he can throw it. We're going to give him a limited menu in the throws, but he'll have the opportunity to do those things. I'm not certain exactly what situations he's in. We haven't scripted the game plan just yet. But I can tell you that we look forward to getting him some snaps."

Quarterback Jarrett Lee, meanwhile, will not be in any planned script unless starter Jordan Jefferson gets hurt.

"There's not any plan right now to play a quarterback other than Jordan Jefferson except for only specific situations with regard to call and play," Miles said.

Translation: Jefferson will start and play most of the game, depending on how lopsided the score becomes. Shepard will play quarterback but only in spot duty.

Lee is still considered the No. 2 quarterback, though, because if Jefferson cannot play, Lee would take over with Shepard continuing in his situational role as he grows into the position.

Who will Washington's defense focus on when Shepard and Trindon Holliday are in the game at the same time?

There was some depth chart news from the luncheon. Senior Charles Alexander was listed ahead of junior Drake Nevis at one defensive tackle with Al Woods at the other defensive tackle.

Coming out of spring practice, Nevis and Woods were the starters. Alexander has lost weight and had a great camp. True freshman Josh Downs of Bastrop is the No. 2 defensive tackle behind Woods.

Junior Richard Dugas, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound former offensive lineman, is the No. 1 fullback ahead of redshirt freshman James Stampley, who exited spring as the starter. Dugas is the son of Robert Dugas, an All-American offensive tackle at LSU in the late 1970s.

Sophomore T-Bob Hebert won the center job over redshirt freshman P.J. Lonergan. Senior Chris Hawkins is listed as the No. 1 cornerback over Jai Eugene with Patrick Peterson on the other side.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Practice Closing a Panic Move by Miles?

BATON ROUGE - The last open football practice of the 2009 season was last Monday. I say open, but it's more like a peep hole. Since Nick Saban became LSU's coach in 2000, reporters have been allowed to watch about 10-15 minutes of the early portion of practice and then werre escorted out.

Since about all one can gather over that span are injuries and absentee players, and those make great news nuggets, that was about all that we got from the practices. LSU coach Les Miles does not like injury information to get out, which is why he so often lies about his players' injuries, which is fine. All coaches do it. Few lie as transparently as Miles, but they all do it. But the reporters usually were able to find out what they needed anwyay.

This give and take went on in the 2005, '06, '07 and '08 seasons, and Miles did close practice all together in 2007 and 2008 after key losses. Information Miles didn't like getting out kept getting out, but it didn't really matter because he lost just two games in each of his first four seasons. In fact injury information never won or lost a football game in the history of the game.

Football coaches are just paranoid, have seen too many war movies and they think injury knowledge matters. Meanwhile, baseball coaches not only tell you who's hurt, but they tell you who's pitching today, tomorrow and the next day. Therefore, baseball coaches are real men.

But I digress.

This summer Miles decided he was going to close practices all together because too much injury information was getting out. The question is this. Why didn't he close practice in all season long in '06, '07 or '08? Because 2009 is his first season coming off an 8-5 season. So I guess we reporters lost all those games.

Sorry about that.

But does this mean I won all those games in 2007?

In truth, it does not matter to me that practices are hereby completely closed. It will give me more time to write, blog, tweet, email, chat and whatever else they think of next. This policy could actually lead to more accurate stories, because several writers who cover LSU were trying to glean far more than is possible from a 15-minute practice peek. For example, just because a regular starter is not with the first team does not always mean anything. He could be with the first team later after the media is gone, or the coaches may be working on depth. They know what Richard Dickson can do. They don't have to keep seeing it. But many reporters didn't realize this and went with what they saw in their peek without checking with contacts who watch all of practice.

But Miles' move at this time worries me. Is he blaming the media for the poor coaching his team received last season? But the most worrisome thing is this. LSU coaches who have completely closed practices never won again. Those were Gerry DiNardo and Curley Hallman.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

LSU at No. 11 in AP poll

The LSU Tigers are No. 11 in the preseason AP poll.

So what does that mean for Tigers football fans?

Actually, it's not the worst news you'll probably hear today. Two years ago, Ohio State was ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP poll. The Buckeyes went on to play LSU for the national championship that season.

And LSU's 2003 national championship season began with the Tigers ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP poll.

That being said, it appears the Tigers are another year or so away from making a run at the national title. I say that because only four times since 1991 has a team from outside the preseason top 10 won the national title. The last time was LSU in 2003.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nada Nagurski

There were 62 players -- 17 from the SEC -- on the watch list for the Nagurski Award, given to the nation's best defensive player.

LSU didn't have a player on the list. The only other SEC school not represented was Mississippi State.

Before LSU fans get upset, just remember, the LSU defense gave up half-a-hundred to Florida AND Georgia last year. And, for the most part, the Tigers' defense was terrible last year.

So this is what happens when your defense is terrible. Nobody thinks you are any good.

Now, that's not to say LSU won't have a much better defense in 2009. But it does go to show you what people thought of LSU's defense from a year ago -- apparently not much.

Don't Blame the Kids or Mainieri

BATON ROUGE - LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has made some excellent points in his criticism of Major League Baseball the last several weeks as he lost two hugely talented signees from Louisiana to the Major League Baseball Draft and its subsequent contract negotiations.

