Change brewing? LSU opens camp with new faces challenging, different QB taking 1st snaps _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Head coach Les Miles surveys the action, on the first day of practice at fall camp Thursday at LSU 's Charles McClendon Football Practice Facility.

Were Winston Churchill covering LSU football, he might have been inspired to opine thusly:

“From the railroad tracks near Nicholson Drive, to Tiger Park, an iron curtain has descended across the LSU football program.”

OK, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but it has been a curiously quiet week for the team on Skip Bertman Drive.

LSU players haven’t been available for interviews since, it seems, Churchill was the P.M. Well, not really, but it’s been well over a week. By the time they are unveiled en masse Sunday at LSU’s annual football media day extravaganza, we may be surprised to find that six or seven more Tigers have left early for the NFL draft (a recurring happening in these parts).

Some players, a lot of them, actually, have been talking. None of them, however, were named Leonard Fournette (who did speak during SEC Media Days in July), Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. Miles said he wanted his players focused on the task at hand, generally getting ready for this season and in particular, Saturday night’s first big preseason scrimmage under the lights in Tiger Stadium.

“I’m guiding a thoroughbred, and I want him to be focused at the finish line,” Miles said Friday, turning a clever analogy.

It’s a coach’s prerogative at the college level. Unlike the NFL, there are no rules that players have to be made accessible to the media, other than who you choose to bring to something like SEC Media Days and who you make available at a bowl game. LSU makes everyone available at its media day, which is Sunday afternoon before fan activities start. And it is there we will finally hear what Jennings and Harris have to say about their race for the starting quarterback job, a race Harris continued to lead going into Saturday’s scrimmage by taking the first snap.

But media access to players is only a small piece of a bigger picture. Of more interest and even more telling is word that major boosters and “jobbers” (those who provide summer jobs for players) have had their access to practices and scrimmages cut back markedly this preseason as well.

This leads to one of two possibilities, one of which or both could be true:

One, the Tigers’ practices are including some wizardry and wrinkles that LSU’s coaches don’t want revealed, or talked about. Miles, in an exceedingly rare flash of anger it must be said, went ballistic at a practice last week when some TV cameras started rolling video on a new-looking passing formation. The fewer eyes who see how the quarterbacks look throughout all of practice, how much LSU is working on 3-4 defensive formations instead of the 4-3, whatever, are better to spring on Mississippi State and maybe Auburn. If there was ever a time for top secret clearance for LSU football practice, this is probably it.

Two, Miles is feeling the pressure to perform this season. Certainly he knows the numbers as well as anyone: 8-0 in the SEC in 2011, 6-2 in 2012, 5-3 in 2013, 4-4 in 2014. With each rung down the SEC West standings, the heat increases as you fall closer to the Earth’s core.

Miles’ seat is not hot. Not this season. But a couple more eight- or seven-win records, and you can bring the kindling. The best way to head that off is to be better this year. The best way to be better in the coach’s mind is to control the things you can control.

The tricky part is there is often a fine line between a buttoned-down, all-business approach and a loose, freewheeling style. Some teams and players respond well to being on a tight ship, some don’t.

We’ll see if Miles can put the blinders on his thoroughbred and lead it to the finish line.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.