BATON ROUGE - With the start of spring football practice just over a week away, head coach Les Miles met with members of the media on Thursday to discuss LSU football.
Miles and the Tigers will practice a total of 15 times over a five-week span, concluding with the National L Club Spring Game on Saturday, April 9. Kickoff for the contest is set for 3 p.m. in Tiger Stadium and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Admission to the game will be free of charge.
LSU returns 15 starters (8 offense, 7 defense) and a total of 52 letterwinners from last year's team that posted an 11-2 overall mark, beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 8 in the nation.
The following are comments from Miles from Thursday's media session:
"We've really hit the offseason pretty hard in terms of weights, strength and conditioning. We've been running coaching workouts in the morning that start at 5:55 a.m. That's an hour's work most like games. There are about 70 reps, high intensity, short burst, and it takes some accommodating. In other words, it brings a team to speed. We started at 17 (positive grades) of the 109 that participated; then we went to 23, then 40 and then 60. I think the last one we were in the 80s. Our football team is improved. I think they're ambitious about this season and this spring.
"The point is to improve this team and to really focus on the specifics that can be repeated and repeated and repeated to give them an advantage in coaching and in repetition. We want to bring a young team, those guys that are young, into doing those things that we will count on seeing them do all fall long and to really focus on not necessarily the wrinkles but the bread and butter. I think that's the call for the spring. I think the competition will be very good. I think we bring back a lot of veterans that are very capable and look forward to having a quality year and will certainly give us great leadership, but we'll also look to those guys that will be first-time starters and have an opportunity to step in and contribute greatly. Offensively I think that there will be great competition at the quarterback spot. I think Jordan Jefferson has had as fine a coaching session as I've seen. He's in the best shape that I've seen him in, and I think his attention to detail and his want to be a great quarterback appears to me to be there. I think the Jarrett Lee-Zach Mettenberger pair certainly is the competition. We're going to give those guys the opportunity to do things that they do, and we're going to ask Jordan Jefferson to do the things he does and make us better. I don't know that we will be any two-quarterback system, but we are going to let those guys that might naturally throw, throw, and we are going to let those guys who might naturally have athletic ability and movement to do the things that they do. The competition will be a fair one and one that we'll look forward to seeing how our team comes out and is best.
"I think our offensive line is veteran and we'll look to replace (Joe) Barksdale. I think Chris Faulk, Alex Hurst and that offensive line looks pretty capable and very ready to come to the spring. To me, they can be better, and I think they're a veteran group, but I think that veteran group can give us some advantages. The tight end spot will be interesting to see. Deangelo Peterson seems to be stronger and bigger. It'll be interesting to see how he and Chase Clement and Tyler Edwards go. Looking at a couple of those freshmen in Travis Dickson and Nic Jacobs, I think Nic is a big, strong capable guy with great ball skills, and I think Travis has some similarities to his brother, so we're going to look at those guys.
"At the tailback, I think Spencer Ware certainly has advantages to us at the tailback spot, but I think you'll look at (Alfred) Blue and (Kenny) Hilliard, and you'll look at Jakhari Gore and Michael Ford. I think there will be some guys there that will surface. In the receiving corps, I mentioned Deangelo Peterson. I think he will be a guy who may factor in our four wides anyway, but I think certainly Rueben Randle, Russell Shepard, Chris Tolliver and a host of young guys that I expect to be very talented like James Wright, (Jarrett) Fobbs and a number of guys who might well step in there and give us great competition and make a way for themselves. That's what spring ball is all about. Spring ball is when young guys step to the front for the first time in live drills, and they say to their team, 'You can count on me.' That'll be an interesting piece there.
"On the defensive side, we graduate two guys inside, and it'll be interesting to see how Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, Jr., progress there. I think the veterans in (Michael) Brockers, Josh Downs and Bennie Logan will be guys who really factor, and it appears to me that inside group will be pretty strong with a spring's worth of work. I like our ends. Our ends are fast. Sam Montgomery is way ahead. He's run every coaching workout and finally completed a full one in the last two, so his progress is really ahead of schedule. I think Kendrick Adams is stronger and bigger and KeKe Mingo and Lavar Edwards, Chancey Aghayere and Jordan Allen, I think those guys are going to be good players. We're going to let competition rule. I think we're going to have speed and depth.
