The players on LSU’s offense sound like kids trying out a new toy when they talk about implementing first-year coordinator Cam Cameron’s scheme. His system, it seems, has a little something for everybody.
The linemen like the faster pace, which makes it more difficult for defensive substitutes to get on the field and replace weary teammates.
The wide receivers like that the prospect of big plays in the passing game is more than just an afterthought.
The tight ends like the fact that they are viewed as more than just a sixth lineman.
The quarterbacks like the balance between the run and the pass, which allows them to take advantage of all the skill players around them.
And the running backs like that the Tigers aren’t abandoning their commitment to the power running game, which has always been the offense’s focus under coach Les Miles.
In other words, Cameron didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
“We’re going to present ourselves differently,” senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger said after the team’s first full-squad practice Friday morning. “But honestly, it’s going to be the same LSU hard running game, with a lot of passes built off of that. Hopefully we’ll be less predictable.”
The lack of predictability has become a predictable answer from players who are asked how Cameron’s offense differs from the version that offensive line coach Greg Studrawa coordinated within Miles’ vision the past two seasons.
“Last year, everybody knew we were going to run, but my thing was, ‘Yeah, but can you stop us?’ ” senior fullback J.C. Copeland said. “We’re still going to do what we do, but we’re doing a lot more stuff, and it won’t be as predictable. You’ll see — it’ll be a lot different how people will play us.”
Cameron’s offense doesn’t have to be transformational, just more effective at critical times. Two of the Tigers’ three losses last season — to Alabama and Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — came after they failed to get a first down while trying to nurse a late lead. And the offense didn’t reach the end zone in the 14-6 defeat at Florida.
Senior wide receiver Kadron Boone said he can see what opponents thought of the Tigers when he looks at film from last season.
“We feel like teams didn’t respect our passing game,” he said. “You look at the film, and you can see eight men in the box. This year, we’re going to be more aggressive in the play calls, whether we’re running the ball or throwing the ball.”
Boone said the receivers have “a chip on their shoulder” about being more consistent after being plagued by dropped passes a year ago.
“The receivers took a lot of blame for how last season went,” he said. “We felt responsible because we didn’t produce as well as we should have. We’re trying to be more consistent.”
Several players said opposing defenses should be kept off balance by Cameron’s scheme.
“Last year at times, a certain formation would only be a certain play,” Mettenberger said. “This year, we have six or seven plays in that formation. He’s got a list of plays for each guy that is their go-to play. He’s definitely trying to mix it up.”
Tight end Travis Dickson said Cameron has managed to make his scheme easy to understand, even as he added the capability for LSU to run more plays from each formation.
“We can run any play out of any formation,” Dickson said. “It doesn’t matter how many running backs or tight ends are in the game.”
Dickson and the other tight ends have to be more versatile. In the past, the Tigers often have split the position between blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends, but that’s no longer the case.
“You have to be more versatile,” Dickson said. “You can’t just be a hand-on-the-ground guy. You have to be able to widen out and run routes and line up in the backfield and block. It’s all over the place. It’s a lot of fun.”
Dickson said it’s not uncommon for him to break the huddle thinking he’s lining up in one position, only to have Cameron change the call.
“There’s a lot more activity going on,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot more pressure and a lot more focus and a lot more expected of the tight end and the fullback in the new offense. Now we’re better off with everybody doing everything.”
When asked to estimate how many pass routes he has to know now compared to the past, Dickson thought for a few seconds before saying simply, “a lot more.” His six receptions last season were the most among the tight ends, who had 16 as a group.
Running back Alfred Blue said the Tigers will run more no-huddle offense than last season, saying, “It’s just like playing backyard football.”
Blue said he “loves” the no-huddle, and lineman Vadal Alexander seconded him.
“There’s more emphasis on everything being up tempo,” he said. “We have a (fast) tempo and, with the athletes we have across the board, we know what we’re doing and we’re doing it fast.”
Alexander said playing at a faster tempo gives the offensive line an advantage against the defensive line.
“Especially when you practice that way,” he said. “You’re in better shape, and the defensive line can’t substitute like they’re used to in practice. So those 2-yard blocks turn into 5-yard pancakes.”