Many coaches in the SEC have to fill major voids by the time fall camp rolls around.
Les Miles just has to fix some tires.
LSU’s mechanic — err, head coach — was asked what the biggest flat tire was on his 2016 roster. In other words, what was the biggest problem that he had to sort out before the start of the season.
Miles was in the prime position of having too much talent, so the biggest issue he’s facing is sorting through LSU’s depth to put forth to best starting lineup by the season opener against Wisconsin at historic Lambeau Field.
So, Miles, what’s under the hood?
“I don’t think there’s any flat tire to this point,” Miles said Thursday at SEC Media Day in Hoover, Ala.
“It’s more of finding the best pieces and getting them on the field in the right personnel group … That’s really a reference to right now, in every phase, every coach that comes up here has exactly the same thoughts. There’s nothing broke at this point, but getting your best in the front … It’s more at this point making sure we put that the first-team on the field in the opener is ready to continue to execute at a high level from that point.”
That doesn’t mean the Tigers are without flaws.
After Miles rained praise on the roster in his opening statement, he was able to address the progress made at each position group since the spring. That includes the starters returning, those being thrust into prominent roles and the newcomers that arrived this summer.
That begins with quarterback Brandon Harris, who’s preparing for his third year at LSU and his second as the unquestioned starters. The junior has caught the attention of both the coaches and his teammates for his development this spring, and Miles deemed that critical to the team’s success in 2016.
“Brandon Harris will have the right year. All he needs to do is what we asked him to do, and he’s ready to do that,” Miles said. “He’s chomping at the bit.”
“Our play will be significant there (at quarterback),” he added. “He’s more poised, more comfortable and has more ambition. The more you accomplish, the more you want to accomplish. The artistic piece of a quarterback is the style of throw, and the style of throw is where he’s at. Should I drive it, put arm on it, what is this throw? That’s where you want you quarterback to spend his time, and he is … that’s a nice position to be in going into the season.”
Leonard Fournette highlights the LSU backfield, which returns a home-run threat in Derrius Guice as well as Nick Brossette and Darrel Williams.
Under new running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, numerous backs are expected to have roles in the offense, and that obviously includes the Heisman Trophy favorite who has taken the necessary steps to get in prime shape between 225 and 231 pounds this offseason.
“His desire to have speed, strength and the combination of the two is the advantage for the elite back, and he’s right there where he needs to be,” Miles said of Fournette. “Derrius Guice is also in that backfield having a strong summer as well. Darrel Williams is a guy that’s going to carry the ball in signifcant times. We’re going to be pretty salty at running back.”
Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are cemented as the top two wide receivers, though Miles said he is looking to see which one of the youngsters will step up behind them. Jazz Ferguson, Tyron Johnson and freshmen Drake Davis, Dee Anderson and Stephen Sullivan are all candidates for those roles.
The team added Jamal Pettigrew and converted defensive lineman Caleb Roddy to the mix at tight end, along with incumbents Colin Jeter and Foster Moreau, plus a healthy Desean Smith.
Up front, LSU is breaking in a pair of new starting tackles in Maea Teuhema and Toby Weathersby, but there is still some decisions to be made about the starting five. Miles believes it’s hard to go wrong considering the depth of the line.
“Maea Teuehma is a good left tackle and can also be a good left guard, right guard or right tackle. Karl Malone is very good junior, senior and good player, too. We have Will Clapp at left guard, and we’re really in a good spot on the left side,” Miles said.
“Toby Weathers is at right tackle. Frankly, we expect tremendous participation at the position. (Josh) Boutte is at right guard and a big, physical man on our team, and Ethan Pocic at center, there appears to be no flat tire.”
Defensively, LSU will implement a 3-4 base defense with some shades of a 4-3. Davon Godchaux, Lewis Neal and Christian LaCouture are projected starters, but Frank Herron and Rashard Lawrence are expected to be in the rotation. Freshman Sci Martin will see action at defensive end.
Miles named Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith at the starting inside linebackers, and Arden Key and Tashawn Bowers as the starters on the outside. He suggested Corey Thompson will play a major role in the run and pass coverage and Devin White will be involved every game in the middle.
The vaunted secondary returns Tre’Davious White, Kevin Toliver II and Jamal Adams. Donte Jackson, Kristian Fulton, Eric Monroe and Rickey Jefferson are also expected to have significant roles, Miles said. So will John Battle, who the coach declared healthy after nursing a groin injury.
“Since 2005, our defense has been really significant,” Miles said. “Twenty-four fourth-quarter comebacks, and Dave Aranda really fits the bill of just what we needed. We’re going to be mixing up personnel, but we’ll be playing Dave Aranda football, and that, historically, has been damn good.”
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tigers Stadium.