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This summer has been like no other for the Bayou Bengals, but with its big showdown against Oregon just one week away the Tigers must attempt to put all the negatives of a long offseason behind them.
In July, the NCAA slapped LSU with a one-year probation stemming from improper benefits to former Tiger defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in 2009. That same week LSU was linked with Houston-based Will Lyles of Complete Scouting Services. LSU paid Lyles $6,000 for video on junior college recruits, amongst other things. An ESPN Outside the Lines report cited that the video quality was poor and contained players that were already with collegiate programs.
LSU hasn’t been charged with anything from the NCAA, but it was an attempt from ESPN to shine a blacklight on Lyles as the NCAA was investigating the Lache Seastrunk-Oregon “fiasco.”
A month earlier, defensive end Sam Montgomery and quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a gun pulled on them in a parking lot on LSU’s campus. The players weren’t hurt and no charges for Montgomery and Mettenberger should surface. The two had to identify the man with a gun, later after he was arrested by police.
Matters worsened in Baton Rouge.
LSU suspended starting wide receiver Russell Shepard after he violated bylaw 32.1.4 by discussing an NCAA inquiry with a teammate that was scheduled to meet with an NCAA representative. Shepard will miss multiple games and some think he has played his last down with the Tigers.
Last Friday night, at a local bar in town, four LSU football players — including quarterback Jordan Jefferson and 5-star wide receiver recruit Jarvis Landry — were reportedly involved in a fight, where a marine claims he was kicked in the face by the quarterback.
After a week of different eye-witness accounts and chaos around campus, the Baton Rouge Police Department arrested both Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns yesterday. Both posted bail at $5,000 and have been suspended indefinitely from the football team.
The incumbent five-year senior Jarrett Lee will take over at the helm for Jefferson, with JUCO transfer Mettenberger waiting in the wings. Last year Lee passed for 573 yards — including a two-touchdown performance against Florida, where Lee connected with Terrance Toliver for a game-winning touchdown with a mere seconds remaining.
Known for his above-average arm, Lee is a better pure passer than Jefferson, but doesn’t have the mobility to move in the pocket. Despite his success in late-game situations last season, LSU will be best served not to rely on Lee’s right arm to win them games in Jefferson’s absence.
With a wealth of talent at the running back position look for the Tigers to run, and run often. Sophomore Spencer Ware fills in for the departed Stevan Ridley (now a New England Patriot), while the likes of Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard round out the depth chart.
Shepard’s departure at receiver isn’t a huge loss, as sophomore Kadron Boone and James Wright will fit in nicely opposite Rueben Randle. Shepard’s time in Baton Rouge hasn’t been what many fans expected when he surprisingly committed to play for the Tigers. In two seasons, Shepard caught 38 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown.
But, will all the ramblings off-the-field hurt the Tigers? Head coach Les Miles already stated that the team is “weighed down” by the Jefferson saga. With lofty expectations already placed on them, and now in the national spotlight — for the wrong reasons — all eyes will be on Miles’ squad.
It’s unknown how long Jefferson will be suspended, but will it even matter? We’re talking about a guy who had just seven touchdown passes out of 209 attempts last season. The talk of the offseason has been of the “rise of Jefferson” and how he was ready (finally) to elevate his game to elite-status.
That talk is pointless now.
For now, it’s on the shoulders of Lee — and a team that’s been burdened with one of the worst LSU offseason’s in recent history.
One thing is certain: They will respond with a chip on their shoulder. And with a young squad, Oregon — and everyone else — better watch out.
Follow Matthew Marcantonio on Twitter: @M_Marcantonio