Miles pleased with offensive balance in first scrimmage
LSU coach Les Miles’ assessment of the Tigers’ first preseason scrimmage Wednesday morning was about what one would expect.
The Tigers were sloppy, committed some penalties, and aren’t ready to play a game. But with more than two weeks remaining until the season opener against TCU on Aug. 31 in Arlington, Texas, and additional scrimmages coming up Saturday and Tuesday, they are on schedule to be game ready for the Horned Frogs.
The focus of the scrimmage, which was closed to the public and reporters, was the red zone — the 20-yard area leading to the goal line — which didn’t lend itself to any meaningful statistics. But Miles offered his impressions of the workout, which featured about 56 offensive snaps with the first two units. There were approximately a dozen additional special teams plays.
LSU held 14 practices before the scrimmage, implementing first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s new offense, acclimating more than a half dozen new starters as well as young reserves to expanded roles on defense, and watching three place-kickers battle to replace Drew Alleman.
Miles seemed pleased with the balance between Cameron’s more ambitious passing game and the power running game that has been a staple of Miles’ offense in his previous eight seasons as LSU coach.
“We’re throwing the ball better than we have, and we’re still pounding the rush,” Miles said. “That’s still the difficult issue for defenses. We probably ran it more than we threw it, yet when we threw it, we completed it and we threw very well.
“We still enjoy handing the ball off, and that’s what’s making the passing game really difficult to deal with. Cam is giving us some expertise in that end of the game that we really needed.”
The first four players that Miles identified as standing out were wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Travin Dural and Kevin Spears, all of whom he said had “big days.”
“The passing game is coming to life; it looks better,” Miles said. “We have height and speed and good ball skills (at receiver).”
Although LSU ran the ball more than it threw it, Miles estimated that freshman Anthony Jennings, who’s leading the competition to be starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s primary backup, threw the ball on 10 of the 16 plays he ran.
Miles said Beckham “has the potential to be a premiere receiver, an elite guy.”
“I think Jarvis Landry does as well,” Miles said.
He added that the top two running backs — Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard — “had some really nice carries,” but returning starter Jeremy Hill, who was reinstated after a four-month suspension last week, didn’t “have a preponderance of carries.”
Miles said there was nothing new to report on Hill’s status for the season opener. He has promised unspecified additional punishment for Hill, who narrowly avoided jail last week when a Baton Rouge judge extended his probation, which he violated in April.
Even with Hill, last year’s leading rusher, still trying to climb the depth chart, Miles liked the offense’s versatility.
“We can run the football, and we can throw it with some understanding,” Miles said. “We have some weapons.”
Miles said the offensive line “is a little nicked, but played very, very well.”
Starting left guard Josh Williford is sidelined indefinitely after suffering his second concussion in less than a year, but the line seems to be taking shape with La’El Collins at left tackle, Vadal Alexander at left guard, Trai Turner at right guard, and Jerald Hawkins at right tackle.
Miles said Hawkins “practiced well without any remnants” from a heat-related “spell” earlier in the week.
“He’s very healthy,” Miles said. “And we’re glad to have him back.”
Miles called the progress of Hawkins, a redshirt freshman, from his arrival at LSU until now “unbelievable” as he has greatly improved his technique.
Centers Elliott Porter and Ethan Pocic “continue to fight it out, and both are improving,” Miles said.
Defensive end Jermauria Rasco was held out of the scrimmage as he continues to ease his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen were the first-team ends.
“The ends played hard and aggressive,” Miles said. “They had quickness and punch at the line of scrimmage. They tackled hard. There were some violent hits out there today.
“That first-team defense is very difficult to handle,” Miles said, adding that junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson “is very tough to block.”
Miles said the coaching staff has “a number of ways to go” at linebacker because of depth and the versatility of senior Lamin Barrow, who’s starting on the weakside but can play all three spots. D.J. Welter continues to be the starter in the middle, and Miles singled out Kwon Alexander for his performance Wednesday.
Several freshmen stood out, Miles said, adding that safety Rickey Jefferson “will certainly see the field a lot.”
As for the place-kickers, Miles said Colby Delahoussaye, who is leading the competition, and James Hairston, the incumbent kickoff specialist, were both very accurate until extending to 53 yards.
The Tigers practiced inside, which Miles said limited the work only by preventing punts.