The Tigers open spring practice today, the first of 15 different spring flings before the annual spring game, and with it, one of the more underachieving and head-scratching offenses will suit up and try to live up to expectation. Only now, they have a new leader in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron who looks to boost and develop the quarterback and passing game.
Rising senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be the focus of the spring, along with replacing eight starters on defense. And with a year in LSU’s system and a year more seasoned as a starter, the Tigers’ staff is counting on Mettenberger to finally be the player they recruited him to be.
The LSU offense in 2012 under now offensive line coach Greg Studrawa was average. The running game was stout, though, led by the electrifying freshman Jeremy Hill, and the Tigers return arguably the best threesome in college football in Hill, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, all top ten backs in the league.
But LSU’s passing game has to take the next step if the ‘13 Tigers want to compete for a championship.
Mettenberger’s 2012 season was good enough to win 10 games. LSU finished with the conference’s 11th best passing offense, averaging just 200 yards per game, and finished ahead of only Kentucky, Auburn and Florida. Mettenberger completed 207 passes of his 352 attempts (58.8 percent) for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions – not exactly the kind of numbers needed to produce a championship.
The tall, strong-armed pocket passer often overshot his receivers down the field and left many big plays on the table every game. Whether it was confidence, scheme or play calling, Mettenberger never looked comfortable. In fact, Mettenberger completed only 30.8 percent of 20-24-yard passes, and his eye-raising performance against Alabama certainly wasn’t the norm. Les Miles addressed the downfield passing in his press conference yesterday.
“I think he [Mettenberger] needs to be a little more patient with the deep ball and understand our throws maybe some a little bit better,” Miles said yesterday in his spring press conference.
But it’s not just Mettenberger. Wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Kadron Boone and James Wright have to be more consistent, as they certainly didn’t give Mettenberger much help in ‘12. Landry and Beckham combined for 99 catches for 1,286 yards and seven touchdowns, but namely Beckham was very inconsistent at times. Both have high ceilings, but better consistency must be accomplished.
Cam Cameron is known more for developing quarterbacks in his coaching history. Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Joe Flacco are the three everyone loves to talk about, but the best thing he can do for LSU is create a more fluid passing game revolved around backs and tight ends. Watch Alabama’s offense, and you’ll notice running back screens and a pass-catching tight end are crucial to their success; it’s crucial to any offense to move the sticks on third downs. Yet in 2012, the Tigers’ tight ends only produced 16 catches for 182 yards and no touchdowns. Likewise, LSU’s running backs, outside of Spencer Ware, caught just 20 passes. If the short passing game develops better and Mettenberger can get comfortable earlier, it should help the passing game attack the third level.
Better use of the tight ends and running backs will be big for the development of Mettenberger. And the development of the passing game bodes well for a more explosive offense, which will help to buy time for a young, inexperienced defense to gel.
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