LSU Tigers see potential for 'spectacular' passing game
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE — New LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron isn’t yet ready to promise that quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his top returning receivers will be better than the collection of talented underachievers they resembled a year ago.
“Ultimately, you don’t know,” Cameron said during LSU’s annual media day Sunday. “Until it translates from in here on the practice field (to game day), it really hasn’t happened, so we’ll see.”
For now, the longtime college and NFL coach expresses optimism that the progress he’s seen at practice, particularly with Mettenberger, bodes well for this season, which begins Aug. 31 against TCU in Dallas.
“There is no throw that this kid can’t make. None,” Cameron said, comparing Mettenberger’s throwing ability to that of reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, whom Cameron coached in Baltimore. “He knows there’s more to it than just having an arm.”
Cameron was hired in February to take over the offensive game plan and play calling from Greg Studrawa, who remains on the staff as the offensive line coach. Cameron also has been working with quarterbacks.
LSU went 10-3 last season and finished No. 14 in the nation, but the offense struggled with Mettenberger as a first-year starter.
The Tigers ranked 10th out of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference in total offense, and Mettenberger finished near the bottom of the conference in efficiency rating. LSU was 92nd in the nation in passing, averaging 200.5 yards per game.
While some of LSU’s low passing numbers stemmed from the Tigers’ ability to dominate many teams with a deep and punishing running game, coach Les Miles understood the offense had to be more dynamic — and less predictable — against elite Southeastern Conference defenses.
Cameron has worked to maintain the physical ground game for which LSU is known while improving the passing game by refining Mettenberger’s mechanics and his receivers’ route running.
Junior receiver Odell Beckham said the NFL precision to which Cameron became accustomed during 12 seasons coaching the pros is evident.
“You can definitely sense it,” Beckham said. “If it’s a 12-yard route, it means it’s a 12-yard route. It’s not 10½, not 11¾.”
Beckham added that Mettenberger’s maturity, combined with Cameron’s tutelage, has produced a better quarterback.
“It’s going to be something spectacular to watch this year. Zach’s just matured so much,” Beckham said. “It’s all coming together fabulous. I haven’t seen Zach like this. ... I just can’t wait to play with him.”
Mettenberger has never lacked confidence, but concedes that his talent alone is not enough at the highest levels of college football, and that he’s had to work hard on his footwork, vision, timing and decision-making.
“That’s always been my deal ever since I was 10 years old; I’ve always had a strong arm, but I’ve always been big and slow-footed, and the complexity of college football — trying to get my mind up to the speed of that as well has been a daily battle,” Mettenberger said. “But I definitely feel like I’m poised to have a great year.”
He also has the benefit of experienced receivers such as Beckham and Jarvis Landry, who’ve demonstrated an ability to make the toughest catches, but have been disappointed by their own lack of consistency and drops.
“We fully expect them to have the same freak catches they always have — and maybe a little bit more production,” Mettenberger said.
Meanwhile, Cameron aims to give Mettenberger more ways to find his passing rhythm with a scheme that provides an array of check downs or designed throws to running backs.
“They’re critical,” Cameron said of the running backs’ role in the passing game. “They’re some of our best players. Offensively, we’re charged basically with getting the ball to our best players.”
NOTES: Miles declined to address the health of senior guard Josh Williford, who was not available for interviews at media day. Williford missed much of last season with a concussion and had another in practice last week. It is not clear if or when he’ll be cleared to play this season. ... Miles also maintained his refusal to indicate whether he will sit out Jeremy Hill for any games following the running back’s recent misdemeanor plea to punching a man outside a bar in late-April. Miles only asserted that he would not to be influenced by opinions of those outside of his football program. “Outside opinion can be self-serving, depending on the location that you live in; It’s really egregious or it’s not that bad at all,” Miles said of Hill’s offense. “So what we’re going to do is talk about our culture, and punishment will be dealt in an appropriate fashion.”