HOOVER, Ala. – LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson doesn't shy away from the criticism he received last season. In fact, he says, he deserved it.
The senior said Friday he's spent the offseason logging the hours needed to win people over — and win games.
"I'm doing a lot to change a lot of people's opinions this year," Jefferson said at Southeastern Conference media days. "I'm buying more into the system and being more of a leader. I'm doing a lot of stuff that I wasn't prepared to do last year."
His coach Les Miles and teammate T-Bob Hebert agree that Jefferson has made big strides. The Tigers are regarded as contenders for the SEC and national titles, especially if the offseason work translates into a new, improved Jefferson on the field.
He passed for 1,411 yards and only seven touchdowns last season while getting intercepted 10 times, and admitted his confidence ebbed at times.
As for the criticism, Jefferson said, "I deserved it because I didn't play the way I was expected to play."
Jefferson wasn't in the Top 10 in the SEC in passing yards or efficiency, and the Tigers signed former Georgia and junior college quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who went through spring practices.
But he has a new offensive coordinator in former Tulsa and Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, some talented playmakers and an experienced offensive line surrounding him.
"A lot of people under that kind of pressure would have really crumbled under it," Hebert said. "But Jordan has taken it in and he's risen to a whole other level. He's gotten better and continues to improve and he's really flourishing, not only as a player but as a leader. He's definitely the leader of our team, and we're behind him."
Miles said Kragthorpe has "really helped Jefferson."
"Jefferson is in his final campaign and really is at the best position that he has been in, in listening and taking coaching," Miles said. He said there's some competition with Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee, but he feels Jefferson still gives LSU the best chance to win.
The Tigers were picked to finish second in the Western Division behind Alabama by league media, but also got the second-most votes as overall SEC champion.
They'll get an immediate evaluation of where both Jefferson and the team stand in the Sept. 3 opener in Dallas against Oregon, which lost to Auburn in the national championship game.
"I feel like this year will be my year," Jefferson said.
LSU has faced potential distractions.
The NCAA placed the program on one-year probation Tuesday and cited former assistant coach D.J. McCarthy for unethical conduct for improperly arranging transportation and housing for former defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in 2009 and later trying to cover up those actions.
In addition, LSU coaches have met with an NCAA official regarding recruiting service owner Willie Lyles, who received $6,000 from the school in December for printed information and DVDs of game footage and highlights of prospects.
The NCAA is looking into Oregon's $25,000 payment to Lyles' firm and his involvement in the recruitment of running back Lache Seastrunk of Temple, Texas.
Miles said he is "prohibited" from commenting on Lyles but said the university is cooperating with investigators.
"The only thing I can tell you is we look for film and video any way we can find it," he said. "Those people that provide those services, we need to cover a broad area, and we want to evaluate our guys from a bunch of different spots."
Wide receiver Russell Shepard was scheduled to appear at media days but was replaced by Hebert. Miles would only say that Shepard had things to take care of in Baton Rouge.
"I don't know exactly the specifics of that," he said. "The only thing I can tell you is this was an issue where there were some things he had to handle in his personal life that needed an immediate resolution."