Marcus Spears turned and watched a blurry video of him from the 2004 BCS national championship game, lurking in space before returning an interception for a touchdown off Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jason White.
“That makes me feel kind of old,” Spears said with a chuckle.
Spears, the former LSU All-America defensive end and Southern Lab star, made a whirlwind visit back to his hometown Tuesday as the keynote speaker at the Louisiana High School Coaches Association convention at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. His flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives now to be close to the SEC Network studios, was canceled the night before.
Back home in Charlotte after covering Southeastern Conference media days last week in Hoover, Alabama, Spears has been cramming for the upcoming season, and that certainly doesn’t mean watching video from his playing days.
Among other things, Spears has been watching video of new LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s attack from when he was the play caller last season at the University of Pittsburgh. Spears said he has probably broken down 10 of the Panthers’ games by now.
He thinks what he sees will be tough for LSU’s opponents to stop on short notice.
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“His offense is complicated for defenses to comprehend, because there’s so much movement,” Spears said after wading through a battalion of well-wishers after his talk. “The middle linebackers get displaced; he moves them all across the line of scrimmage. It’s tough to defend when you don’t have but five days (to prepare).
“Now, people will go back to his tapes from Pitt and try to understand what he’s doing. But he lined up against Clemson and beat them before the snap.”
Pittsburgh’s offense rolled up 464 yards Nov. 12 in a 43-42 upset of those Tigers, the only loss last season for the eventual CFP national champions.
Spears said he’s still eager to find out the answer to what is perhaps the biggest question about LSU’s season: How well can senior quarterback Danny Etling adapt to Canada’s system?
“I really want to see how much Matt Canada impacts Danny Etling, if that’s going to be the starter,” he said. “I think Danny is a manageable quarterback in this league if you put him in the right situations.”
Spears qualifying his remarks on Etling was much the same way LSU coach Ed Orgeron qualified his remarks about Etling at media days. Orgeron stressed that incoming freshman Myles Brennan will get his promised shot at being the starter when preseason camp opens later this month.
Asked whether he believes the LSU offense will be different from the way it looked during the Les Miles era — Miles having promised change late in his tenure but failing to deliver — Spears said he does.
“Honestly, if it’s not different, they won’t be here but a year,” Spears said. “The anemic offense was the problem. If (Canada) can help that, we have the athletes to do it.”
Though he’s technically in the media now, Spears doesn’t hide his love for his alma mater, just as he hasn’t hidden his criticism of some of the decisions made under the Miles regime.
Spears also doesn’t hide his love for his former coaches and mentors, the people who he said literally put him where he was Tuesday.
“I’m standing here because of the people who poured into my life,” Spears said. “I would have messed it up as an individual, I guarantee you that. It was because of their influence. I would be doing you a disservice to stand in front of you right now and say this is all me. That would be a lie.”
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Spears implored the high school coaches in the room to prepare their student-athletes for life after their playing days are over.
“Everyone I played with at Southern Lab said they wanted to go play pro basketball and football and go to the Olympics. The reality is, three of us made it,” said Spears, who played eight years with the Dallas Cowboys and one with the Baltimore Ravens from 2005-13. “Y’all know the life part is coming eventually. People ask me what it’s like to be a pro football player. It’s a fantasy. It isn’t real life. Real life is seeing my mom have to move 13 times because we couldn’t pay the rent. Reality of life is my sister being molested as a teenager.”
Spears reminded coaches that their wins and losses will fade, but that their players will be their true legacy.
“They are products of you,” he said. “Their failures are yours. Their successes are yours. You want to know a coach, go talk to his players. The responsibility is yours.”
Though he was only in town a short time, the guy in the blurry video sure left a clear-cut impression.