THIBODAUX - When college quarterbacks serve as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy, they’re under no obligation to speak with reporters.
Last summer, LSU’s Jordan Jefferson chose not to speak.
Friday morning, he spoke, freely and easily.
He’s a senior now, heading into his last go-round in purple and gold. Maybe that has led him to feel more comfortable, more confident.
In fact, he said as much.
“I think this’ll be a great season for us,” he said. “I’m very excited. We’ve got some great games. Maybe the toughest schedule in the country. So I’m ready, my team’s ready, and I’m quite sure everybody else is ready, as well.”
He said he knows how the LSU football fans love to scrutinize - about play-calls, preseason polls, quarterback derbies, everything.
And when the Tigers signed junior-college standout Zach Mettenberger in February ... well, to some, it left the impression that the coaching staff needed an upgrade at quarterback.
Jefferson, for his part, said Friday he was fine with Mettenberger’s arrival this spring. And yes, he hears the fan chatter.
“You hear it a lot. But in reality, I will be the starter,” he said.
“I mean, it just motivates you a lot. You have to take your approach, stay focused and stay humble. Even though I know I’m the starter, you also have to stay humble at times, because you never know what could happen.”
His take on LSU’s chances at a national championship: “We’re getting some top-five mentions. Some people choose us to win the national championship, and every time the (BCS) championship is in New Orleans, LSU is there. So all that stuff goes into the high confidence that this team and I have.”
On summer workouts: “Summer’s gone great. We’re working hard. Most of the guys are out there at 7 in the morning. Tommy Moffitt’s getting us in the right shape we need to be (in) for fall camp, and I feel it’s going to be a great year for us.”
Inconsistent for much of three seasons in Baton Rouge, Jefferson finished with a flourish in 2010 - a season, he correctly pointed out, that ended with the Tigers’ first 11-2 record since 2007, when they last won the BCS title.
Over LSU’s final four games, Jefferson completed 62 percent of his passes for 788 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Then there was the Cotton Bowl, when he sparkled against Texas A&M, throwing for three scores in a 41-24 win at Cowboys Stadium.
The Tigers, of course, open their season in the same stadium, against Oregon on Sept. 3.
“I’ve got one victory in there already,” he said. “Walking into the stadium - the (TV) screen, the whole atmosphere - it doesn’t excite me anymore. I mean, it’s exciting, but not as thrilling as it would be my first time.”
Among the headliners at this year’s Manning camp: None other than Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Buccaneers coach, who’s in town with his high school-age son, Jon II (“Deuce”).
“Jon, I think, exemplifies what we feel like this camp is about,” Archie Manning said. “It’s about enthusiasm and passion for the game of football. And nobody exemplifies that more than Jon Gruden, and we’re so appreciative that he’s here.”
He has served as an ESPN analyst since 2009, gaining popularity with his give-and-take film sessions with NFL quarterback prospects.
Jefferson said he met the coach-turned-commentator Thursday night, adding that Gruden talked a lot about the importance of quarterbacks’ footwork.
“We’re just doing a lot of learning,” Jefferson said. “I told him, ?Hopefully, I’ll be on your show by the end of the year.’ “
Gruden said he likes the Saints’ selection of Alabama tailback Mark Ingram in April’s draft, adding that he thinks Ingram is “pro-ready.”
“I just think he’s going to make a lot of big first downs for the Saints in some key situations,” he said.
Gruden was also quick to mention, however, that New Orleans is most effective when all of its running backs are available. That wasn’t the case last season, when Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas missed large chunks of the season with injuries.
“They missed those backs, and Pierre and Reggie had a lot to do with (winning) the Super Bowl (XLIV) trophy,” Gruden said.
“To get Ingram and hopefully Pierre and Reggie back, along with (Chris) Ivory, that’s a nucleus of backs that not a lot of teams can say they have.”
Archie Manning said this year’s camp includes about 1,200 participants and about 120 counselors and coaches. Thirty-six of those counselors, he said, are college quarterbacks, including some of the game’s brightest stars: Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, among others.
Also spotted Friday: ESPN analyst (and former Florida quarterback) Jesse Palmer, as well as former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez.
“This is such a unique camp,” Eli Manning said. “You can be getting a high school coach, an NFL player, an NFL ex-coach and a current college player. That’s a pretty neat deal.”