If the regular football season is the filet mignon of competition, consider spring practice the sport’s bread and butter.
LSU coach Les Miles said as much in assessing the 15-workout, five-week session that the Tigers will undergo starting Friday.
The emphasis won’t necessarily be “on the wrinkles,” Miles said, “but on the bread and butter. I think that’s the call for the spring.”
As much as people try to glorify the spring, including ESPN, which will televise LSU’s spring game April 9, there’s no getting around what the spring really is all about. It’s nuts and bolts, the foundation for what is to come, the groundwork for future success.
Repetition isn’t glamorous, but it’s what makes for a good team, which LSU was last season in finishing 11-2. Miles spent last spring looking to improve LSU’s physicality and running game.
The Tigers made great strides in both areas, which helped them to win the Cotton Bowl and finish eighth nationally. Leading rusher Stevan Ridley left early for the NFL, but that hasn’t diminished Miles’ desire to run effectively.
Sophomore tailback Spencer Ware “certainly has advantages to us,” Miles said, and the likes of Alfred Blue, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Jakhari Gore give the Tigers depth that may well be the hallmark of this team.
LSU returns eight offensive starters, seven defensively and 52 letterwinners, in all. Gone are extraordinary cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Kelvin Shepard, but Miles prefers to dwell on who returns.
The secondary remains in good hands thanks to players like senior safety Brandon Taylor, junior cornerback Morris Claiborne and sophomore defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Craig Loston.
Claiborne (ankle) and Taylor (foot) haven’t quite recovered from nagging injuries, but they’ll clearly be ready for the regular season, as will sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery (knee).
Seniors Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois give the Tigers the basis of a solid linebacking corps, and Brooks, Mathieu, Claiborne and others promise to provide LSU with a healthy return game even in the midst of Peterson’s absence.
“I think we will be very good again in our return game,” Miles said. “I like where we’re at.”
With the departure of Joe Robinson to North Carolina, Miles needs a new special teams coach. To Miles’ credit, he’s not about to make a hasty decision just to have someone in place for the start of spring practice. Instead, he’s looking at the bigger picture.
“The point is to improve this team and to really focus on the specifics that can be repeated and repeated,” Miles said. “We want to bring…those guys that are young, into doing those things that we will count on seeing them do all fall long.”
Page 2 of 2 - That goes for the veterans, as well, including senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who’s in the best shape of his career, Miles said. Jefferson needs to be given that he has another adversary with whom to contend.
Besides senior Jarrett Lee, who often shared duties with Jefferson last season, the Tigers will unveil sophomore Zack Mettenberger, a Butler (Kan.) Community College transfer.
Mettenberger displayed a strong arm as a redshirt at Georgia before being dismissed for his off-the-field trouble. Jefferson has abundant athletic ability, and Miles said the two in the spring will be encouraged to do what they do best.
“I think there will be great competition at the quarterback spot,” Miles said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean LSU will have a two-quarterback system, but if all goes well, it should mean that the three pushing each other should make everyone better.
After all, that’s really the purpose of spring ball. The drudgery of this time of year eventually leads to the fanfare of the fall.
“Our football team is…ambitious about this season and this spring,” Miles said.
With good reason. LSU has enough pieces to build a formidable team. Figuring out how they best fit is the call of the spring.