Friday, February 29, 2008

Annual Rites of Spring

Spring Practice is here. It has started already for some schools, and it starts for LSU today.

To recap, each team gets 15 formal practices in the Spring. They can take them whenever they like. They can practice 3 times a day for 5 days if they want. Most, obviously, don't do that. I believe LSU likes to practice about 4 times per week until the practices are used up.

Things to watch this year?
  1. Obviously, the quarterback situation. Everyone knows about Ryan Perrilloux, and the fact that he is currently suspended. There's some talk he could be reinstated soon. Or he might not be reinstated for months. Either way, the battle between Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch to be the alternative to Perrilloux is one that even the national media will be paying close attention to.
  2. Cornerback, another oft-discussed issue with the 2008 LSU football team. We lost two starting cornerbacks, and rarely played the #s 3 and 4 cornerbacks. There are no heirs apparent to Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon. The backups last year were rising sophomore Jai Eugene and rising junior Chris Hawkins. Hawkins, in my opinion, looked pretty good when he got into the games in garbage time. Eugene struggled at corner, though he played well in special teams. Keep in mind that Eugene never played corner in high school, and even though he was a coveted recruit, he has had to learn the position from scratch and may simply be taking a while to learn it. Don't be surprised, though, if redshirt freshman Phelon Jones passes one or the other of those guys.
  3. Position changes. Reportedly, freshman tight end Jordon Corbin has been moved to end, but expect even more changes than that. Freshman corner John Williams is rumored to have moved to offense. There have been rumblings that one of the Mitchell receivers may move to corner. Fans have clamored to move safety Harry Coleman to linebacker. Who knows what will actually happen, which is why it will be fun to watch.
  4. Right side of the O-line. We obviously have to fill the right tackle position vacated by Carnell Stewart, but there are some who say that the right guard position occupied by Lyle Hitt last year might also be up for grabs. Rising sophomores Joseph Barksdale and Jarvis Jones are the key challengers for those positions, and Barksdale figures to break into the starting lineup.
  5. Offensive line depth. You need more than 5 offensive linemen, and for the first time in a number of years, LSU looks to have real depth at line. Several redshirt freshman will be jockeying for position, as will rising sophomore Matt Allen, who had a lot of positive buzz at this time last year but did not get on the field as a redshirt freshman. Redshirt freshmen Josh Dworaczyk, T-Bob Hebert, and Ernest McCoy all have high hopes of making it into the 2-deep. If Will Blackwell has been moved to offensive guard as has been reported, he has his work cut out for him.
  6. Tight end. We all know that Richard Dickson is a stud receiving tight end, but this team lost both of its primary blocking tight ends to graduation and another of the reserve tight ends left the team. Redshirt freshman Jordan Corbin has reportedly moved to defensive end, leaving us with only 3 scholarship tight ends on the Spring roster, two of whom have never played a down. What was once a position of absurd depth is now a position where we may end up relying heavily on one or more of the true freshmen. There should be a battle between Alex Russian and Mitch Joseph to be the blocking tight end opposite Dickson.
  7. Wide receiver. I want to know two things: 1) will Terrance Toliver step up his game? He started out strong last year, but his production tailed off towards the end of the season. He has all the tools, and it's just a matter of developing them. If he steps up, he'll be very difficult to defend; and 2) Will any of the other receivers emerge as a true threat? Rising juniors Chris and Jared Mitchell haven't produced much so far in their careers and it's probably do-or-die time for them. Ricky Dixon and RJ Jackson are rising redshirt sophomores who also need to establish themselves. Any of these guys who do not take a step forward risk falling behind incoming freshmen.
  8. Linebacker. LSU replaces 2 of 3 starting linebackers, and I fully expect rising junior Perry Riley to take one of those two spots. The other one appears up for grabs between Shomari Clemmons and Kelvin Sheppard. Rising sophomore Kelvin Sheppard has the most experience of the two. Jacob Cutrera is a pure middle linebacker so does not figure to compete for a spot outside. Don't be surprised if there is a position change somewhere to bring another body in to compete for a linebacker spot.
Of course, some of the things that emerge this spring will be rendered moot by the true freshmen coming in the Fall. Cornerback is one of those areas where a true freshman may really make waves, because Patrick Johnson is a stud. Wide receiver is another position where a true freshman or two may play, but I doubt any true freshman will break into the top 3. Ryan Baker also may break into the rotation at linebacker.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Basketball Win

The basketball team beat South Carolina 62-55 last night, lifting the Tigers out of the cellar, now occupied by the hapless Georgia Bulldogs. We can put some other teams in our dust and put some distance on Georgia when we play them on Saturday.

The keys to the game against South Carolina: free throws and rebounds. We were 14 of 14 in free throws. Incidentally, there wasn't a missed free throw all night, as South Carolina went 7 for 7. We outscored South Carolina by 7 from the line and didn't give away any points there. We out-rebounded South Carolina 37-25 according to ESPN's boxscore. According to Tigerbait's recap, the margin was 44-28 on the boards. Either way, we got a lot of rebounds, and that makes a big difference in a close game.

We won, amazingly, without shooting well from 3-point range and while committing 14 turnovers compared to the Gamecocks' four, but made up for it with dominating inside presence. Our forwards outscored USC's forwards 35-20, including Anthony Randolph continuing to dominate with 20 points.

I maintain that this is a team that can put it all together and do some things. It's too much to ask for a run to win the SEC tournament, but I do believe that if they play up to their abilities they will be a very tough out in the tourney. If we keep winning, we will build that momentum for the 2008-2009 season, when we look like we could be a very good team.

The 2008-2009 season will see us finally add a big body to the team who can out-muscle people. J'Mison Morgan is a highly regarded center prospect at 6'10" and 275 pounds and figures to be one of those guys who will come in and play immediately and be able to keep us from being out-muscled in the lane, which has been our most consistent problem this year, and in previous years whenever Big Baby Davis wasn't on the court. We've had a remarkable run of tall, skinny forwards lately, and players like Patrick Patterson have simply tossed them around like they were small children.

And let's not forget the biggest addition to next year's team: Tasmin Mitchell, who will replace Alex Farrer in the starting lineup and give us a very formidable starting five. What's more, for the first time in quite some time we will have a pretty solid bench with Alex Farrer, J'Mison Morgan, Terry Martin, Quentin Thornton, Garrett Green, and the other incoming freshmen. We could actually go 10 deep with solid players. I don't know when the last time that happened was.

Yes, we are below .500 this year, and will likely stay that way, but the future looks bright for this team.

There's also been a lot of football news in the last couple of days, but I felt like talking basketball today. We'll get into all the other stuff in the coming days.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Team Discipline

In listening to talk radio here in central Alabama this week, I have heard a lot of talk about "discipline". Honestly, I do not understand the fan's approach and perspective on team discipline. Many of them seem to have thinly veiled contempt for football players and want them to live in a virtual prison.

I can't begin to tell you how many call-ins have talked about "kids these days" and how discipline in the home is suffering and kids don't have any fear of authority anymore. There may be some truth to it, but the implication here is that Rashad Johnson's parents are to blame. Jeremy Elder's parents are to blame.

Believe me, as an attorney who represents accused juvenile delinquents, I have my own attitudes and perspectives on certain parents. However, to come out with no knowledge of the situation and all but indict Rashad Johnson's parents and Jeremy Elder's parents for neglect is reprehensible. It's unfair. It speaks from ignorance. It's thoroughly embarrassing.

I think it comes down to a bizarre form of hero worship that dates back to primitive man. Some people, and I find this particularly true or especially prevalent among Bama fans for some reason, want their athletes to be not only good athletes, but also paragons of virtue. They want their athletes to be modeled after Thor, Superman, or Siegfried. They want them to be champions on the field, saving stranded kittens off the field, helping old ladies cross the street, and fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way.

If they fail to live up to that ideal, they must pay. There must be physical pain. There must be penance. They must pay until it hurts not only themselves, but the team and the fans. They want SUSPENSIONS! If these players don't know what a privilege it is to dress up in the crimson jerseys, and aren't willing to live a monkish lifestyle in the process, then they must be punished for their failure to be like Siegfried.

Granted, I don't want all of the best athletes on the team to be like Achilles skulking in his tent (READ A BOOK!), but I also expect the athletes to be human.

