Jefferson ready to lead Tigers

LSU's Jordan Jefferson turns 19 on Tuesday. He'll be the youngest starting quarterback in the SEC this season. But compared to this time a year ago, he feels like a 10-year veteran.

"I was just trying to learn the plays and learn how to read the defense," Jefferson said of his true freshman season. "You come in and think you're ready to play, but it all hits you at once."

By the time Jefferson's head quit spinning, it was November. The Tigers had long since been out of the Western Division race, and their problems were mounting faster than Jarrett Lee could throw interceptions.

Not that anybody on the Bayou needs to be reminded, but he threw 16, and seven of those were returned for touchdowns.

"Way too much of the blame for what happened last year was put on Jarrett," Jefferson said. "He wasn't the reason we lost five games."

It's just that kind of mentality that has everybody around Jefferson singing his praises heading into LSU's Sept. 5 season opener at Washington.

Yes, he's more experienced. Yes, he's shown off his strong right arm on the practice field. And, yes, he's playing with more confidence.

But more than anything else, he's been the epitome of a leader. He thinks like one, plays like one and carries himself like one.

"You can see it in his eyes now when he steps into that huddle," senior offensive tackle Ciron Black said. "It's the way he talks to guys. It's the way he calls plays. It's the way he makes you feel comfortable that he's going to get it done.

"I know he's not up there on the national stage with [Tim] Tebow and [Jevan] Snead, but watch what happens this season and the next couple of seasons. He's legit."

That may be, but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jefferson is the first to admit that one steady outing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl isn't enough to launch a Heisman Trophy campaign.

Jefferson started the final two games last season, including LSU's 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He wasn't spectacular, but was very much in control and spread the ball around to his playmakers.

Perhaps the thing that stands out most about Jefferson's two starts last season was what he didn't do. He didn't take a lot of chances. Only once in 73 pass attempts did he throw an interception.

"I still didn't know the whole playbook, so a lot of the time I was just trying not to mess up," Jefferson said. "I'm more versatile this year than I was last year. If the play that was called wasn't there or that first option wasn't there, I was just sort of stuck.

"I don't think it will be that way this year."

And neither do his teammates.

"The thing I like about him is that he knows when it's time to go make a play," senior running back Charles Scott said. "He doesn't try to force it. But when there's a throw to be made or a play to be made, he knows where he's going with the ball."

Although he's a pass-first quarterback, Jefferson has excellent footwork and isn't afraid to scramble out of trouble for yardage. He also throws the ball well on the move.

LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has tweaked the offense some to fit what Jefferson does best.

"Coach Crowton is coming up with some new things this year so I'll be able to use my ability to run and pass a lot more," Jefferson said. "It's always harder for a defense to stop a quarterback who has the arm strength but can also use his legs, and that's what we're aiming for this year."

What Jefferson is aiming for is to be one of the unquestioned leaders of this team.

He's better equipped to do that now that the playbook doesn't read like Chinese and now that he's seen firsthand the speed of an SEC defense.

"The players on this team are looking for me to have a great year and lead us to where we need to be," said Jefferson, who was 21-0 as a starter in high school. "We didn't have a great season last year. The only way for us to get back to the top of this league is for me to step up to the plate, become a leader and make the kind of plays your quarterback's got to make if you're going to be playing for championships.

"That's what we expect at LSU, to be playing for championships every year."

He also has a message for anybody who might think last season was the start of a slippery slope for the Tigers.

"We've got a chip on our shoulders," Jefferson said. "We've got a point to prove this year. We want to let everybody know that LSU hasn't gone anywhere. I know a lot of teams have us circled on their schedule.

"That's OK, because we've got a lot teams circled, too."

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. He covers the SEC for ESPN.com's blog network. Send your questions and comments to him at espnclow@aol.com.