e_SDLqIf you don’t say you can be better than last year’s team, you’re not pushing for greatness.” sam montgomery, LSU DE
Everything about LSU’s offseason has been a reminder of how close the Tigers came to greatness last season, right down to the now famous No. 2 on the side of their Southeastern Conference championship rings.
“We use that No. 2 on our rings as motivation,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “We learned from that loss and we’ve built from that. We also had a great summer workout and camp, and our guys are just eager to go and be successful this year.”
As good as the Tigers were last season — 13-1 but with that sobering BCS championship game shutout loss to Alabama — there is still room for improvement.
It big ways and in small, LSU players and coaches exuded the kind of confidence Tuesday that said they believe this year’s team can reach even higher than the 2011 team did.
A team that can change that No. 2 to a No. 1 on the side of their championship rings.
“I feel we have more leadership,” All-American defensive end Sam Montgomery said, “that we’re closer and we’re happier. If you don’t say you can be better than last year’s team, you’re not pushing for greatness.
“I believe this year’s team can be better.”
Six returning starters on both sides of the ball plus all of its kicking specialists only tells part of the tale of this LSU team, which by a narrow margin was picked preseason No. 1 last week in the USA Today coaches’ poll for the first time ever.
There is a belief, bordering on assuredness, that LSU’s passing game and its offense in total will be more productive with junior Zach Mettenberger running the show.
Offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said he saw all the evidence of that he needed to see in practice Monday.
“There were two shots at practice where we had Odell Beckham down the middle one time and Jarvis Landry the other time,” Studrawa said. “Standing behind the play in the end zone it looks covered. But Zach sent both those balls in there over the linebackers for 60-yard touchdowns.
“We wouldn’t have even thrown those balls before. It’s been a struggle. But he’s got the confidence to do it. That’s why the wide receivers are so excited. They used to run those routes before, and if it’s not wide open it wasn’t thrown.
“He’s got the confidence to make those throws.”
The Tigers return the bulk if not the blockbuster of their receiving corps (Rueben Randle left a year early for the NFL), four of five offensive line starters plus sixth-year guard Josh Dworaczyk and a squadron of running backs led by juniors Michael Ford and Spencer Ware.
LSU has so many running backs, coach Les Miles said he has to have a flexible strategy for how to play them.
“Here’s how I want to get this to work: I’d like to start with two guys and keep a third guy fresh for late in the game,” Miles said. “Those two guys will be able to do the lion’s share of the work and we’ll keep a really quality back to have fresh legs.
“But I could end up with four very comfortably.”
Depth is plentiful on defense, though some of it is green and unproven at spots like linebacker and cornerback.
“We will be a little younger,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said.”There is some real push for playing time. We are not afraid to play young players. That’s what we’ve done, and we are going to continue to do that.”
Despite the loss of first-rounders Morris Claiborne at cornerback and defensive tackle Michael Brockers
plus two senior linebackers, Chavis sounded confident.
“We are very talented,” he said. “We don’t have all of the answers. “We have some things that we have to solve before we play that first game, but certainly we have some very talented personnel.
“It’s a great feeling to know every single Saturday when you take the field you have a great opportunity to win.”
Even without Brockers, Chavis said the Tigers are stacked at defensive tackle with Ego Ferguson, Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs and Logan.
“That is four tackles that you can compete and win in the SEC with,” Chavis said, who also cited the improvement of redshirt freshman Quentin Thomas, Logan’s backup.
The secondary is anchored by Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu at one corner and new starter Tharold Simon at the other. Chavis noted that strong safety Craig Loston has been set back by injuries in the past, but said he is ready to line up alongside free safety Eric Reid.
LSU opens the season Sept. 1 in Tiger Stadium against North Texas.