By all accounts, Rashad Johnson is a fine human being who worked his way up from walk-on to All-SEC while never getting into any trouble before he allegedly shoved a bar bouncer on the Strip. Heck, if the worst thing a college athlete ever does is shove a bouncer once in his life, I consider him a success story. If there are three or four of those kinds of incidents over the course of a career, that's another story, but once? For a 5th year senior? Big deal.

Some callers want the Strip to be declared off limits for the players. I think this is crazy talk too. The Strip, for those of you outside of the area, The Strip is the prime nightlife within Tuscaloosa. This is not like LSU, where there are a number of areas around Baton Rouge where students hang out. Here in Tuscaloosa, most of the bars and clubs are either on University Boulevard right off of campus or are downtown within a few blocks of University. All of it is within walking distance of each other.

If the Strip and Downtown are off limits, you're basically telling players they can't go out and have fun. Doing that would mean that players could only go to house parties (which are probably even more troublesome) or must drive to Birmingham (also problematic). I don't think you can tell college students, particularly athletes, that they can't go out on the town to blow off steam. It's inconceivable to me.

I think people need to relax when it comes to team discipline. Yes, the coach has to do something about major incidents like melees, academic problems, etc., but sometimes a coach is probably best served by realizing that some things are just no big deal. Let the courts punish Rashad Johnson for shoving a bouncer, if he did it. It'll cost him some money and some embarrassment and some time at the courthouse. That sounds like enough to me. If it isn't, let him run some stadium steps. Above all, stop with the calls and the "back in my day" speeches. I'm tired of hearing them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Maybe I Spoke Too Soon

When I posted yesterday's post titled "Another Good Day in LSU Athletics" I did not guess that the Montrell Conner story would have the legs or the bitterness it showed as the day progressed. Depending on who you believe, one of the following things happened:
  • Conner, his parents, and his coach met with Miles, who personally extended a scholarship offer that was accepted, only later to be told, "Not so fast, I shouldn't have offered it."
  • An assistant coach offered Conner the scholarship, which was accepted, but there was a miscommunication with Miles and the offer never should have been extended.
  • Conner was offered a scholarship, but only at linebacker and wanted to be a running back, accepted the scholarship and then was told he couldn't be a running back so it wasn't considered accepted.
  • Conner misunderstood some nice talk and friendly conversation as a scholarship offer.
Somehow or another, Montrell Conner thought he was a commitment to LSU only to find out that he wasn't going to be considered a commitment. The boards went ape-shit. A major booster reportedly went ape-shit as well.*

Word now is that the "misunderstanding" is resolved, though Conner is not a commitment at this time.

There was lots of blame thrown the coach's way over a problem that lasted all of a couple of hours at most. You would think the foundation of Tiger Stadium was crumbling under our feet. I have a slightly different perspective of blame, however.

I think at least part of the blame for this has to go to the pay recruiting sites, who are always trying to "scoop" one another. I think they often post information before it's really ripe to go out to the public, because they want to be the first to report it. I think they reported Conner's commitment strictly after hearing it from Conner without checking with their sources within the program first. This may be standard procedure, but with an atmosphere like Junior Day with all of its confusion, maybe it shouldn't be.

Anyway, this will all blow over in a little while, and it's really much ado about nothing.

*Incidentally, the exact same thing happened to Tahj Jones, but no one seemed to care that much about that one, because reportedly it has to do with Jones' academic situation.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another Good Day in LSU Athletics

After such a good Friday, we followed it up with an even better Saturday. The baseball team won 5-4 in its second game against Indiana. The basketball team won by 20 against Ole Miss. The football team picked up two more commitments on Junior Day.

I watched the basketball game on TV, and I was pretty darn impressed with this team. The consistency isn't there, but it's clear this team has some ability. Randolph and Johnson dominated the game defensively, disrupting shots and contributing heavily to Ole Miss shooting an abysmal 27% from the field. Ole Miss scored a season-low 49 points (previous season-low was 67 points).

The offense played well, particularly early in the game when Thornton was burning up the nets from outside staking us to a big lead. When he went cold, Ole Miss started coming back, but never got closer then 6 down. Midway through the 2nd half, we turned up the defense and fed the inside and built the lead up to 28 before putting in all the subs with 1:30 to go in the game.

Like I said before, I just want this team to build some momentum going into next season. This win is a nice step in that direction. The stretch run includes only one more game against a team that currently has more than 4 wins. If we can win games against South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia, we will climb out of the conference basement and salvage a little bit of pride from this season.

In football, the big commitment yesterday was that of Janzen Jackson, a defensive back from Carencro listed at 6'1" and 185# with 4.43 speed. If he's really that tall, and really that fast, and really has hips of a cornerback, this kid is a S-T-U-D. Let me just admit that I am no expert at evaluating talent, but sometimes a kid's videos stand out so much in some respect that you have to take notice. Janzen Jackson is listed as a cornerback, but his videos show him making hard tackles and providing run support like a strong safety. He'll be an absurdly physical cornerback if that really is his future. If he has the swivel hips and the height and the closing speed of a corner, he will be hard to keep off the field early in his career. He's also a coach's son, much like current redshirt freshman defensive back Phelon Jones, and Carencro players usually come to LSU with good coaching under their belts already. The listed measurements are often unreliable, but I sure hope this kid is as tall and fast as advertised.

If you have access, be sure to watch his videos. You will be impressed. He is generally regarded as the best defensive back in the state.

The second commitment of the day was offensive guard/defensive tackle Josh Downs of Bastrop. He's listed at 6'2" and 275# and comes from one of the most important football factories in Louisiana. His commitment caused some consternation among the message board posters who, for one reason or another, think he is unworthy. The reasons for this break down into two different categories. First, as a defensive tackle, the message board posters consider him to be less of a player than in-state tackles Chris Davenport and Darrington Sentimore and out-of-state tackle Jamarkus McFarland (great LSU name, by the way). Second, word came out that running back/linebacker Montrell Conner wanted to commit but his commitment was not yet accepted.

It's hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with all of this exactly why it matters that Montrell Conner's commitment wasn't accepted. Honestly, I don't think I understand why it matters myself. As for why it wasn't accepted, it is apparently because either a) he wants to be a running back while the coaches only want him at linebacker or b) because they don't yet know whether he's a running back or linebacker. Montrell Conner is a Rivals100 guy, but you should take it as a given that the coaches know more than Rivals does, and I have it on good authority that most major college coaches consider the ratings services to be laughably inaccurate in many cases.

As for Downs, he is a mystery to me, but I don't mean that in a bad way. He hasn't really been discussed much on the boards or the services in advance of his commitment, and there is very little film on him. I know he has the weight, and I know he comes from a good feeder school. Other than that, I don't know much.

One thing that is becoming clear is that the boards and the services know very little about what the coaches are thinking. After Signing Day, I made a post that included this statement:
Of course, no signing day retrospective is complete without . . . looking ahead to the next recruiting class. Unlike for the 2008 class, the in-state 2009 class is expected to be very studly. Already, wide receiver Reuben Randle, defensive tackle Chris Davenport, athlete DJ Banks, running backs Eddie Lacy and Michael York, and RB/LB Montrell Conner look to be 5-star or high-4-star national prospects that could go wherever they want to go in the country.
In addition to my embarrassing misnaming of Michael Ford, it is becoming apparent that 2 or 3 of the people I mentioned not only won't be 5-star or high-4-star national prospects, but they may not even have offers from LSU, period. DJ Banks' offers are coming from lesser programs. Eddie Lacy's grade problems and legal problems may be scaring the big boys off. Montrell Conner apparently can only go to LSU as a linebacker rather than a running back (if that). So take everything with a grain of salt.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lots of Topics to Mention Today

Poseur's very timely post yesterday afternoon portended good things for the baseball team, which pummeled Indiana in its season opener last night. In a remarkable turnaround from last season, the team got both offense and pitching in a 7-1 win. If last night is any indication, LSU looks to be a much better team than it was last season.

I'll be the first to admit I have no pretensions of insight into college baseball. I am pretty ignorant of the college baseball world, and I am mostly unfamiliar with LSU's lineup. It rarely comes on TV here, I can't catch it on the radio, and I'm just not dedicated enough to sit at my computer listening to it on the internet. That's Poseur's job.

