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Insider

Opponents be-Ware of versatile Tiger

10/19/2012

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles hinted at it all week last week and during Saturday's 23-21 LSU win over South Carolina. Then all saw a plan to feature Spencer Ware more start to come into fruition -- that is, until an injury sidelined him and opened the door for somebody else to bask in the spotlight.

This week, with LSU playing the team Ware had his original coming out party against (Texas A&M), the question is, will we see LSU continue on its commitment to use the junior more and in what ways will the Aggies have to defend one of the Tigers' more versatile players.

"He can do so many things," offensive tackle Josh Dworaczyk said.

Indeed. Potentially one of the SEC's most versatile players, he came to LSU as a high school quarterback who also was a prep baseball star. As an LSU freshman, he showed his versatility in limited playing time by throwing a touchdown pass from the halfback position, rushing for 102 yards in a breakout performance in the Tigers' Cotton Bowl win over the Aggies, then starting 10 games in the Tigers' outfield in the spring.

He parlayed that success into the starting running back job as a sophomore and was the featured back for about half the season until a one-game suspension, then a slew of minor injuries, slowed him down and pushed him down the depth chart. He finished second on the team with 707 rushing yards, mostly on bruising runs using his 220-pound frame and to challenge tacklers. This season, he has been just a part of a crowded LSU backfield that's used five backs at various times.

That seemed to change the Monday before the South Carolina game. Miles said he wanted to feature Ware more, saying he was potentially a "dangerous weapon" for an offense coming off a bad game in a 14-6 loss to Florida. Later in the week, he noted that Ware might get snaps in the Wildcat, a wrinkle LSU hadn't shown this season to that point.

Miles seemed to follow through. On LSU's first drive against South Carolina, Ware caught a pass out of the backfield for 27 yards. On the same drive, the former high school quarterback lined up under center for a play and ran a quarterback sneak to convert a third-and-1. It wasn't the Wildcat in the sense that it wasn't a shotgun snap, but the wrinkle of using him as a running quarterback had been introduced.

The "feature Spencer Ware" plan was in full effect until the second quarter when he trotted to the locker room with what Miles called a "full body cramp." He did eventually return, but as is often the case with LSU backs, an absence opened the door for somebody else. True freshman Jeremy Hill got hot and by night's end was the hero with 124 yards on 17 carries, including the game-winning 50-yard touchdown.

Ware rushed for 56 yards on 14 carries while establishing promise that he can be used in more versatile ways. That threat is one Texas A&M and others will have to worry about.

"It's huge for us on offense to have a guy back there who's mobile," Dworaczyk said about the possibility of using Ware at quarterback more. "[Starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger] is not mobile. That's kind of been stated and everybody knows that. But to have a guy like Spencer who can do those things ... "

Dworaczyk let the thought trail off, but then he added:

"Also catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "I would love to see him split out, catching some balls for us."

Ware under center. Ware out of the backfield. Ware split out wide.

These are all intriguing possibilities.

They'd also all be departures from this season's pattern.

Ware, who has rushed for 253 yards on 54 carries on the season, does not have any of the five 100-yard rushing games by Tigers backs this season and missed the season opener because of injury. Until Ware took the snap under center against South Carolina, Mettenberger had taken every meaningful snap this season, save a couple of instances when he left games with minor injuries and was replaced by Stephen Rivers.

Mettenberger said he wouldn't mind seeing Ware take more of those short-yardage snaps.

"If they want him running quarterback sneaks instead of me," Mettenberger said, "I'm fine with that."

Center P.J. Lonergan hinted that it might be a mainstreamed possibility. He said he snaps the ball every day at practice to all of the Tigers' quarterbacks and Ware is involved in that drill.

"I'm comfortable with it," he said.

LSU seemed to be comfortable with the idea of using Ware more, and in creative ways last week. Now that he's healthy again, the question is to what extent we will see more wrinkles from the quarterback/centerfielder/running back this week?