Danny Etling wouldn’t know whether the passing portion of LSU’s spring practices this year is any different from the spring practices last year. He was with Purdue last March.
But Etling would know whether LSU’s offensive playbook has grown since last fall. The quarterback transfer spent his fall and winter nights studying Cam Cameron’s and Les Miles’ book of plays, schemes and formations.
And, yes, it has grown.
“You always, in the spring, try new things,” Etling said this week in his first interview opportunity since arriving last summer. “It’s a good time to put new things in the offense and perfect things we already run. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing.”
What are those new things? Good luck getting that answer out of anyone.
For much of this offseason, Miles has tempered questions about his passing offense by claiming that change is on the way. After all, the Tigers’ passing unit finished 106th and 116th the past two seasons.
Following a dramatic and eventful November, Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva agreed the offense needed to change. Miles said LSU’s staff would study successful passing offenses and would alter the way it practices the passing game during spring drills.
Two weeks and six practices through the spring, and Miles said change has arrived.
Other schools visited LSU during the offseason, he said, and his staff broke down film of teams that “throw the football really well,” the coach added. Meanwhile, the squad is spending more time in spring practice than ever on the passing game, and new receivers coach Dameyune Craig installed new passing drills, too.
Quarterback Brandon Harris said they’ve helped so much that he’s seeing a noticeable difference in the accuracy chart he receives after each practice.
“After practice, when we get our accuracy numbers,” Harris said, “our completion percentage after practice, you can see where it continues to soar and go up.”
Harris earlier this week called Craig a “role model” and “similar player” to himself during Craig’s years as a dual-threat QB at Auburn. Craig’s hire appears to have been a central part of Miles’ offensive change.
The staff made room with receivers coach Tony Ball’s departure. The school said he left to “pursue other opportunities.” More than a month later, Ball has not landed another job.
Craig left Auburn for only a 10 percent raise and a contract that, in length, is shorter by three months, but his influence on the LSU offense appears to be substantial. Craig told The Advocate earlier this week that Cameron gave him the “green light” to work with quarterbacks if he notices “anything.”
The two coaches — Craig and Cameron — “meet all day,” Craig said. They’re not often separated on the practice field, either.
Reporters have been allowed to watch 15 to 25 minutes of each of the six spring practices so far — a total of about two hours of practice time. The receivers and quarterbacks rarely have practiced independently of one another — a slight but noticeable change in the practice regimen from past years.
Meanwhile, in his first interview since October, Harris claimed LSU’s offense doesn’t need change — it needs execution. Last year’s passing problems were, in part, because of Cameron’s distant presence in the press box, the quarterback suggested.
“We just need to execute what’s being called,” Harris said. “A lot of times, that’s not happening. A lot of that is on me. Again, we had all that happen in the bowl game where we took the right direction with Cam on the sidelines.”
LSU rolled up a season high for yards (638) and points (56) in the win over Texas Tech with Cameron calling plays from the sideline for the first time in his three-year tenure with the school.
Will that — Cameron on the sideline — happen next season?
“God willing,” Harris answered.
The bigger question: Will all of this solve LSU’s passing woes?
Cameron on the sideline and a new voice in Craig. Playbook additions and a tweaked practice regimen.
Will they be enough?
Forget those new things, Harris said, and focus on an old one: He’s finally an upperclassman.
“It’s (my) third spring,” he said. “Cam has a familiarity with what I like to run. … Going into your third spring, now we’re able to add different things.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.