LSU football recruiting, however. That's in my wheelhouse. Three recruits announced yesterday that they were committing to play football at LSU. These guys are from 3 different states and play 3 different positions of need. I didn't expect to have to make this post until tomorrow, and today's post was supposed to be a "Watch for a Bunch of Commitments" today post because today is the start of Junior Day. Three recruits got the jump on Junior Day, however.

Henry Orelus, a 6'5" 280# offensive lineman from the football factory of Central Glades, Florida, was actually the first commit. He is a former teammate of current LSU redshirt freshman O-lineman Ernest McCoy, who seems to have a bright future here. Orelus is believed to be the Center prospect of this class, which was a position of substantial need because LSU did not recruit a true center last year. Orelus has not been evaluated yet, but it is believed he will be a 4-star when the rankings finally come out. Various scouting reports say he is very coachable and is way ahead of his peers in terms of technique and skills for a big man. He's not going to be a headline-maker of this class, and honestly I had never heard of him until his commitment was announced, but he's a solid foundation for a class that needs a center. It's also significant that he's an out-of-state commitment, which we often had to fight very hard to get last year.

Michael Brockers, a 6'6 260# offensive tackle/defensive end prospect from Chavez High School in Houston was the second big commitment of the day for the Tigers. He's a member of the Rivals100 for 2009, meaning he will likely start out as a high 4-star player. There is some doubt as to whether he is a future defensive end or a future offensive tackle. His videos at end are really impressive. He is quick off the snap, hits hard, and wraps up. What's more, he's living the dream by coming to LSU. According to the article at Rivals announcing his commitment, his head coach Mike Jackson had this to say. "Every kid is different, but this kid has said from day one that he wanted to go to LSU," Jackson said. "I have known him since the eighth grade and it has always been LSU." Defensive line is a pretty substantial need in this class, but he could end up being an offensive tackle instead of a defensive lineman, particularly if LSU signs other highly regarded defensive ends like Alex Okafor, but that might be a long shot

Michael Ford was long rumored to be a heavy lean to LSU. He comes from Leesville, and is probably the best running back prospect in the state for 2009, and probably the best running back prospect in the state since Joe McKnight in 2007. Eddie Lacy of Dutchtown also has a claim to that title, but Lacy is rumored to have grade issues and off-the-field problems. Ford is alleged to already have the ACT score and simply needs to stay on track to graduate in order to qualify. He won't give us any headaches about making it to campus. His listed 40-time is 4.57 seconds, which is kind of disappointing, but it is said that it was run on a wet field and was the fastest time of the day at that camp. He is supposed to actually be very fast, possibly in the high 4.4's, which is excellent for a running back. He's a track standout as Leesville. Ford also has the personality of a leader, and figures to be a cornerstone of LSU's offense when the current RB corps of Keiland, Charles Scott, and Richard Murphy start clearing out. If there's a downside to Ford, it's that he has had some injuries. It's not anything that is likely to linger like a knee or shoulder. He just broke a collarbone and had another minor injury or two. He hasn't been on the field as much as you'd like to see. That said, if you watch his videos, keep in mind those are from his SOPHOMORE year. Let's hope he has a good and healthy senior season.

Stay tuned, because there are probably going to be a few more commitments today. I look to hear about commitments from defensive back Janzen Jackson, Texas running back Hasan Lipscomb (part of the Katrina diaspora), and possibly one or more offensive linemen. Maybe even more. I think this is going to be a class is that mostly set by the time Fall Practice starts in August.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Basebal Preview: Last Year of the Box

Last year, I wrote a particular savage post about the baseball team which may have indicated that I thought last year’s offense was historically pitiful. However, I did close with the hopeful note that it was just Mainieri’s first year and I believe a coach gets a free pass in his first year. That still holds true, but now it’s time for Mainieri to produce.

The team is a preseason pick to finish 5th in the SEC West, but Manieiri openly talked about contending for Omaha. While I admire his gusto, the success of this team should be measured fairly modestly: making the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament (strangely enough, making the NCAA’s may be the easier task). LSU opens the season ranked #25, so it’s not like the optimism is wholly unjustified. How can this team so quickly reverse is fortunes?

Well, for starters, by absolutely gutting the team. Tonight’s starting lineup will include four players who weren’t on the team last year and four sophomores. Mainieri has also announced that Chad Jones and Micah Gibbs, two more newcomers, will start a game in the Indiana series. The weekend rotation will have one newcomer, though tonight’s starter is Jared Bradford, who is on the Golden Spikes Award watch list, and Bradford was about the only bright spot last year. However, don’t think the pitching staff hasn’t been revamped. Verdugo’s been named the midweek starter, and Daniel Bradshaw was the Louisiana High School Pitcher of the Year and is the team’s new closer. Anthony Ranaudo, drafted in the 11th round, turned down the Rangers to pitch at LSU but is right now out with an injury. Someone is just keeping a rotation spot warm for him.

Also, of the returning players, almost all of them lack experience. Mike Hollander is the only 3-year letterman on the entire roster, and he starts off the season moved to a new position (3rd base) and batting last in the order. Normally I have a problem with giving a guy a slot just because of his age, but since this team is so bereft of true senior leadership, I’m okay with one spot for a guy for leadership instead of production. But the leash is short. After Hollander, there are only six other players on the roster with two years in the program (Haydel, Byrd, Coleman, Pontiff, McGhee, and Cain). Of those, only P Ryan Byrd is a starter, though Nicholas Ponitff should be in the outfield rotation while Coleman and Cain were pretty good in the pen last year (Cain was our most effective reliever and Coleman had a great K-BB ratio despite a high ERA). Everyone else on the team has one year or less in the program. Mainieri brought in 19 players in this recruiting class, named #1 in the country, including 12 freshmen.

How are they going to do? Well, we’ll find out pretty quickly. Of the 12 freshmen, 11 of them were named High School All-American. It really is a dream class, and one that LSU needs to produce right away. For this season, Mainieri needs the JUCO studs to step up right away. 1B Matt Clark, DH Matt Gaudet, and SP Jordan Brown are already starters. SP Ryan Verdugo is the midweek starter while INF Rene Escobar and SS Derek Helenihi were both JUCO All-Americans. Ryan Schimp and Mike Hollander better produce or else their seasoned veteran status won’t count for squat.

As bad as last year’s offense was, there is hope the returning starters can turn it around since, aside from Hollander, they were all freshmen. Schimpf and Jared Mitchell were freshmen thrown to wolves last year and looked like it. C Sean Ochinko was the second best freshman on the team last year, and he got better in the offseason, making the Cape Cod leagues All-Star Game. Of course, the best freshman was OF Blake Dean, who now takes up the mantle as LSU’s unquestioned best position player and leader. A huge mantle as a sophomore, but on this team, the sophomores are the veterans.

I’d expect a lot of the new players to have the same growing pains as last year’s freshmen, while the sophomores should now dramatically improved. While Omaha might be a pipe dream, there is the talent to make it if everything breaks right. The real goal for this team should be making the Super Regionals. That would be a great season, and would be a stepping stone to great things next season. But this team absolutely has no excuse to miss the tournament again. It’s a young team, so expect some inconsistent play, but this should be the most exciting LSU team since the Bertman era.

Bring on Indiana.

Jeremy Elder

Of course, LSU is not the only school with certain problems arising this week. Freshman defensive lineman Jeremy Elder, who redshirted last season, was arrested for two counts of Robbery in the 1st Degree this weekend.

I have my own perspective on this, and it's colored by two things. First, I come at it from a college football angle. Second, I can't ignore the fact that I am a criminal defense attorney by practice.

I spent a few minutes trying to think of what the worst thing a college football player can do would be. My conclusion was that it was a futile exercise because there are any number of things a college football player could do that would be instantly fatal to his career at a major program like Bama. A nonexhaustive list would include gambling on games, any serious violent crime, any crime likely to include substantial jail time, and distribution or manufacturing of controlled substances. And these are just the things off the top of my head.

In that sense, Nick Saban has a very easy decision. If one of your players is going around campus pointing a gun at people and asking for money, that player has to go. There's really no wiggle room. The fact that Jeremy Elder was only a reserve player makes this a non-particularly-painful decision, either. Suspending him indefinitely is the right thing to do, and if the allegations prove true, I'm sure he will be let go.

