Miss the numerous appearances on the platforms of ESPN by LSU football coach Les Miles on Monday? The Advocate has you covered.
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Miles first stop was an eight-minute interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler, a chat covering most of the topics the LSU touched on last week during SEC media days.
Namely, there’s the theme LSU might be operating outside the glare of the spotlight after being picked to finish third in Western Division and having to replace 11 underclassmen that left Baton Rouge for the NFL draft.
“I don’t think it makes a difference,” Miles said. ‘We’ve always been motivated by what we can play ourselves into and we control our own outcome. Our guys understand that there are other teams on the horizons, and we look forward to the challenge.”
Again, Miles was asked about how the Tigers passing game, which ranked No. 11 in the SEC last season, might be improved with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Miles sounded a positive note that quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be better under tutelage of Cameron, while the pieces around him should boost production.
“We’re going to do the things we need to do to win the game – period,” Miles said. “The more that Zach is comfortable, the more we’re going to want to throw the football. We’ve got a great receiving crew. I think we’ll have a dominant offensive line and be able to protect him. I think you’ll look forward to us throwing the football.”
Meanwhile, the status update on suspended running back Jeremy Hill, who plead guilty on July 12 to misdemeanor simple battery and faces an Aug. 16 probation review hearing for another incident, hasn’t changed.
“We’re going to allow the process to take place,” Miles said. “I’m going to be fully informed before we do anything. I’m not saying that we’re not counting on him to be on the roster.”
LSU returns ball carriers in Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard along with converted wide receiver Terrence Magee heading into fall camp, which opens Aug. 5, and Miles said the plans are to assume that’s likely supply of running backs on the roster.
“We’re moving on,” Miles said. “Anyone that gets involves in an issue that separates himself from the team, we plan without (them), and we hope that kind of planning is not necessarily needed. But that’s what we’re going to do. It’s a difficult position to be in, certainly for Hill, but our football team must move ahead.”
After lobbying last week for a change in the SEC scheduling format, Miles was more nuanced in addressing the topic with Fowler, who compared Alabama’s cross-division slate in Kentucky and Tennessee — programs that went 1-15 in the SEC last season — to the two-time defending national champions starting with the inside rail of a horse race.
“The good news is it’s not a horse race,” said Miles, whose team faces Eastern Division contenders in Florida and Georgia. “We control our outcomes, and we play everybody on our schedule. The bad news is they’re on our schedule. The bad news is for the guy that finishes second in the game. If we can control the outcome, we kind of like our schedule. We do recognize that we play the best two in the East and the West. Now, the schedule in the future, that’s not my job. My job is to prepare my team for this schedule.”
Twenty minutes later, Miles showed up on the set of First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, who asked Miles to define his coaching style in contrast to his persona as “The Mad Hatter” and risky playcalling at certain points in tight games.
“I try to be prepared,” Miles said. “Game plans are looked at meticulously — every facet. If you look at my teams, I’m looking to steal possessions. I want our defense to be strip-and-rip, and scoop-and-score. I want our offense to be ball secure. The calls we make as coaches have to reflect the abilities you have with your team. When you know you can execute and you feel confident that’s the call, you have to make that call.”
Asked whether Alabama, which has won three of the past four BCS national titles, is pulling away from the field, Miles said the margin isn’t as wide as observers think.
“In the west, there’s three teams that lost to a Western Division opponent: Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU,” Miles said. “We had a lead with 90 seconds to go (against Alabama), so the separation hasn’t been very significant to this point. Our football team plays for championships. It’s why we assemble in Baton Rouge. To those people, they’re allowed to say what they want to say.”
On ESPN radio, Miles parsed the subject of setting up a practice schedule that balances conditioning, getting enough reps and still developing a physical brand of football he wants to be a mark of the program.
“As coaches, we’re more wary of freshness and making sure our guys aren’t taxed,” Miles said. “We don’t want to risk injury, and there’s a wisdom that is prevailing across football, not only in college football but in the NFL and high school football.”
Still, Miles thinks there’s a way to instill mental toughness even if the structure of workouts is altered to alleviate overworking players. Namely, those moments unfold when players are fresh and making plays in scrimmages.
“We still go very hard,” Miles said. “No one said that we’re going to come off the throttle of physicality. No one said we’re going to come of the throttle of tackling and developing your team. But to do so when they’re fresh, when their legs have energy and they’re ready to go in there and play. To me, the self-image that’s created of a player going in and answering the call is what you want.”
And after the topic of hurry-up offenses dominated as a theme last week at SEC media days, co-host Ryan Russillo asked Miles how he adapts his defense without getting too far away from how he assembles his roster.
“Those teams that would be a spread in front of you with a mobile quarterback, you must play them with an athlete and a defense that is athletic by design,” Miles said. “In other words, ends are in a position to read what the quarterback is doing. Our linebackers are in a position to understand responsibilities on that back side. All of those things have to be in line with playing guys that will play to tight (ends) and one (running) back and pound the ball at you.”
Picking up the topic later with Paul Finebaum during a coaches roundtable, along with Georgia’s Mark Richt and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Miles said he has no qualms with the offenses so long as the defense is allowed to be in position.
“You have to have the ability to make the defense ready,” Miles said. “In other words, at some point in time when the official steps away from the ball, is the defense ready to play. I believe in putting pressure on the defense, you don’t have to use it all the time.”