Friday, March 8, 2013
Spring preview: Cameron's influence
By Gary Laney
Cam Cameron's NFL experience is likely to help the LSU Tigers.
As LSU prepares to begin spring practice March 14, GeauxTigerNation will take daily looks at aspects of the spring camp. This is the fifth in the series:
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With LSU bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron, the question is, how will it affect the offense?
Over the years, Tigers teams under Les Miles have had strikingly similar offensive identities. The power running game has been a staple. The downfield passing game has usually been there. Since defensive coordinator John Chavis brought a dominant defense to town in 2009, the willingness to play conservatively and exchange field position with superior special teams has been part of the identity.
With Cameron and his Air Coryell background things might be tweaked. Cameron made his name as the offensive guru of the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens and served as head coach of the Miami Dolphins and Indiana University.
Here are some common threads that might continue to be traits of his offense at LSU:
Quarterback development: Under Cameron, quarterbacks have generally flourished.
When he was offensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins, Gus Frerotte made his only Pro Bowl appearance. As head coach at Indiana, he tutored future NFL wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El into one of the all-time great dual-threat college quarterbacks. At San Diego, he guided Drew Brees into stardom before Brees left for New Orleans, then helped Philip Rivers peak. At Baltimore, he coached Joe Flacco.
Does this mean he'll turn Zach Mettenberger from an ordinary quarterback to an All-SEC candidate? It likely depends on how quick a study Mettenberger can be. Cameron will be the fifth offensive coordinator of Mettenberger's college career.
In a Cameron offense, the tight end is a passing game weapon.
That hasn't been the case in recent years at LSU. In 2012, the tight end was almost non-existent in the passing game with just 16 combined receptions. Before that, DeAngelo Peterson had a couple of seasons of underwhelming production, especially considering he was a converted wide receiver. One has to go back to Richard Dickson to find the last time the Tigers had a tight end productive in the passing game.
Will it happen this year? Logan Stokes, a junior college transfer, was underused in a junior college offense that struggled in the passing game. Scouts, however, like his agility and ball skills. Dickson's younger brother, Travis Dickson, made some catches in limited opportunities last season.
DeSean Smith, a true freshman who is a true hybrid in the Gates mold, won't arrive until after the spring semester. Until then, it'll be interesting to see how the current tight ends get used in the passing game.
Productive, versatile backs: The irony of Cameron's firing from the Ravens was that he was criticized for not getting the ball to Ray Rice enough.
One of the traits of Cameron offenses has been consistently productive play from his running backs.
Both LaDainian Tomlinson and Rice were not only productive rushers, but prolific pass catchers under Cameron. Tomlinson had a 100-catch season in 2003. Rice had just under 70 catches a season in his last four Ravens seasons. Even with Randle-El dominating the offense at Indiana, Levron Williams had a 1,401-yard rushing season in 2001. And as bad as the Miami Dolphins were in Cameron's one season as head coach, Ronnie Brown had an outstanding season.
So what does it mean for the run-heavy Tigers?
Probably not much, considering the Miles Tigers have always demanded extraordinary running back production. If there's one tweak, it'll be with more production from backs in the passing game. A year ago, LSU running backs accounted for 35 pass receptions (38 when figuring in three catches by fullback J.C. Copleand). Expect that number to go up.
When healthy, Alfred Blue showed good ball skills last season, catching seven passes before injury ended his season in the third game. Look for Blue to be used out of the backfield this season.