That's the college football observer in me talking. There's also the criminal defense attorney that has his own perspective.

If there's one thing you come to understand as a criminal defense attorney, it is this: The fact that a person has done a horrible thing does not necessarily make him a horrible person.

Robbery in the 1st Degree is a very serious crime. In popular parlance, it is "armed robbery". It's an A-felony, not far removed from murder as far as range of punishments go. In general, if you have a charge like this, if the person is not exonerated, you can probably expect the ultimate sentence to include multiple years in prison.

Elder may not be facing that. First, I imagine that because he is so young, this is likely his first adult offense, and may be his first offense period. His attorney will probably seek to get him "youthful offender" status, and the court will order an investigation.* Youthful offender status does several things to a criminal case. First, it seals the record, much like in juvenile court. Second, it reduces the available sentences. Someone granted youthful offender status can only be given a maximum of 3 years in prison, and most get no prison time and instead get probation.

In my experience, if he does not have a substantial history of criminal behavior, he will likely be granted that status, and it may keep him out of prison. This is particularly likely if the gun involved really was a pellet gun. The court would be a little more likely to cut him a break if he did not shove an actual, death-inducing firearm in someone's face.

I don't think any of that changes the football aspect of this case. If he did it, he has probably stepped on the Alabama practice field for the last time. He'd be allowed to otherwise go on with his life, however.

*I may be wrong about this in the sense that I have never tried to get someone youthful offender status for an A felony. It's just never come up in my practice. Without looking up the rules, I'm not sure you can even get it if you are accused of an A-felony. However, if it really was a pellet gun, it may not be an A-felony anymore.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Still On the Topic of the Week

I figure that there's nothing to say about what happened to the basketball team last night, except to say that it's clear this team has a LONG way to go to be competitive every night. We just did not have the guard play to keep up with Arkansas.

Leaving that sad topic behind, we return to the issue of LSU's quarterback situation.

I've read a lot of very strong opinions on this situation lately, mostly in the vein of "kick him off". People are saying he's a bad kid, a distraction to the team, a potential cancer, etc. This is all well and good, and everyone is entitled to their opinions, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

First, very few people on the message boards and probably no one in the media actually knows Ryan Perrilloux. We know what gets into the media, which are the screw-ups he makes. While his screw-ups are definitely a part of his personality, they do not make up the whole of his character. I'm sure with Ryan Perrilloux, as with most other people, there are layers there that are unknown to the general public.

Second, and for the same reason, most of the people commenting know nothing about the attitude and perspective of the team. We don't know how Perrilloux's transgressions are affecting the team. We can make some educated guesses, but they are just that. Only guesses.

The coaches know Ryan Perrilloux, and the coaches also have their fingers on the pulse of the team. Or at least they should. And they will be the ones to make the ultimate decision as to what is best for the team. I am sure they will be second-guessed by many people. Their decision, however, will be much more informed than any piece of advice they get off the internet.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that what I am saying could be used of an indictment of all commentary and criticism from the media or the blogs or the message boards. That's fine. This is all in good fun, but I try to recognize that my own criticism of the coaches comes from a place characterized at least as much by its ignorance as by its insight. That is true of all of us, and when it comes to questioning a kid's character or calling for great damage to be done to his future, we should all be a little more cognizant of that.

Update: This is perhaps my favorite message board post ever:
JLee has all the same traits and strengths of Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn. He has a better arm than both of them and is mobile, but not as fast as Flynn. Experience is overrated if you are not smart and do not have talent. He is two inches shorter at about 6-1, but in a spread-type offense (under Crowton) that is easily overcome -- this is not the NFL.

Lee is already purported to be on the sharpest guys they've ever had at QB. He reminds a lot of observers of the two Matts and Tommy Hodson and Alan Risher. Hodson and Risher had no experience and both did well with less talent around them. Hodson and Risher could and probably would have led our 2003 and 2007 teams to the title.

Indeed, even should RP return, I'm not so sure that Lee would not win the starting nod on his own merits. Talent, smarts, mobility, accuracy, consistency and leadership can overcome inexperience really quick. If Hodson and Risher are not enough examples, look elsewhere around the SEC -- there are many.

LSU will be fine -- maybe not BCS title ready this fall -- but asskicking ready, they will be.
Here is a picture of Jarrett Lee:

Here are pictures of the quarterbacks this poster compared Jarrett Lee to:

Here are some pictures of recent LSU starting quarterbacks the poster did not see fit to compare Jarrett Lee to:

I suppose we can all be thankful he did not bring out Jeff Wickersham comparisons.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Listen to the Radio Sometimes

I got in my car to drive home last night right as Paul Finebaum was starting to talk to Bruce Feldman, author of Meat Market, about the slew of arrests and suspensions in the SEC lately. To recap for those not paying attention, Bama's freshman defensive lineman Jeremy Elder was arrested for armed robbery, Tennessee punter Britton Colquitt was suspended and forfeited his scholarship for an alcohol-related traffic incident, and LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was suspended for violation of team rules.

Feldman went a long way to convincing me that it would be best if Miles were to cut ties with Perrilloux. I will attempt to paraphrase the substance of Feldman's interview:
While Perrilloux's situation is the least serious legally, it is probably the most significant in terms of impact on football. Miles is in a tight spot because he does not have another experienced quarterback on the roster, and while the LSU coaches like Jarrett Lee he is only a redshirt freshman and was not expected to have a big role in the offense yet. But Miles has to be careful because this is the sort of situation that could lead to rot from within. Last year's success was built in part on high character players like Hester, Dorsey, and Steltz, but now those people are gone. If low character guys like Perrilloux are allowed to get their way, it could lead to discord and conflict on the team, as other players will want to get treated like Ryan Perrilloux. Meaning, Perrilloux is allowed chance after chance to come back despite not following rules, when other players might be dismissed from the team for the same things.

The man makes a point.

Bruce Feldman has proven in the past to be an intelligent and insightful observer of college football. His book Meat Market is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of a BCS-level college football program. His interviews on the radio are among the best and most interesting segments Paul Finebaum ever has. In short, he's one of those guys who, even if I disagree with him on some point, I'm going to listen to his perspective with an open mind.

In counterpoint, let's all realize two things:
  1. Ryan's legal troubles are small-potatoes compared to some other people's; and
  2. Miles has disciplined Ryan quite harshly in the past, to the point where I don't think you can say he lets Ryan "get away" with stuff.
He was suspended for about 6 months and made to do his workouts and drills outside of official team settings. He was not allowed to travel with the team to Bama last year. He's been embarrassed on multiple occasions both in private within the team and in public. No matter what happens from this point forward, the suspensions have probably cost Perrilloux any realistic chance of being a high draft pick, unless the unlikely happens and he suddenly turns it around and becomes a role model for the next two years.

It is my impression that Miles intends to allow Ryan Perrilloux back on the team if he can abide by certain rules between now and the time he is to be allowed back on. Those conditions and Miles' time table for reinstatement probably will never be discussed publicly. In the meantime, I expect Perrilloux to miss part or all of Spring Practice and possibly much more.

A time table like that would cut to the bone, both for LSU and for Perrilloux. If Ryan showed one on-field weakness last year, it was in game management, by which I mean he often struggled to get the team out of the huddle and properly lined up in time to get the play started. It's a correctable problem, but in order to correct it he will need repetitions under center. He won't be getting those repetitions if he's suspended.

Another long suspension I think takes away the problem of "rot from within" that Bruce Feldman discussed. A long suspension means that Perrilloux isn't getting away with anything. He's being excluded from the team and set back in his development.

And if, ultimately, we move on without Ryan Perrilloux, we are fairly well set up to do it. We have a very good offensive line in place to protect a young quarterback. We have several very good running backs to take the pressure off of a suspect passing game. We will probably have a strong defense that will allow our offense to play somewhat more conservatively than it otherwise would. We can move on without him if we need to, and I think if Perrilloux sees that, he may decide to fall in line.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Perrilloux Suspended . . . Again

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is bad.

Ryan Perrilloux has been suspended from the team indefinitely for unspecified violation of team rules. No one seems to know any inside story about the length of the suspension, but it is rumored that the team rules he violated concerned going to class and attending team meetings.

