The always affable Les Miles did not disappoint at SEC Media Days Wednesday.
After updating the crowd of reporters about his children and the Miles family’s “miserable, but great fun” vacation to Austin, the LSU head coach expressed sly confidence about his young, but explosive Tigers.
Coming off a 10-3 season, the Tigers lost over a dozen players to the NFL, including several underclassmen, but Miles isn’t worried about those who think LSU might have a bit of a down year.
“I would be willing to bet that not many picked Auburn a year ago,” Miles said. “Our position is, ‘Don't bother us, we don't care, we just want to work, we want to improve, we want to play one game at a time, we want to point at the next opponent.’ We understand that doesn't mean that we're in the immediate talk, but if we continue to do the things we've done in the past, we'll earn our way.
“I like us. I like us in every game.”
Reliance on freshmen
After losing so many contributors, especially at skill positions, to the NFL, Miles thinks that several players from his second-ranked 2014 recruiting class can come in and fill the void. Right off the bat in his opening statement, Miles named running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupre – both five-star prospects – and four-stars C.J. Garrett, a linebacker, and Brandon Harris, a quarterback, as guys he expects to contribute.
Miles specifically pointed out Fournette, the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 class, as a player who has a chance to be special. He, along with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, will help fill the void left by Jeremy Hill, a recent NFL draft pick.
“Leonard Fournette is doing exactly what he should be doing,” Miles said. “He's getting in the weight room, running, getting in great shape. He's quiet. He's not assuming. He's humble in his approach. I think it's exactly where he needs to be. He expects himself to be something very special. I think he has a quiet confidence there that will benefit him, and I think we will always have an opportunity to play at that spot.”
At wide receiver, in addition to Dupre, Miles pointed out Trey Quinn as another guy who can make an impact. On defense, Miles said that Jamal Adams and John Battle, both four-star recruits, are guys to watch for at the safety position.
That, of course, leaves out one key position where another true freshman might be called on to start when the season opens in a neutral site game against Wisconsin.
We got our first glimpse of quarterback Anthony Jennings in LSU’s bowl win over Iowa to end last season. It was an unenviable position for Jennings and he understandably struggled in his first-ever start. Jennings was filling in for an injured Zach Mettenberger. With Mettenberger now off to the NFL, Jennings has a chance to earn the starting role as a sophomore – but it won’t be easy. True freshman Brandon Harris, an early enrollee, is breathing down his neck.
Both Jennings and Harris are dual threats, and Miles is confident that offensive coordinator can mold whoever emerges from the QB battle into a great talent in the SEC.
“Cam Cameron is a guy who's made a career mentoring quarterbacks. He will do the exactly right things with those guys,” Miles said.
Miles already knows what he has in Jennings. He hasn’t seen as much of the 6-foot-2, 184-pound Harris, but when asked about his freshman signal caller, he didn’t hesitate to offer praise.
“The key piece is he really throws the ball well,” Miles said. “I mean, he is a guy that has real strength. He’s innately accurate. He’s got great footwork. He can extend a play, get out of the pocket, move around. But probably the best thing about him is he anticipates that great play, too. He has the opportunity to see it and has the arm to get it there.”
According to Miles, the competition between the two will be “a very competitive event from start to finish.”
Replacing the pros
The list of underclassmen that left for the pros that the Tigers have to replace is longer than most schools around the league. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are gone. Ego Ferguson is gone. Jeremy Hill is gone. Trai Turner too.
While it’s good exposure for the program to have so many guys playing in the pros, Miles described the situation as “not necessarily optimal” and again stressed the importance of the true freshmen stepping up.
“There's a responsibility that the coaching staff has to see a void that will potentially occur and we have to recruit to that void. We have to make sure that our style of recruiting is the style of recruiting that we get an athlete that has a want to be something special, then that guy steps in and plays as a true freshman. Although not optimal, it's certainly something we've done.”
Neutral site opener
Miles was quick to mention the new 102,000 capacity at Tiger Stadium, which was already one of the best environments in college football. Despite the enthusiasm for the stadium’s makeover, the Tigers won’t play a meaningful home game until week four against Mississippi State.
The Tigers open up in a neutral site game in Houston against Wisconsin and Miles explained the merits of participating in a game of that ilk.
“We like to play at home, there isn't any question,” Miles said “We enjoy walking down the hill to that stadium and that the opponent has a very difficult time getting the ball snapped. We understand the advantages. We also recognize that when you take a team, you're playing a very quality opponent, certainly Wisconsin is that, in a neutral‑site game, and you're in a position where as a program you're going to be challenged, there's a real necessity to answer that challenge that allows a level of execution and allows a level of play that you need to start the season with.”
Miles said there are advantages in recruiting, too.
Houston is right down the street for us. It's a very quality place to play at and recruit, too. I look forward to it. I've been in that stadium before. That will be a great venue and a very competitive game. Should be a lot of fun.”
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