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|Miles confident about 2011 team|
Even though the LSU Tigers lost three defensive playmakers to the 2011 NFL draft and had inconsistent quarterback play a year ago, head coach Les Miles believes this team has the talent to achieve something great.
The Tigers were picked to finish second in the SEC behind Alabama by the media at the 2011 SEC Media Days in Birmingham, AL, and landed seven players on the All-SEC squad. Miles likes the mindset his team has going into the season and looks forward to playing a highly-touted Oregon Ducks team in the season-opener.
"They're very ambitious. They've got a wonderful mindset," Miles said. "They're involved in pursuing a conditioning regimen that will allow them to come into these two-a-days ready to play a real quality opponent in Oregon."
The Tigers have eight returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense. But the real question mark heading into the season is what kind of quality play the Tigers will see from the quarterback position. Miles believes senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson is ready for a breakout year and that new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe has helped Jefferson develop.
"Offensively, I think the addition of Steve Kragthorpe has really helped Jefferson," Miles said. "Jefferson is in his final campaign and really is at the best position that he has been in in listening and taking coaching. So he's been well-coached.
"But there's another way to say it, another way to describe it, it might get it out of his hand," he said. "It might give him the ability to anticipate the throw better. It appears to me that that's happening. He also has a want to make this his team, to show leadership."
Jefferson said he learned a lot this offseason and knows that being consistent is critical at the quarterback position.
"I really learned that playing consistent is the most important thing," Jefferson said. "You can't have a game where you slack because it shows flaws in your offense. I just learned a lot."
Senior center/offensive guard T-Bob Hebert said that Jefferson has been through an unbelievable journey and likes the resiliency his starting quarterback has shown.
"His journey has not been easy," Hebert said. "Today more than ever, because of how integrated the media is, as a college athlete you get thrust on a pedestal and all of your mistakes are made to be bigger than maybe they actually are. Jordan has really proved how resilient he is. He keeps fighting and working to get better. I'm really happy to have him as the leader of our team and our quarterback."
Miles talked a lot about the young talent his team has on both sides of the ball, and senior linebacker Ryan Baker couldn't agree more.
"The young guys are unbelievably talented," Baker said. "(The young defensive backs) can play anywhere in the country. I'm just ready for the season to start."
Miles likes the young skill players he has on offense and said that some freshman have looked so impressive that they could see playing time with the returning starters.
"Offensively with Spencer Ware, (Michael) Ford, (Alred) Blue, I'm not so certain there will be a freshman that will go in there and compete," Miles said. "I think we'll be talented at the running back spot. We'll have wide receivers that can make plays in Russell Shepard, Rueben Randle. I like some young guys that will step in there in Kadron Boone, James Wright."
Even though the Tigers have seven starters returning on defense, the Tigers will still have to fill the middle linebacker position, a position that Baker said is the most important on the defense.
"It's crucial," Baker said. "It's kind of a fill-jar for the defense. The whole defense goes through the middle linebacker."
"We're going to miss Kelvin Sheppard, Drake Nevis, we're going to miss some guys that gave us great leadership in Patrick Peterson," Miles said. "But there's a responsibility at the position that the guy that steps in there understands his role and demonstrates the same characteristics you would expect out of that position.
"We think Ryan Baker can certainly be that guy. If you had to look at our linebacking core, Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher, Lamin Barrow might well be three guys that you could see in there that have great athleticism and ability to play."
Baker and Miles both raved about the secondary and think it'll be a strength in the defense.
"Our secondary I think is youthful, but again very talented. We lose Patrick Peterson, but frankly I think we'll be fine in the corner spot. Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Mo Claiborne, all three of those guys will step in and play significant football at the corner spot," Miles said.
"Safety will be fast and downhill to the ball with Craig Loston, Eric Reid, and Brandon Taylor, so I like our defense," Miles said. "I like the speed. I like how they deploy.."
The Tigers will come out of the gate playing top teams from several conferences. After the Tigers play the Ducks, they will face Northwestern State at home, and then travel to Mississippi State and travel to play West Virginia on their turf. The season kicks off for the Tigers on September 3 when they face Oregon in Cowboy Stadium in Dallas.
Jake Martin is a summer intern for the Sentinel.
He is sports editor for the Nicholls Worth.
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