Some observations:
  • Someone once told me that LSU would be really good next year if Perrilloux can stay out of jail. I responded that Perrilloux, as far as we know, has never been in jail. He's been investigated for connection to a counterfeiting operation, but never charged. He's been cited for using someone else's ID to get into a casino. He's been in the news for a conflict outside of an off-campus club. He's been suspended for missing classes and team meetings. He has never been arrested. He's never assaulted or attacked anyone that we know of. While the kid has some apparent stupidity problems, let's not overstate his lawlessness.
  • My God this is colossally dumb. Let's look at this logically. While Perrilloux is a big part of LSU's future, he needs us at least as much as we need him at this point. Granted, we need him quite a bit. With Perrilloux, we're on the short list of national championship contenders. Without him, we probably aren't, but we're still contenders in the SEC. With us, Perrilloux has the prospects of an NFL future. Without us, Perrilloux has a big uphill battle to make a living playing football. To use an analogy to hunting, LSU is the wolf and Perrilloux is the rabbit. The rabbit is running for his life and the wolf is running for his dinner. Failure at LSU will mean the virtual end of Perrilloux's prospects of wealth and stardom, but it will mean only a temporary dip in LSU's prospects.
  • Let's be clear, Miles did not kick Perrilloux off the team. He is suspended, not dismissed. Miles has shown a willingness to "sacrifice until it hurts" when it comes to Perrilloux, having already given him one very long suspension, but he's also shown a willingness to welcome him back and in good graces after it has hurt.
  • One has to wonder what (if anything) is going through Perrilloux's head. He has to know as well as anyone that he's paid his dues on the field and the way is open for him to play and to excel. He's the heir apparent to the QB position on a team with a ton of offensive weapons at the ready. He has to know that, production-wise, few quarterbacks are ever set up as nicely as Perrilloux is now. I don't know how a kid sees that and decides to risk it all.
I do not think this is the end for Perrilloux. I've heard too many stories recently of Perrilloux still being on campus, still being active and around. If he was gone for good, he'd be.. uh.. gone. If Miles wanted him gone, he wouldn't be suspended. He'd be dismissed.

Keep in mind also, Ryan Perrilloux recently lost his father. I mean VERY recently. It doesn't excuse violation of team rules of this nature, particularly if they occurred before the death of Mr. Perrilloux, but I sincerely doubt that Les Miles is going to pile onto the kid quite that bad.

Ryan is a special talent. I sincerely believe we've never had a quarterback with as much natural ability for the position as Perrilloux has. And yes, I include Jamarcus Russell, who is admittedly very close in talent to Perrilloux, but Perrilloux's running ability makes him superior (physically). This is a guy who is probably our best shot at getting a Heisman Trophy in my lifetime to this point.

It is my hope that Miles will suspend him just long enough to keep him on the straight and narrow through the season. After the 2009 season, he can go pro and save us the drama for all I care, but I don't want to enter the season with a transfer from Harvard and a redshirt freshman as our quarterbacks.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Disappointing Loss in Basketball

I half-expected to beat Kentucky. They are not that great of a team, though they have generally played well lately, excepting that horrible loss to Vandy earlier in the week.

It started well. We took a small lead to halftime after leading for most of the first half. The whole team seemed to play in sync and the team made few mistakes. We could have been ahead by more, except we seemed to miss a few easy shots. It happens, but we still took a lead to halftime.

We struggled early in the second half, letting Kentucky build up a lead before fighting back and briefly taking the lead on our own. It came down the stretch of the game with us down by 3 points with the ball and the shotclock off, but Marcus Thornton forced up a bad shot that pretty much ended our chances.

We didn't play a flawless game, but we played pretty well. Kentucky just played a little bit better. As expected, we didn't really have an answer for Patrick Patterson, who can probably bench press more than Chris Johnson and Anthony Randolph combined. It was, all in all, a well played game by both teams, and my predominant feeling towards the end was that it looked like both teams were having a lot of fun and were pretty much evenly matched.

This is a team with some talent, and that will add more talent next year, especially with the re-addition of Tasmin Mitchell. I don't expect a miracle finish from this team, but I would really like for them to build some momentum going into the offseason. We need these guys to develop some positivity to take to next season, which could be a year where we make some real noise, particularly if we get the right coach in place.

This is a team that sometimes looks very close to being a very good team. But then we get on a run where we don't play defense and don't move the ball effectively on offense, or where Marcus Thornton forces up bad shots unnecessarily, or Johnson and Randolph get out-muscled down low and things go bad from there. I don't really have an answer to these problems, which is why I'm not coaching basketball.

In other news, rumors swirl about Ryan Perrilloux's future with the team. It all seems like bull to me, but Les Miles (fresh off of his Mexican vacation) is having a press conference to discuss it. It seems to me that if Perrilloux was no longer with the team, Miles would have cut his vacation short, but maybe that's just thinking too hard. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Big Win for Butch Pierre

Congratulations to the Tiger basketball team and to Butch Pierre for the biggest win of the season last night. Granted, Florida is not a national power this year, but they're still a good team, likely headed to the NCAA tournament, and we beat them in their own house by a convincing 85-73 score. Only 6 players scored points, but 5 were in double figures, with 3 getting 19 points or more.

This is a team that isn't going anywhere unless it wins the NCAA tournament, but a lot of people think we're set up to make a run next year with a good recruiting class and the return of Tasmin Mitchell from injury. We'll see. If it's true, whoever comes in to coach this group is inheriting a pretty solid roster.

And yes, we should give Brady credit for that. I called for Brady's firing, but I don't think he's a terrible coach. He had some measure of success, and he leaves the program much stronger than he found it. He just did not have the consistent success we're looking for a college basketball program. For every year he made the NCAA tournament, there was a year he didn't make any post-season tournament. For every great player, there was a recruiting mistake (Voogd) or a disgruntled player leaving the team early. Alright, there was more than one disgruntled player leaving the team early for every great player, but it's just an expression.

I wish Brady luck in life. I hope he finds another job. He was pretty good in Samford, and maybe he can go back to that level. I don't think he's going to get a major college program again, though.

In the meantime, Butch Pierre has gotten the team to play inspired basketball, losing to Tennessee by only two and beating Florida on the road. I don't know if he will get a chance to coach LSU next year, but he still has a future as a major college assistant coach if he wants one. Next we see if he can do it again against Kentucky.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kentucky gets Commodored

For those of you who are relatively new to this blog, let me inform you that my wife is a fan of Kentucky basketball. She's also a fan of Bama football. No, I've never understood the Kentucky thing. She's from Alabama, so she gets a pass on the Bama football thing.

We Tivo every Kentucky basketball game, mainly so that she knows when it comes on and can watch it. Kentucky started the season pretty roughly, but they have been surging lately, winning 5 straight games, some of them against very good teams. Last night was a hotly anticipated contest with Vandy, a good dynamic team.

It was ugly. I turned it off and went to bed with just under 10:00 left in the game, after Vandy took out all of its starters. Vandy was winning by about 40 at the time. The game ended 93-52. I'm here to tell you it could have been worse. Kentucky had 11 points at halftime, and was losing by 30. The opening minutes of the second half were no better, as Vandy quickly built its lead to 40, and just cruised that point on.

I think Vandy could possibly be criticized for not calling off the dogs early, but until they built up the lead to 40, I could do nothing but think of how that Kentucky team came back from 31 down against LSU about ten years ago. I know this year's team isn't nearly as dynamic on offense as that Kentucky team (which hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer), but I can't blame Vandy for having that on their minds. They finally fully called off the dogs 3/4 of the way into the game.

The good news is that despite the large margin, it only counts as one loss. The bad news is that Kentucky is a bubble team, and the selection committee will be mindful of two embarrassing losses when making their selections: the early season loss to Gardner-Webb and the late-season blowout to Vanderbilt.

Granted, Vandy is a very good team, and they were playing at home. This is definitely not the football Vandy, who is a traditional doormat. The basketball Vandy has a pretty good history of playing quality basketball and has some very good players. There's no shame in losing to Vandy. And while you don't ever want to get beat quite like that, it's not like you can't recover from it and move on.

