His iPhone buzzed.
It wasn’t a text or a call or an email. It was D.J. Chark’s alarm application, reminding him that, at 1:30 p.m. on this particular Wednesday, he was supposed to be at a media session with local reporters.
Chark quickly snatched the phone from his lap and silenced it, all the while answering a question from one of the half-dozen reporters encircling him. On this day, he didn’t need that alarm. In fact, he had forgotten to switch it off.
“This is my ‘just in case I miss my interviews’ alarm,” he said with a smile. “I missed (interviews) yesterday because I was asleep.”
Welcome to the hectic days of camp life. Players are often out of bed by 6 a.m., in meetings by 8, on the practice field by 10 and back in bed for a nap around noon — before more meetings and a near three-hour practice in the afternoon. Some days, they’re not in bed for the night until after 10.
These are oh-so important days for a football team. Players gel, bonds are formed and, in the case this year, offenses are learned.
The primary goal to the Tigers’ three-week camp is the reinstallation of Matt Canada’s offense, a system he implemented in the spring and summer, a scheme that’s supposed to resuscitate sleepy LSU. The re-installation is the reason coach Ed Orgeron said he completely closed camp to reporters.
So, halfway through this 18-day camp, how’s the installation going?
It’s tough to tell, but there is a “sense of urgency,” quarterback Danny Etling said, for this group to complete the process over the next week and a half before camp breaks.
Like Chark’s alarm, the offense is on the clock.
“We’re not even done putting in all of our installs yet and we went out there and did pretty well,” Etling said of Saturday’s first scrimmage of camp. “Saturday to (Monday) there was a huge improvement. What we have to do these next nine days is continue to improve and make sure we have a sense or urgency before we start school so we can keep working on ourselves before we start the game plans.”
A third former NFL assistant coach has joined LSU’s staff.
Coaches plan to push aside the offensive installation Aug. 21 and turn their attention to the season opener against BYU. How ready players will be by that time is something of a mystery.
The offense limped through the spring game, an anomaly, Orgeron said, during a spring in which Canada’s unit routinely beat the defense.
In Saturday’s first camp scrimmage — closed to reporters and the public — the quarterbacks combined to go 9-for-21, Orgeron said. Etling went 5-for-11 for 86 yards with, the coach suggested, at least a couple of dropped passes. Scrimmage statistics are a poor indicator of anything, but Etling admitted earlier this week that, yes, his rapport with the receivers must get better.
The fifth-year senior pointed to his footwork as a potential issue, and he again mentioned the ticking time left in camp to get the offense in shape for the season opener Sept. 2.
“It’s still developing, something I’m working on with my footwork and continue to get better and better, with coach Canada teaching me to get better every single day,” he said. “You’re going to run out of time soon enough (when) you need to start game planning, so you can’t work on this stuff anymore.”
There is still some confusion on how much of Canada’s offense he’s installed. Tight ends/H-backs coach Steven Ensminger said in May that Canada installed about “50-60 percent” of the scheme during spring practice. Orgeron said the same in July, that about “50-60 percent” was in.
Chark last week said Canada had installed the “whole offense” over the spring and summer, but he admitted the coach has more to add in camp and during the season. Canada is now re-installing it this August in an effort for the freshmen to absorb the system and for the veterans to relearn it.
"We jammed a lot of it in in the spring," Chark said. "Over the summer, as an offense, we went and did it together by ourselves. We have the whole offense in, we’re just starting over from the first install, just polishing it up."
One week down, five to go.
Canada installs a phase per day, junior tight end Foster Moreau said. New stuff not previously learned in the spring and summer is added with each phase.
“It will come in sprinkles,” Moreau said. “We’ll go Phase 1 (or) Install 1. There will be some things we didn’t rep in spring. One or two things.
“What he wants to do is we’ll have 12, 13, 14 Installs like we did over the summer and over spring. With that, every day he’ll put something else in there. Install 2 is today,” Moreau continued during an interview after Day 2 of camp last week. “We’ve sprinkled in some things for today’s practice that we’re all fired up about.”
Moreau, like Canada, claims the offense is not complicated and is easy to learn. Some paint a different picture. For instance, running back Derrius Guice at Southeastern Conference media days in July said “sometimes it still confuses us,” when referring to the scheme.
Other players have used words like intricate and sophisticated to describe it. The system might be the toughest for receivers — physically and mentally. They are the most prominent moving pieces in Canada’s trademark presnap shifts and motions. Their routes can change with each shift.
“Wherever your alignment was at first, by shifting and moving, your assignment changes as well,” Chark said. “I might have this route when I shift, (but) I don’t have that route anymore. I’ve got another route. You’ve got to know the whole offense, basically, from a passing concept.”
Canada has done this all before. In fact, this is his fifth time installing an offense at a new school in the last seven years. Two of those first-year offenses have ranked in the top 12 nationally in points scored: North Illinois (2011) and Pitt (2016). Wisconsin, Big Ten champions under Canada in 2012, finished 59th in points scored, and N.C. State was 98th in 2014.
“We’ve had success in the first year at different places, from Northern Illinois to Wisconsin to Pitt, of coming in and getting going very quickly and having success right away,” Canada said in a school-conducted interview released recently. “That’s what everybody wants — what we all want. We’re not going to talk about, ‘Hey, in a few years, we’ll get it right.’”
LSU camp/preseason practice key dates
- Saturday: Camp scrimmage No. 2, time TBD
- Aug. 19: Camp scrimmage No. 3, time TBD
- Aug. 21: First day of school (end of camp)
- Aug. 26: Final camp scrimmage, time TBD