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What LSU's spring game might tell us about offensive changes

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cam Cameron politely bristled after last Saturday’s spring game when a reporter implied that LSU had run a dumbed-down version of its offense so as not to give away anything.

“I thought there was some non-vanilla stuff there,” Cameron, LSU’s offensive coordinator, said with a grin.

He was absolutely correct, especially in comparison to a 2014 season where inexperience at the skill positions, particularly quarterback, limited what Cameron was able to call. It left LSU’s offense in a lurch, with the Tigers relying heavily on their running game to propel a frequently unproductive offense.

As long as Leonard Fournette is in LSU's backfield, the running game will almost certainly remain the Tigers’ preferred option for moving the chains. But as Cameron implied, he wasn’t simply going through the motions last Saturday. There were some wrinkles present that might show up more frequently during the season.

“Did we show everything we’re going to do? Absolutely not,” Cameron said. “But at the same time, I thought we gave our guys a chance to execute the things that we’re going to need for them to do in the fall.”

Here are a few examples:

Use of shotgun: According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU had its quarterback under center on 60 percent of its offensive snaps (536 of 897 plays) in 2014. Only Arkansas (69 percent) posted a greater percentage among SEC offenses.

If the spring game is any indication, the Tigers might spread things out a bit more this fall. Quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris worked with the first-team offense for 37 plays in the game, lining up under center for 19 plays and in the shotgun for 18.

Keep in mind that the passing game was obviously a higher priority in the game, not just because the quarterbacks and receivers needed the work in a game-like environment, but also because LSU’s coaches told ESPN’s TV crew that Fournette and Darrel Williams had already handled 800-plus practice reps apiece in the first 14 spring practices.

Once tailback signees Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice arrive on campus this summer, LSU’s backfield depth will return to normal, allowing Cameron to lean more on LSU’s traditional I-formation rushing attack. But that was not his concern in the spring game.

Both quarterbacks seem equipped to operate a spread offense, but LSU called more shotgun plays overall for Harris. Splitting time between the White and Purple teams, Harris was in for a total of 49 plays, taking 30 shotgun snaps and 19 from under center. Jennings handled a total of 27 plays, 13 under center and 14 in the shotgun.

“I think that we have our offense, it’s in the gun, it’s in the pistol at times and I think both guys came out of that system,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I don’t think there’s any issue in that at all. I don’t know that it’s adapting to [Harris] as much as it is just kind of it has been a part of us that he’s very good at.”

Wide receiver flexibility: We touched on this subject in depth in a story earlier this week, but it bears mentioning again.

LSU shifted receiver Malachi Dupre inside to the slot during the spring and the position seems to suit him. He caught two touchdowns and finished with 112 receiving yards on four catches there on Saturday.

Learning multiple positions was an area of emphasis for the wideouts this spring, and now many of the Tigers’ most prominent receivers can play multiple spots. Last season, the group’s overall inexperience made positional versatility nearly impossible, but that’s starting to change.

“We had a group that was so young. Just learning one position is tough, let alone having to learn three or four,” said junior receiver Travin Dural, who knows all four receiver positions.

Man in motion: Speaking of Dural, we saw something from him on the first play of the game that became a staple of LSU’s offense late last season. In this particular case, he lined up in the slot and only faked taking a handoff on a jet sweep, but Cameron will almost certainly make use of such plays again.

The speedy Dural ran eight times for 110 yards in the final two games against Texas A&M and Notre Dame, and Miles hinted on national signing day that lightning-quick cornerback signee Donte Jackson might also appear on offensive plays this fall.

Use of the tight ends/RBs as receivers: Again, keep in mind that a spring game is hardly a reliable indicator of what will come this fall, but LSU’s quarterbacks made good use of their tight ends and running games last Saturday when that was not always the case last season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU quarterbacks targeted tight ends with just 20 passes last season, which tied for 85th among FBS offenses. They were 12-for-20 for 129 yards and one touchdown.

In the spring game, they completed five passes to tight ends for 109 yards and one score. DeSean Smith had two catches for 62 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, Colin Jeter had two grabs for 38 yards and Dillon Gordon had one for 9 yards.

Likewise, LSU didn’t use the running backs as pass-catchers especially often -- and the back who caught the most balls (Terrence Magee, who had 17 catches for 171 yards) was a senior who is now pursuing an NFL career. Overall, the Tigers were 38-for-49 for 423 yards on passes to the running backs last season.

They completed five passes for 33 yards to the running backs last Saturday, with Williams making impressive runs after the catch on both of his receptions.

Do any of those spring-game stats mean anything? Probably not. But there were times where the Tigers clearly ran plays to get the ball into the hands of those tight ends or backs. Neither group got many touches last season, so it will be worth watching whether LSU actually spreads the ball around more often this fall.