The NCAA tournament may well be out of reach, unless Kentucky can win the SEC tournament, but the way they were playing before last night, they could very well be a threat to win the tournament. Luckily for us, we get them next. It should be a fun day in the GeauxTuscaloosa household.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What to do with a short class?

Because of the 85/25 rule, every few years most college football programs are forced to limit themselves to a small recruiting class. LSU's 2009 recruiting class appears that it will be a small class. It has been reported that LSU has only 12 scholarship seniors on the 2008 roster, and we will likely be at 85 scholarships, or very close to it, at the start of the season. That means, without additional attrition, LSU can only add 12 new scholarship players in the 2009 recruiting class.

It is a given, however, that there will be additional attrition. There always is. Some players see the handwriting on the wall and realize they are way down the depth chart and will never play at this school. Some players get homesick. Some players get into academic or legal trouble and are kicked off the team. Between these mechanisms, you can expect to lose about 3 or 4 players in any given year.

This sort of attrition is usually a good thing. If a guy isn't happy, or if he's causing trouble, or if he's fallen behind younger players and won't be a contributor, it's best for all concerned for team and player to part ways. This can be done amicably at least some of the time, and it clears the deck for the team to bring in recruits with more of an opportunity to be contributors.

Also, underclassmen leave early for the NFL sometimes. We anticipate that Ricky Jean-Francois and Ciron Black, despite having two years of eligibility, may play only one additional season. This is a regrettable form of attrition, but it is expected to happen sometimes in any quality program.

Then, in any given "short" class, you can greyshirt a player or two to "spread the risk" between multiple classes. You have to get players to agree to that, however, which is a little problematic, but it can often be done.

But I'm here to talk about a more controversial form of attrition. I will call it "forced" attrition. This is where the coach decides to help clear the decks by simply refusing to renew the scholarship of underperforming players. It is being reported, often in hushed whispers, that the Bama program's 2008 recruiting class was supposed to be a short class because there were only approximately 15 scholarship seniors on the team in 2007. They signed 32 players.

Obviously, something's going to have to give with those 32. Not all can enroll at once, even if the school is not brushing up against the 85 scholarship limit. However, assuming they can get the class down to size by either playing with enrollment dates, giving up on academic casualties, or asking players to greyshirt, they still have a problem getting under the 85 limit.

Rumors are abounding that the Bama coaching staff is going to cancel the scholarships of 10-or-so current players who they believe are underperforming, and not invite those players back to the program. If true, this would be the only example in my knowledge of there being large-scale cuts from a college football scholarship program for simple failure to perform. I've heard of it happening to punters or kickers, but never of position players, at least not on this scale. I'm not sure it's a good idea, and it could very well sour relations between the Bama coaching staff and high school coaches of players affected. It's effective at clearing the decks for other scholarship players, but I think there may be some long term consequences.

This is a different breed from what I would advocate Les Miles doing to help along the 2009 recruiting class. I think everyone paying close attention can identify some underperforming players on the LSU football team, players that have had a couple of years in the system but aren't (to a fan's perspective) looking like they're going to be players on this level. I think you can gently encourage these players to continue their college careers at another program, one where they can contribute, or even be key players. My script would go something like this:

Coach: Thank you for coming to this review. What do you see as your role for this coming year, son?

Player: I want to compete for a starting spot, coach.

Coach: Well, I like your ambition, son. But do you think you're ready for that?

Player: I better be ready for that. I'm a junior or sophomore or redshirt sophomore now. The team needs to be looking to me for leadership and production.

Coach: I agree with you on that. A player who's been here as long as you have is pretty much going to be settled into the role he's going to play during his career.

Player: That's right coach, and my role is to be a starter and a key player.

Coach: But I have to tell you, some player younger than you have passed you up on the depth chart, and while you can certainly work hard and try to make up some ground on them, right now we're not planning on you being in the two-deep this year.

Player: Not in the two-deep? So I have my work cut out for me if I want to play at all?

Coach: I'm afraid so. Look, you're a hard worker and we love having you in practice and we like the depth you bring, but you seem to have topped-out athletically and I don't think it's in your future to be a key on-field performer for us.

Player: What can I do to get on the field, coach?

Coach: Look, I understand no one wants to spend their college careers mainly being a practice player, especially not someone who came into the program expecting and hoping to be a star. Not everyone can meet their expectations though.

Player: What about special teams?

Coach: Younger players are ahead of you there too. Look, if you want to get on the field and be a key contributor, you can always transfer to a D-II school and play immediately. You'll probably be one of the better players on the team the day you report if you do that. If you really want to play, I'm happy to help you find a program that is right for you. We'd regret losing you, and you're welcome to stay here on scholarship if you want, but you aren't really in our on-field plans in the future.
I see nothing wrong with this approach. It's certainly more friendly and more fair to the athlete than simply kicking him off the team. Most players, I think, will be gently nudged by this conversation into the direction of doing what's best for themselves. Sure, some will say, "I guess I'm happy to just be a practice player and get my degree," and that's fine. You're better off keeping those guys around rather than getting a reputation for burning players.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Where Can the Basketball Program Go?

I talked briefly to my brother on the phone yesterday about the state of the basketball program following the firing of John Brady. Not surprisingly, coaches around the SEC don't like the mid-season firing because, well, it means their own jobs are less secure. Granted, Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl right now are about the most secure coaches in the country, but that just means they can probably survive two bad seasons in a row and still be given a shot to turn it around in a 3rd year.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my brother. He was pretty pessimistic about the future of the program because it does not get the fan support it used to get, and he cannot imagine the program taking a significant step forward without more fan support.

I think the fans will come out to support a good team. This is common throughout sports. Fans don't come out in droves to support teams mired in mediocrity. Nor should they. One of the reasons the Chicago Cubs have been bad for so long is because the fans keep showing up. If fans keep paying top dollar for tickets even though the team is bad, what incentive is there for management to spend more money to make the team good?

But I digress. The late 1970s to the early 1990s proved that the LSU community will support a winning basketball program. In that time, LSU was a consistent conference challenger and a consistent tournament team. We weren't exactly a national power, and I don't think we ever can be that, though I think we can occasionally be a national power for a year.

I think the basketball program can return to that level. We were at that level for about 15 years, and we've been below that level for another 15. I think with the right coach, and with improved facilities, we can do a better job of locking up Louisiana high school talent, and do a better job of making it into a cohesive team.

I look forward to the day the LSU basketball program is consistently in the top half of the conference and consistently in the tournament. I think the search committee should look for someone who can infuse the program with excitement a la a Bruce Pearl. I don't know who that is, but I think Pearl's success at Tennessee (a program certainly no more equipped than LSU is to have sustained success) has provided the blue print of how to resurrect a basketball program at a football school.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Class Rankings

Setting aside the national rankings for a second, to me the clear most important thing in looking at a recruiting class is how it stands up to the other recruiting classes in the conference. Of course, I am also the guy who cares a lot more about conference championships than about national championships. We don't play the University of Washington, so it's not really important how we stack up to the University of Washington's recruiting, is it?

I read in the Tuscaloosa newspaper that their beat writer gave us a B+ grade for our class. I think that's about right. Bama had an A+, and Florida and Georgia both got A's, putting our class at #4. Auburn was #5 with a B-. I'm really fine with all of that. I think Bama got a lot of really outstanding players at the top of their class. I'm particularly jealous that they got Jerrell Harris at the last minute, because that kid is going to be a stud and is exactly the kind of guy we need and don't have enough of. I suspect the mid- to bottom-level of Bama's class is a little overhyped and overrated, but we shall see. It is certainly true that they got a lot of players that could have gone anywhere in the country.

A B+ grade is, I think, pretty accurate for us. We got a lot of quality kids, and some real game-changing athletes in Patrick Johnson, Chancey Aghayere, Ryan Baker, and DeAngelo Benton, but probably not as many of them as we would generally hope for. Losing out on some kids at the last minute probably made the difference between a B+-quality class and an A-quality class to put us alongside the outstanding recruiting classes that Florida and Georgia had.