"At linebacker, Ryan Baker comes back and Stefoin Francois comes back, and we're really looking for some guys to step up there. I wouldn't be surprised to see D.J. Welter, Kevin Minter, Tahj Jones and Luke Muncie, but again, I think there will be competition and some talented guys there. Mo Claiborne came off of the bowl game with a pretty significant ankle, and he really hasn't returned to speed at this point, but we expect him to be back some time through spring. Tyrann Mathieu has had a great coaching session and certainly will be counted on to play significantly as well as Tharold Simon. We are going to look at some of these safeties with Craig Loston and Eric Reid, and Brandon Taylor may well make it back for spring. He came off a pretty significant foot injury, and his prognosis is very good. We're not ready to rule him out of spring, but we are going to moderate his progress and let him come slowly. I think our secondary is going to have numbers, going to have competition, and again, I think that's going to benefit us.
"On special teams, we will look at Drew Alleman who will probably give us our punter/kicker, and we'll probably look at him first. Brad Wing certainly gives us a big leg at the punting spot. We'll see how the spring progresses there with the specialist. In the return game, I think Ron Brooks will end up being a return guy for us. I think Tyrann Mathieu may well be our punt returner or maybe Rueben Randle, but I think we will be very good again in our return game. I like where we're at. We have to hire us a special teams coach. I promise you the guys we've interviewed have done a great job and guys that will contribute. We don't expect to take a sidestep in special teams. We expect to be better, and that's the push. Any time you lose a real quality staff member, you certainly wish him well, but the goal is then to better the staff, and certainly that will be my intent. The spring will be about improving us technically -- offense, defense and special teams. It will be about competition at positions. We're going to give them reps, and we're going to let them play. It's going to be as much as spring where competition is prevalent as I've been around. I think our guys are very ambitious toward the fall, and by necessity, we'll compete very well this spring."
On if the new special teams coach will be expected to help in another area or position...
"Correct, probably on the defensive side of the ball."
On any safeties moving to linebacker...
"We're contemplating that with Karnell Hatcher. Hatcher may well be that guy. He gives you some quicks and some ability there that can be significant."
On how Jefferson is handling the prospects of a quarterback competition...
"If you look at Matt Flynn and the abilities he had late in his career, I really think there is that time when you can look forward to the understanding being deeper and a cleaner read by a quarterback. I expect he'll have a great year, and he runs with our tailbacks right now. He is in great shape."
On his impressions of new Offensive Coordinator Steve Kragthorpe...
"I think his initial welcome was a very sincere one. I think he's done a great job. I think our players will enjoy him, his expertise and his view of offense."
On Sam Montgomery returning from injury...
"Sam may play this spring. He's really doing great. I think we'll go slow, but again, he's way ahead."
On improving "technically"...
"There are only so many reps in a spring and to really focus on those things that will be key to us this fall. A year ago we said we were going to run the football better, and certainly that will stay. We need to throw the football more efficiently. I think that will be a piece and a duality if you will of the spring."
On any new drills this spring...
"There will probably be wrinkles off of the 'Big Cat' drill that might involve more numbers, but I think the 'Big Cat' is here to stay, and I think we might well put three guys out there to participate at the same time."
On Zach Mettenberger...
"I think he's been received pretty well, too. He's done a great job in the coaching sessions, and he's really competing. We think he's going to be a fast learner. He'll pick it up pretty quickly. I haven't seen him throw it, but our guys that have gone out there and thrown it with him have really enjoyed catching his balls. His abilities, even coming out of Junior College, are pretty significant. We're going to look at those three quarterbacks, and all three have a great opportunity."
On if he plans on knowing who the starter at QB will be following the spring...
"Historically, I have not been one to promote somebody early. I probably will head into the same direction. If we are taking first reps, certainly Jordan Jefferson will be that guy."
On Jarrett Lee...
"He's in the best shape of his life. It's an interesting thing. You have to give a guy his obvious changes, but his body is in better shape than it's been, and he's worked hard. He's deserving of every opportunity."
On if he hopes to have a new special teams coach by March 11...
"Not really. We would prefer if we could have him for that date but not necessarily. We want to get the right guy, and we'll take our time with our decision."
On Spencer Ware this spring...
"He couldn't hit a curveball, and I'm going to get to work with him a little bit more specifically so that when he goes back to baseball, certainly he'll be able to hit the curve. He's had a great coaches' session. I enjoy the fact that he plays another sport. We're dually excited about Spencer Ware."
The following is a list of LSU practice dates during the spring:
Week 1: March 11, 12
Week 2: March 15, 17, 19
Week 3: March 22, 24, 26
Week 4: March 29, 31, April 2
Week 5: April 5, 6, 7, 9 (Spring Game)
Other Dates of Interest:
LSU Pro Day - March 14
LSU Coaches Clinic - March 31- April 2