Spring practice is upon us yet again. Like every spring since JaMarcus Russell left for the pros after the 2006 season, seemingly all the attention is on the quarterback position. Like last season, all the attention is focused on senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. This time though, it’s for a different reason.
Last season, LSU hoped that they could ride their strong defense and running game, use Mettenberger as a game manager the way Alabama had used AJ McCarron the year before to win the title. The problem with that plan was that it took the offense too long to click. For the first eight games of the year, the offensive line struggled to give Mettenberger enough time to throw, receivers dropped passes, and Mettenberger overthrew receivers and made some bad decisions with the ball. In November, he had a three game stretch, from Alabama to Ole Miss, where he became the quarterback that everyone expected him to be. He made good decisions with the ball, receivers didn’t drop passes, and the offensive line gave him time to throw. LSU will need that version of its offense in 2013 if they hope to compete for the national title.
As you know by now, LSU lost a lot of players to the NFL draft, mostly on defense. The highly vaunted defense from last year will not be back and this year’s version may not be able to keep LSU in games if Mettenberger struggles. That means he can’t go through a three game stretch where he completes less than 50% of his passes, like he did to start the 2012 SEC season.
That shouldn’t be a problem this season, thanks to the hire of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. With the Baltimore Ravens, Cameron called plays that got the ball to the tight ends and running backs. If he does this for Mettenberger, it will only help him. Having those security blankets matched on a linebacker in the middle of the field is something every quarterback likes to see.
Also, last season in the red zone, Mettenberger lacked a big, tall receiver to throw to. The Tigers scored 27 touchdowns on 53 red zone possessions. Six of those touchdowns came from Mettenberger’s arm. I floated the idea of using tight ends in the red zone to give him someone to throw to, but it rarely ever happened. With Cameron, it should happen. Mettenberger will also have 6’4” junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie to throw to. If Cameron can do for Mettenberger what he did for Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Joe Flacco, LSU will be fine.
While Mettenberger is far from the only question for LSU in spring practice, he may be the most important one. Quarterbacks are the most important position on the field. They get all the credit in a win, and all the blame in a loss. I doubt we’ll get any real glimpse of what he’ll be doing in this new offense until LSU’s season opener against TCU August 31. Until then, all we can do is wait and see. If things click, LSU will challenge for the BCS title. If not, they’ll have to hope the defense is still stout with all the departures. The 2013 LSU football team will go as far as Mettenberger takes them.