The good news is that the perceived middling nature of this class (compared to our last couple years) is primarily a result of the perceived weakness of the Louisiana high school senior class. Our recruiting success basically follows the fortunes of Louisiana high schools, which were reportedly down last year following a great 2007, and heralding a great 2009 as well. To get a B+ type class with a C-type Louisiana senior class is a pretty good achievement, and next year we will have an A-type Louisiana senior class. If we keep winning out on whoever we want in-state and keep up our current level of out-of-state success, we will have a terrific class next year, despite its relative small size.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yesterday Was the Day

We signed 26 players yesterday. Under the 85/25 rule, that will mean one of those guys won't be enrolling in the Fall, unless they can play a game with Kellen Theriot's enrollment date to add him to last year's class. This is no big deal as almost every class has some initial attrition due to academics.

It is widely believed that some of our commitments have a little ground to make up in order to qualify. If they all should qualify, someone will have to be pushed back to the 2009 class (the oft-mentioned "greyshirt".)

It is true, in my opinion, that this class is not as strong on paper as some previous classes were, particularly last year's class. It is very solid, however, and is far from "the beginning of the end" as some would have you believe.

The keys to this class are, I think, first to have all the key players get academically qualified. The key players are, at this point, Chris Tolliver (WR), DeAngelo Benton (WR), Jordan Jefferson (QB), Chancey Aghayere (DE), Patrick Johnson (QB), Ryan Baker (LB), Chase Clement (DE), Brandon Taylor (DB), and Greg Shaw (OL). I think all these guys are going to be serious players if they qualify. Some will contribute right away (Tolliver, Benton, Aghayere, and Baker are good candidates for that).Some of these guys aren't in danger of failing to qualify, but some of them are. It does no good to sign a great player if he doesn't make it to campus.

Second, I think some of the non-key players are going to have to emerge as quality players. Our national championship teams had a lot of substantial contributors who were not 4- and 5-star players. Think of Jonathan Zenon, Ciron Blake, Jacob Hester, Tyson Jackson, Chevis Jackson, Curtis Taylor, and Lyle Hitt. All of these guys were starters. Some of them were All-SEC. All of them were 3-star players. This class can become, in retrospect, a special class if some of the 3-star type guys emerge the way those guys emerged. Guys like Thomas Parsons, Kellen Theriot, Cordian Hagans, Ryan St. Julien, and Rocky Duplessis all have the opportunity to come in and show they were underrated from the beginning, much like Ciron Black and Tyson Jackson did.

It is usually the emergence of less-heralded players as solid contributors that makes the difference between a decent team and a great team.

Of course, no signing day retrospective is complete without . . . looking ahead to the next recruiting class. Unlike for the 2008 class, the in-state 2009 class is expected to be very studly. Already, wide receiver Reuben Randle, defensive tackle Chris Davenport, athlete DJ Banks, running backs Eddie Lacy and Michael York, and RB/LB Montrell Conner look to be 5-star or high-4-star national prospects that could go wherever they want to go in the country. Texas also looks like it could be fertile ground for us as well.

The only problem is that it will probably be a short class. With our big classes we've gotten lately, we're going to be bumping into the "85" part of the 85/25 rule next year. We can likely expect a signing class of around 20 instead of the 25-28 we typically see.

We will have substantial needs at running back, quarterback, defensive line, and linebacker. Fortunately, there appears to be some quality at those positions. The coaches have already started working these kids, as recruiting is now a year-round business.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Today is the Day

To many college football fans, National Signing Day is like a wedding or a baptism. It's a celebration of all things football. There are no losers as everyone is usually quite satisfied with their recruiting classes.

For many LSU fans, this National Signing Day seems to feel like a funeral. Yes, we lost out on some high profile recruits down the stretch. According to various reports, we may lose out on more of the high profile guys discussed yesterday.

I think there's no getting around that LSU is finishing recruiting a little weaker than we hoped, primarily because we lost DeAndre Brown. It's unfortunate that this one loss has colored the signing class, because it is widely believed that Brown could not have qualified, and that he was likely heading to JUCO or to prep school anyway. And if he ends up at one of those places, we can try to recruit him again.

That loss has weighed on the psyche of LSU recruiting watchers, and the loss has been exacerbated by the other losses, such as Arthur Brown, Terrelle Pryor, Antoine McClain, and others.

But we are being too pessimistic. This recruiting season has had many accomplishments. First and foremost, the coaching staff will be signing every Louisiana prospect it wants, and ultimately it appears few if any seriously considered going anywhere else. This is a very positive sign for the program, and bodes well for coming years that will likely have a much more highly regarded class of Louisiana kids. Like next year, for example.

The second positive accomplishment of this recruiting season is the continued positive recruiting of the offensive line. OK, we won't be signing a lot of high profile offensive linemen, but we have linemen with a lot of potential, such as Thomas Parsons. And for the most part, we locked up the offensive line recruits early.

We also adjusted our recruiting for the emerging reality of spread offenses, which means not only that we must have more wide receivers, but also more defensive backs. The defensive back recruiting in this class is the best at LSU since.. well, since last year, which was also spectacular. Patrick Johnson is the most highly-regarded cornerback signing probably in the history of the LSU football program. Brandon Taylor, Karnell Hatcher, and Derrick Bryant all have substantial potential to be key players in a year or two. Rockey Duplessis and Ryan St. Julien round out the defensive back class, and each one of these guys has a small community of commentators who assure us they are good athletes who will contribute more than is generally believed.

The wide receiver class misses DeAndre Brown, but is not lacking in star power. DeAngelo Benton will be part of this class, and he looks like an immediate contributor. Chris Tolliver could have gone to any program in the country. Tim Molten is reportedly believed by the coaches to be the most underrated wide receiver recruit in the country, and it is undeniable that they offered him immediately when they got a chance to see him in person at camp. DeAngelo Peterson is kind of a forgotten man, but he is a 4-star who was wanted by several other regional programs, but may end up at another position. Jhyryn Taylor (brother of Brandon and Curtis) is another solid athlete from a solid LSU family.

If this class has deficiencies, I think you can look at the defensive tackle position and the linebacker position. Don't get me wrong, I really like the guys we got at linebacker. Ryan Baker looks like a clone of Georgia linebacker Rene Curran to me, and his stock went WAY up after he committed to us and people started paying attention to him. Kellen Theriot looks like a phenomenal athlete and competitor, but one who may need a couple years to really learn the position, as he was a quarterback in high school. Kyle Prater looks like a solid player, though perhaps without the "wow factor" the other two bring. I would have just liked to have one additional good linebacker prospect coming in, as it is a position that lacks depth with the losses of Highsmith and Sanders.

At defensive tackle, we only have Cordian Hagans who was never a high profile guy and who may end up at offensive line, and Lavar Edwards who is a feast-or-famine project who may be a defensive end anyway. Chancey Agayhere is mislabeled as a defensive tackle. He is probably going to be a defensive end, and a move to linebacker is at least as likely as a move to tackle, because he is undersized for an end, much less for a tackle. He should be a excellent player, and he's one of the crown jewels of this class, but he's not a defensive tackle.

It looks like we may not get any running backs, but I'm OK with that. Louisiana has a stellar crop of running backs coming available next year, including Michael Ford and Eddie Lacy, who can go wherever they want (though some off-field issues are rumored to be affecting Lacy). There are also several running backs in the 2009 class from Texas who are reportedly interested in LSU. With our current depth at running back, and the addition of Stevan Ridley who is coming off a redshirt year, our running back depth is fine for 2008 and the prospects are strong thereafter. A running back is not necessary in this class.

More on this tomorrow, when we see if anything actually changes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Recruiting Season is Coming to a Close

Tomorrow is the big day. National Signing Day. GeauxTuscaloosa's first National Signing Day, as this blog started in late February of last year, a couple weeks after the 2007 National Signing Day.

If you're expecting a big NSD extravaganza here at GeauxTuscaloosa, I am sorry to disappoint you. I have nothing planned. There will be no real time coverage of the event as, alas, I will be in Court all day tomorrow. Or at least, I'll be in Court from about 9:00 until late in the afternoon.

LSU sits with 25 commits right now, with a few more left on the board. We have realistic shots at defensive lineman Corey Liuget, offensive lineman Greg Shaw, running back Jermaine Thomas, and cornerback TJ Bryant, roughly in that order of likelihood. None of those guys are definite, but I'm confident enough to say that we will probably get 2 to 3 of those 4 guys.

