Les Miles made no grand promises on the day before the start of spring football practice, no guarantees.
Miles knows with 13 players who have declared for the NFL draft and with some key issues to be answered, at least partially, during 15 spring practice sessions over the next five weeks, the only thing he can be sure of is the Tigers have plenty of hard work ahead if they want LSU to remain one of the elite programs in the Southeastern Conference and the nation.
“Certainly, there is a lot to accomplish,” Miles said a news conference Wednesday. “We are by no means in a position to predict a grand season. This is the style of team that if they work hard and do the things they are capable of doing they will, like other teams that have gone through here, compete for a title. That’s always the mark here, and will certainly always be.”
The big story of the spring is the addition of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, formerly of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
“He has done a great job already,” Miles said of his close friend. “Just the approach of the offense and how we see ourselves — in my opinion he will have a great effect.”
As expected, Miles said the majority of the practice reps will go to senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who returns for his second season as LSU’s set-in-stone starter.
But the three quarterbacks vying to be his backup — sophomore Stephen Rivers and early enrollee freshmen Hayden Rettig and Anthony Jennings — will also be a priority with an eye to this season and next.
“You are going to want to have competition at the position,” said Miles, who enters his ninth season at LSU. “The other three guys (behind Mettenberger) are going to get reps and some of those will be with the first team. There may be an athletic component with Anthony Jennings. The priority is Mettenberger but … we are going to have to develop that position.”
Miles said junior quarterback Rob Bolden, the former Penn State transfer, will miss spring practice because of a knee injury. He also said junior defensive end Justin Maclin would miss the spring with an unspecified ailment.
As always, spring is a time for experimentation.
The Tigers will start with a pair of big ones as junior La’El Collins moves from left guard to left tackle to start spring practice. Senior Lamin Barrow moves from weakside to middle linebacker, where he will be asked to replace Kevin Minter and his team-leading 130 tackles (Barrow was second last season with 104).
“We’re going to look at a lot of guys there,” Miles said of Collins. “It’s not just him. He’s going to get the first look. I think he’s ready to do that.”
As for Barrow, Miles said the middle linebacker spot is “probably his. We are going to be able to fit guys like Kwon Alexander, Tahj Jones, Lamar Louis and Deion Jones on the outside, so let’s go find that middle linebacker first. If D.J. Welter or someone else inside comes along we’ll move Barrow out, but initially we’ll start with Barrow.”
Miles was optimistic about his team’s depth at running back and wide receiver.
At running back, Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard return for their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. Miles said senior Alfred Blue wouldn’t be limited after a season-ending knee injury in September, despite some reports to the contrary.
Junior Terrence Magee also returns to running back after an unproductive move to wide receiver last season.
Miles could afford to move Magee back because he welcomes back the nucleus of his receiver corps with Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Kadron Boone and James Wright. He expects two more early enrollees — Avery Peterson (brother of former Tigers All-American Patrick Peterson) and John Diarse — to push for playing time.
“John Diarse and Avery Peterson might get some great looks and have an opportunity to get ahead,” Miles said.
The Tigers will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday before taking a break until Tuesday. They will hold a total of nine practices before pausing for spring break (March 30-April 7) then return for their final six workouts capped by the Spring Game on April 20.
“As a team, you make each practice count,” Miles said. “It’s important to identify those guys that improve and make you better.”
After so many key losses from last season, that may be more important than ever.