LSU football notebook: passing game takes flight

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU quarterbacks Stephen Rivers, left, Zach Mettenberger, middle, and Anthony Jennings drop back in drills at LSU's spring football practice on Thursday, March 21, 2013. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU quarterbacks Stephen Rivers, left, Zach Mettenberger, middle, and Anthony Jennings drop back in drills at LSU's spring football practice on Thursday, March 21, 2013.

Six practices into spring workouts, squinting wasn’t required to discern early hints at the LSU football team’s play-calling under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“He’s good, he’s impressive and the offense mirrored him pretty well,” coach Les Miles said. “He went after it, and the offense responded.”

Over the course of 100 reps Saturday at Tiger Stadium, LSU showed little hesitation putting the ball aloft. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard scoring throw to junior receiver Jarvis Landry during a two-minute-drill period.

Working out of first-and-10 situations, Mettenberger, freshmen Hayden Rettig and Anthony Jennings and sophomore Stephen Rivers completed 33 of 58 passes for 363 yards, with two more scoring throws from Retting.

Since the scrimmage was closed, sorting out just how much comfort and chemistry exist between Mettenberger and Cameron, a longtime friend of Miles who arrived after five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, would be speculation. But Miles clearly hinted the Tigers’ starting signal-caller was at ease operating an offense in the midst of an overhaul, starting with a tear down of terminology.

“He made a couple of very intuitive throws,” Miles said. “He saw very quickly, got the ball out of his hand and guys anticipated the catch and down the field it went. He looked good.”

In the first two weeks of workouts, Cameron has sped up position drills to mimic game speed, installed new receiving drills and instituted a new system of tracking dropped passes by backs and receivers. On Saturday, Miles said the offense worked at a faster clip in no-huddle mode but wasn’t specific about how many reps were carried out under the tweak.

If anything, the scrimmage might serve as an initial barometer of who will serve in a backup capacity to Mettenberger.

Rettig, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound prospect out of Los Angeles Cathedral, enrolled early in January to put himself in the derby; he was an efficient 4 of 6 for 61 yards. His touchdown throws went to sophomore Terrence Magee, who had two catches for 28 yards, and freshman John Diarse, whose 20-yard grab was his lone reception.

Rivers, a 6-8, 225-pound prospect out of Athens, Ala., went 4 of 11 for 48 yards. The recipient of early praise from Miles, Jennings, a 6-3, 205-pound freshman out of Marietta, Ga., showed snippets of his dual-threat capability in handling third-team reps: He completed 5 of 11 throws for 54 yards and added 25 yards on the ground on five carries.

Among the receivers, Landry hauled in 10 catches for 141 yards, junior Odell Beckham caught six passes for 75 yards and freshman Travin Dural had four for 72.

“I like that receiving corps,” Miles said, even though he lamented four dropped balls. “I liked how those numbers looked.”

Hill leads ground game

Despite the floodlight cast on the LSU aerial attack, the Tigers’ running backs put up solid numbers in their first scrimmage.

Sophomore Jeremy Hill rushed 10 times for 60 yards as LSU split its carries evenly among three backs. Junior running back Kenny Hillard gained 37 yards on 10 carries, and Magee — listed as a receiver — handled the same number of carries for 60 yards.

Mixed in with Jennings’ rushing total, LSU gained 182 yards on 35 carries.

Blue sits out

Solid numbers aside, the lingering question for the LSU ground game hasn’t changed: When will senior Alfred Blue, who led LSU with a 6.75 yards-per-carry average last season, see live action?

On Saturday, he was held out with a knee injury, but he has taken part in all drills during workouts. Granted, the 6-2, 220-pound Boutte native also has donned a green jersey, indicating contact is off limits.

“He’s got speed and strength, making the cuts, and he looks great,” Miles said. “By precaution, we decided we’d leave him out of the first tackle (scrimmage).”

That could change the next time LSU goes full bore — in its second scrimmage April 13, one week ahead of the spring game.

“We may get him in some of the next scrimmages,” Miles said, “with the idea that he keep his green jersey on and run but not be tackled.”

O-line matters

Any shuffling along the offensive line appears to be slowing, too.

Junior center Elliott Porter, who is coming off a knee injury, returned to duty at starting center, with Miles adding “that’s the spot for him.”

This week, Miles singled out Ethan Pocic, a 6-7, 287-pound freshman out of Lemont, Ill., for his work as a stand-in.

“Ethan Pocic is really doing well at center, and eventually this offensive line is going to come together nicely,” Miles said.

At left tackle, junior La’el Collins’ acclimation progress is unfolding steadily.

“So far, so good,” Miles said. “He looks like he’s doing well. It takes some time to work through the technique, and you just don’t get it done in six practices. He’s developing there.”

Linebacker updates

Tinkering continues among the linebackers.

Senior Lamin Barrow, a 6-2, 232-pound senior, has been mentioned as a candidate to slide over from the weak side to the middle to replace Kevin Minter. Miles, however, didn’t offer specifics on how much time the Marrero product worked in the center of the defense.

“He moved around a little bit,” Miles said, “but it will be interesting to see where it all fares.”