Despite the disappointment of losing DeAndre Brown and of failing to get commitments from some high-profile national recruits like Arthur Brown, Terrelle Pryor, and Matt Patchan, among others, this class is really solid in the most important positions on the team: the lines.

If we get Liuget, we have a very solid defensive line class. Liuget would be a very good get, and he can be either a DE or a DT. Liuget would join Chancey Aghayere, who looks like an absolute stud at defensive end. Chase Clement who also has great potential at defensive end as well. Lavar Edwards may be feast or famine, but we're in a position to take a chance on a guy right about now. Cordian Hagans is kind of an unknown at this point, but he adds to the depth of this class.

Shaw would complete an impressive offensive line class. He does not look like a 4-year starter sort of player, but we do not need that sort of player. He looks like he can be a solid depth and role player until the deck clears ahead of him and he gets his shot to start. The O-line class is full of projects who need some time to develop, but who have tremendous athleticism and potential. Thomas Parsons is the most extreme example. He's a 3-star, but his measurables are as good as many five-star players. Alex Hurst was drawn from the state of Tennessee, and Miles is reportedly very excited about him. P.J. Lonergan and Clay Spencer were early in-state commitments who have been somewhat forgotten since then.

Les Miles deserves credit for what he has done with LSU's offensive line. When Miles arrived on campus, the state of O-line recruiting was a shambles. The team lacked significant depth, and had for years. It is telling that in his 2nd year, he had to start a 5th year senior who had never gotten significant playing time before, and in his 3rd year, he started two converted defensive linemen. Starting next year, for the first time in recent memory, the offensive line will have both experience and depth.

This recruiting class will be anywhere from "solid" to "solid-plus". There are solid players and good depth, but this class is not as strong as last year's. That's OK, because last year was an embarrassment of riches. This year, with it not being such a great year in-state for prospects, and with the resurgence of Bama and the inexplicable strength of Florida State, it was kind of bound to be a little tougher for us, but I think we have what we need to maintain ourselves at the top.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Non-LSU: Monk Elected To Hall of Fame

Cross-posted on Poseur.

Art Monk finally got elected to the Hall of fame. It’s about friggin’ time.

I’m kind of a Hall of Fame geek. OK, not even kind of. I’m the person who is genuinely outraged by Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven’s stalled candidacies while Jim Rice keeps getting more and more support. But Art Monk has long been my pet candidate, as his absence from the Football Hall of Fame actually lessened the Hall because Monk isn’t just qualified, he’s obscenely qualified.

Passing in the NFL has radically changed in the past 25 years or so. And passing stats have become larger and larger as teams have relied on the pass. To see this in numbers, of the top 50 players ranked by career receptions, 33 of them started their career after 1990 and 15 of them are still active. That’s just a long way of saying passing stats are weighted heavily towards modern players.

Monk ranks 7th all-time in receptions. When he retired, he was #1. Monk played in an era before the current explosion in passes yet his numbers still stack up favorably against modern players, even Hall of Famers. For example, he had more receptions and more yards than Michael Irvin. He was also the first player to catch 100 passes in a season. And until Jerry Rice came along and broke every receiving record there was, Monk held the career receptions record, the single-season record, and the record for most consecutive games with a catch.

Those aren’t borderline Hall of Fame numbers. Those are inner circle, first-ballot numbers. That’s before we get into the three Super Bowl rings. And he had to wait for inferior receivers like James Lofton and Michael Irvin to get in before he got his ugly blazer (not to pick on Irvin who is a legit Hall of Famer, he just wasn’t Art Monk). Not to be mean to Lofton, but the only person who thought Lofton was better than Monk when they were playing at the same time was Lofton’s mom. The point is not that Lofton and Irvin don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it is that they DO belong in the Hall and Monk is even better. There’s no better case for the Hall of Fame than being better than the people already enshrined.

It only took a decade, but Monk finally gets the honor he’s always deserved. He’s now a Hall of Famer, and he even gets to go in with his teammate, Darrell Green, who is in the conversation for the best cornerback to ever play the game. So not only do things work out, it works out even better if he hadn’t had the wait. The Hall of Fame is richer for having Art Monk in it. That’s the definition of a Hall of Famer.

Basketball Woes

On a day when the LSU basketball team hit 21 of 22 free throws and made 9 three pointers, we lost by 9 to one of the worst teams in the league and trailed pretty much the whole way. The culprit that night was poor shooting and poor defense in stretches.

Anthony Randolph hit 4 of 14 shots, missing a lot from relatively close to the basket. More than anything, he appeared to be physically outmatched by the stronger Bama inside players, and they bodied him out good shooting position.

I thought the re-addition of Chris Johnson to the lineup would change the on-court dynamic of the team, but he was pretty much invisible on both sides of the court most of the game. He actually scored 13 points, but it had to be the quietest 13 points ever scored by a 6'11" player. He didn't do anything to really alter how the game was played.

One of the announcers discussed the possibility that Brady would lose his job at the end of the season, and thought it was a terrible idea because, "He just went to the Final Four two years ago." Very true. He went to the Final Four two years ago, but they also showed his standing in cumulative wins on the list of current SEC coaches. He was, as I recall, #2 on the list with 190-something wins. The problem is that he is in his 11th season, and 190 wins in 11 seasons averages out to 17 per season, a very mediocre record, especially considering the putrid out-of-conference schedules we had during some of those years.

Yes, I know we had serious probation problems during part of that, and that it was no fault of Brady's. It was during some of those years, however, that we really padded our record with pre-conference-season patsies.

Really, we've only had two memorably good years in the Brady era. In 2000, Brady took Jabari Smith and Stromile Swift to the Sweet 16. It was a nice little run, and could well have gone better if we'd gotten a break or two. In 2006, he took Big Baby and Tyrus Thomas to the Final 4. Well done.

There were a couple other good teams. The year before we went to the Final Four, we won the Western Division with a team led by Brandon Bass, and went to the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round. In 2003, he appeared to have a pretty good team, led in part by Jaimie Lloreda, but that team imploded on and off the court before quickly bowing out of the NCAA tournament.

Those two good seasons and two other tournament appearances are balanced out by 4 seasons (soon to be 5) of actual losing records, and Brady's record is 19 games below .500 in the conference. Nineteen games! And getting worse.

He's never provided LSU with any sustained success. Only once have we made the NCAA tournament two consecutive seasons. In the middle of Brady's stretch, we had 5 consecutive winning seasons, but much of that was padded with weak out of conference schedules, and we missed the NCAA tournament twice in that stretch. When we missed the NCAA tournament, we didn't exactly make waves in the NIT, losing in the first and second round in our two trips there.

Yes, I think it's really time for Brady to go. He's had his chance. He's proven what he can do. He's shown us what a Brady-coached program looks like, and it's pretty mediocre. Let's move on.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Yeah, I'm Still Here

I haven't gone anywhere. I'm just putting into practice my promise that I would never write on here just to fill it up with garbage. If I don't have anything constructive to say, I don't say anything.

Today is a big day. DeAndre Brown, the 5-star wide receiver from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is announcing his college of choice this evening. LSU has led for his services for a couple of years, but there has been much late drama in his recruitment and it is by no means certain that he will be committing to LSU. And if he commits to LSU, it is by no means certain that he will qualify academically. There is lots of conflicting information on both of these points circulating through the internet today, and I'm not about to try to sort fact from fiction.

The latest school apparently in on him is, of all places, the University of Southern Mississippi. No, they are not a BCS school. Yes, he is a legitimate 5-star player. No, I don't know if all of this is standard paranoia or if it's actual justified pessimism. Yes, we really really want him, even if it's just to sign and place him at a prep school or junior college. No, we do not need him in any sense of the word. He could be a great player, but he's not the difference between LSU going to bowl games and not going to bowl games. He could be the difference between going to the Sugar Bowl and going to the Cotton Bowl, however, down the line some time.

I'm going to plead for a little sanity. If Mr. Brown declares to Southern Miss today, I advise all LSU fans to act with decorum. Whatever the kid does, he's doing it for his own reasons, and he owes us NOTHING. And no, he's not making the mistake of a lifetime. He would be missing out on opportunities to compete for BCS bowls and/or national championships, but if his goal is to go to the NFL, it is certainly true that the NFL takes talent from all over the country, even from non-power conferences!