The Aug. 17 deadline should be moved up to make it easier for all colleges who lose signees to MLB to recruit new players before school starts. The deadline should be Aug. 1. It wouldn't hurt MLB at all, and just a few more weeks would help colleges find new players if they lose some.

Right-handed pitchers Zack Von Rosenberg of Zachary and Brody Colvin of Lafayette each signed with pro teams in the last week or so after signing with LSU last November. Had they gone to LSU, they would have made LSU's staff like that great Rice staff of several years ago.

Each said they loved LSU and wanted to play for LSU, but in the end they decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.

Neither kid should be blamed for their decisions. Each made a lot of money. Each could have also made a lot of money in three years if they had good or great careers at LSU, but that's not guaranteed. They could also reach the big leagues quicker by signing with the pros now, but that's not always the case. If they came to LSU and got hurt, they might not ever make the money they have already made.

It was a tough decision for both.

It was a tough final score for Mainieri. Coming off a national championship and two great seasons, he had a chance to sign two great homegrown products. He did not get either one, but you cannot blame him either for trying.

"If I don't sign them, and they go to Ole Miss, I still get criticized," Mainieri correctly said.

If huge prospects are from this state, the coach of the flagship institution has to go after them even if there is an unlikely chance he gets them. He has to try. And both of these were picked in the sixth and seventh round and were not seen as definites for MLB immediately. Mainieri took his best shot.

Any comparisons to former LSU coach Smoke Laval and recruiting coordinator Turtle Thomas are wrong. That staff continually signed high draft choices from around the country and lost them. Mainieri is much better at deciding what likely MLB draftees are more attainable than others. Von Rosenberg and Colvin were good bets, and they were from here. He had to go after them.

Mainieri will never lose as many players to MLB as the previous staff. Mainieri will continue to pick players well as he did this year, and he will continue to make high draft choices out of LSU players who were low draft choices from high school, which is how he built the program at Notre Dame and how he rebuilt LSU into a national champion.

Mainieri may continue to lose a player here and there, but he will also continue to get some of the best talent in the country and make it better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No ESPN love for the hoops team

ESPN announced its matchups for the SEC basketball games on Super Tuesday.

LSU fans can go ahead and makes plans on every Tuesday this coming winter. That's because you won't find LSU on the ESPN schedule.

You will find Kentucky on the schedule four times. In fact, of the eight Super Tuesday SEC games announced, only three Western Division teams will play. Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss each make one national TV appearance on Tuesday.

So while LSU won the SEC's regular season championship last year, to the folks in Bristol, Trent Johnson's crew was a one-hit wonder.

And while no one ever expects LSU basketball to compete with football, a reasonable expectation would be to at least compete on the national stage.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Tigers lose Von Rosenberg

I know it's football season, but that was a big blow LSU took today with Zack Von Rosenberg signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Von Rosenberg is getting a $1.2 million signing bonus and I guess it's hard to say "no'' to that kind of money. But I would be leery of a franchise that has something like 16 consecutive losing seasons working.

Still, you can't blame the kid for taking the money. He would have been a heckuva pitcher in the SEC.

On a related note, LSU coach Paul Mainieri should quit griping about the MLB deadline for players to sign. Heck, it's better than it used to be and everybody is going through the same thing. It makes Mainieri look like a whiner when he's been nothing but class in every other area.

Friday, August 07, 2009

No. 9 with a bullet

Call me surprised.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a fellow journalist about where we thought LSU would be ranked in the preseason coaches' poll. We both agreed around No. 15 or No. 16. Certainly not in the top 10 after an 8-5 season.

So what happens? The poll comes out and LSU is ranked in the top 10 at No. 9.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

"After the season we had last year, I didn't think we'd be ranked as high,'' LSU running back Keiland Williams told reporters after Friday morning's practice. "That shows a lot of respect for our program.''

Thursday, August 06, 2009

And so it begins

Considering that we're still nearly a month away from the season opening, there is a lot of time to talk about some pressing questions for LSU.

But since today was the first day to look at LSU's freshman class, well, let's let Tigers coach Les Miles take it from here.

"There is some talent there, and we're excited,'' Miles said.

Miles pointed out the play of his two freshman quarterbacks -- Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett -- along with wide receiver Rueben Randle and the defensive line.

Now, for some observations.

You've got to figure that Randle will be given every opportunity to earn playing time as a true freshman. Shepard will get on the field somewhere. Garrett, you've got to figure, will be redshirted. And the defensive line, with Chris Davenport, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan -- you've got to figure some if not most of those guys are headed for a redshirt.

Anyway, it's great to be thinking about football again.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Underrated upset

I was watching SportSouth at lunch today and they were showing what I think is one of the most underrated upsets in college football history.

It was the 1993 LSU-Alabama game.

That was an Alabama team that was a defending natinal champion and one that would go on to play in the SEC Championship Game.

It was an LSU team that would end up at 5-6 -- the best mark of Curley Hallman's time in Baton Rouge.

And somehow, LSU won that game, 17-13.

As I watched the replay, I marveled at how the LSU defense played that day. I also marveled at how few players went on to play on Sundays.

Usually, when an upset occurs you can kind of see it happening. That one, though, is still kind of hard to figure.

For some reason, though, that one doesn't seem to get a lot of run as a great upset -- even among LSU fans.

I guess it's because people are still so down on Hallman.

Anyway, if you're an LSU fan and get a chance to see it again on SportSouth, it's worth watching.