Postcard from camp: LSU
Second-ranked Tigers begin season with high hopes
Posted: Tuesday August 21, 2007 12:34PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:33PM
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Expectations hang over the LSU football program. Literally.
Six banners hang inside the immaculate practice bubble at the football complex. The first is an LSU football player with the words "National Championships" printed underneath.
The other banners go right on down the line in similar fashion -- SEC Championships, SEC West Championships, BCS Bowl Games, Bowl Games and then Tiger Stadium, a banner that projects that classic image of the venerable facility at night. But it is the National Champions banner that is first, and with a preseason ranking of No. 2 in both the Coaches poll and the AP, that is where the expectations start in Year Three of the Les Miles era.
"We're honored people ranked us like that," said quarterback Matt Flynn. "It is a good starting point, but this team has not played one down yet."
It has, however, survived the heat of preseason camp, and the Tigers have moved on to preparation for its Aug. 30 opener against Mississippi State. The scout team jerseys came out on Monday, players had moved out of their temporary camp housing and there was just one practice per day.
Despite the expectations, the pressures of having nowhere to go but down in the national championship picture and the fact that the Tigers must replace three first-round draft picks on offense (including No. 1 overall, JaMarcus Russell), there was a looseness and levity to practice that gave the impression that this team has blocked out the hype -- at least for now.
"We don't dread practice," Flynn said. "We go out there and get the work done, but we have fun when we do it. That's what makes this team special."
Star defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, LSU's best player, may enjoy himself more than anyone else on the field. "We have to be out there in the heat, doing every period and every rep, so you might as well have fun with it," he said. "This is my fourth year. You have to enjoy it because your career goes by fast."
Too fast for Dorsey, who would have been a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft but decided to come back to LSU for one more season. He calls it "unfinished business," and his eye is obviously on a national championship. Over the last two years, the Tigers have two 11-win seasons, two top-five finishes and two convincing bowl blowouts. With loads of talent on both sides of the ball and the toughest games on the slate at home, Dorsey's goal is certainly attainable.
1. The defense has no holes. Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini looked at his defensive line following last year's 41-14 Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame and thought he had plenty of talent coming back for the 2007 season. Then Dorsey decided the NFL could wait another season.
"We felt like we were going to be good without him," Pelini said. "I don't think there is a better football player in the country. That's the best recruit we had."
Another big bonus for the defensive line has been the return of Kirston Pittman, who missed two years due to injury and will be featured prominently in the eight- or nine-man rotation Pelini will use on the defensive line.
Tyson Jackson is a fearsome defensive end, linebackers Ali Highsmith and Darry Beckwith are two of the SEC's best and the secondary features two experienced corners in Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson, plus quality safeties Curtis Taylor and Craig Steltz.
The unit that led the SEC in points allowed last year (12.6) and should be even better.
2. At quarterback, it is Matt Flynn, and then ... Flynn will get the starting job in his fifth year in Baton Rouge. He has meshed well with new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.
"[Flynn's] very intelligent and knows football," Crowton said. "We really work well together in meetings. If it translates onto the field like he's practicing, I'm very excited."
Flynn set the bar high by throwing for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-3 rout of Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl, his only career start.
"I've always had confidence in myself," Flynn said. "That game was not as important for me as it was my team. My teammates now have confidence in me because they've seen me play against a big-time opponent and play well."
The backup situation is nowhere near as encouraging. LSU felt comfortable for two years that if something happened to starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell, there was a dependable backup in Flynn. Now, the backup job belongs to Ryan Perrilloux. While the sophomore is talented, he has not lived up to the hype he received coming out of East St. John High in LaPlace, La. Perrilloux was heralded as the No. 1 recruit in the nation by several recruiting analysts, but he has struggled on and off the field in his time at LSU.