THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. It will be tough to pass on the Tigers again.
Patrick Peterson gets to take over the title of unquestioned best corner in the conference this year, and he's earned it with his sharp play. Stepping up at the other spot is sophomore Morris Claiborne, a somewhat undersized yet very quick complement to Peterson who the coaches expect big things from. Jai Eugene slides back to safety, which will help speed-wise but might cause problems in run defense. No matter. This bullet point is about pass defense, and LSU has one of the best secondaries in the nation. As long as the line finds a way to pressure opposing quarterbacks, these guys in the back will feast in 2010.
2. The heart of the defense is set.
With all the great linebackers in this conference, it's not difficult for a great one to be overlooked. Kelvin Sheppard has been overshadowed a bit by bigger names like Rolando McClain and Brandon Spikes, but that's about to end this year. He led the Tiger defense with 110 tackles last year, and he'll anchor that unit this year as well. His experience and leadership is invaluable for a team that is tied for 114th in the nation in experience according to Phil Steele's count. If John Chavis is to put together another in a long line of great defenses, Sheppard will be the engine that makes it go. You really need that out of your middle linebacker, and he provides it.
3. Jordan Jefferson will have a nice set of targets.
We've already discussed Jefferson too much perhaps, so let's take a moment to look at who he's throwing to. Losing Brandon LaFell hurts, but Terrance Tolliver appears ready to take over the featured receiving role. Rueben Randle, a consensus five-star player coming out of high school, figures to be in line for the second receiver spot after catching a few balls as a freshman. The electric Russell Shepard now is a full-time receiver after being the wildcat quarterback, and that should help his development and shore up the position. Also consider that former Florida receivers coach Billy Gonzalez has joined LSU in the same role. "Florida wide receiver" used to be dirty words in the NFL, but Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, and Louis Murphy are changing that and all learned under Gonzalez. His guidance will help the younger guys to blossom at the position.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. What to make of the lines.
I alluded to this fact yesterday, but let's go ahead and face it now: LSU's offensive wasn't very good last year. LSU was dead last in sacks allowed in SEC play last year, and the rushing offense was anemic despite having Charles Scott around. Jefferson didn't excel when flushed from the pocket, so shoring up that line is desperately important to the 2010 offense. Meanwhile, LSU is replacing three starters from the line on the other side of the ball. It's not as big a concern with familiar names Lazarius Levingston and Drake Nevis around combined with the long-awaited coming of Barkevious Mingo. Chavis has seldom struggled to put together a good line, but he'll need to work his magic to get the new group to gel.
2. How exactly the running game will work out.
Charles Scott didn't turn out to be quite what we thought he was last year, and Keiland Williams graduated as well. That means the Tigers top leading rusher from last year is Russell Shepard, believe it or not, with 277 yards on 45 carries. Also with 45 carries from last year is Stevan Ridley, who got some work in late in the season. If you take out his work against Tulane and his sole carry against Ole Miss though, you get an underwhelming record of 36 carries for 95 yards (2.64 YPC). Richard Murphy is back from injury, and Les Miles is excited about redshirt freshman Michael Ford. Between the four of them you would figure someone would emerge, though Shepard is a full-time wideout and therefore not a candidate for being the primary back. They'll need the line to do better, but they could stand to step it up too.
3. Where the big plays will come from.
Shepard was the only LSU player to have a play of more than 60 yards last year, a 69-yard touchdown run against Auburn. In the SEC only Tennessee failed to have someone go for more than 60 yards in a play in 2009, and only Vanderbilt similarly had a single guy to break off a run or reception of that distance. Big plays are not a guarantee of success, but it's difficult to contend for a divisional crown without them. Part of the problem may have been a reluctance among the offensive staff to turn the inexperienced Jordan Jefferson loose, but the time has come for letting loose a bit. Posting some big plays will help things all around on offense, both for the yards they gain and for the opportunities they create when defenses have to worry about them.