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Friday, April 12, 2013
GTN team mailbag: A better Mettenberger?

By Gary Laney

Zach Mettenberger
Much is expected of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger heading into his senior season.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- GTN writer Gary Laney took your questions about the Tigers as they headed to the home stretch of spring practice:

From: Tone (Denver): Gary, do you think Zach Mettenberger will be better prepared to perform at a higher level than last year?

Gary Laney: I do think circumstances should allow for Mettenberger to prepare better for this season, starting with the hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator.

Don't necessarily take that as a ringing endorsement of Cameron, who is a very good hire. It's just a better situation. The quarterback guy, the coach who best has a feel for Mettenberger's pulse, will be the guy calling the plays and designing offensive game plans.

That alone makes a big difference. I think Steve Kragthorpe would have done a great job as offensive coordinator, but when his health issues forced him to move aside, I wasn't a fan of the dynamic of an offensive line coach calling plays. This is increasingly a quarterback-driven game. Because of that, I'm a fan of the offensive coordinator being the quarterback guy.

Mettenberger was going to prepare better regardless, given the year of starting experience. I just think this arrangement will allow him to prepare more efficiently.

From Henry (Montgomery, Ala.): Not looking past TCU, but what game would you say is the first "statement" game of the season?

GL: Henry, why look past TCU at all?

There are so many question marks about LSU's team, from its defensive line, to middle linebacker, to special teams and, of course, a new offensive coordinator.

So right off the bat, we're going to get a chance to see how things look. If the defensive line pressures TCU's veteran quarterbacks, that would be a statement. If Mettenberger puts up big numbers, that would be a statement.

Plus, the game is in Arlington, practically a home game for the Horned Frogs, so yeah, that's a statement game.

From: Rick Merritt (@Merritt_Rick): How do you think the addition of a true offensive coordinator affects LSU's red-zone stats?

GL: The media had a chance to watch Cameron installing some of the red-zone passing offense during Tuesday's practice, and what impressed me was the amount of time he seemed willing to invest in red-zone passing.

There were quite a few pass-oriented looks that were implemented along with a lot of route combinations. This was stuff that's going to take time to master, so the impression here is that if you are going to devote valuable practice time  -- limited as it is by NCAA rules -- to this stuff, you're going to use it on Saturdays.

That doesn't mean LSU won't run the ball in the red zone, but I think you'll see an offense less prone to trying to "impose  its will" on the defense by running into nine-man fronts.

From Chuck (Atlanta): What happened to Kenny Hilliard last year in terms of being in Les Miles's doghouse? Do you see him taking a back seat to Jeremy Hill this year?

GL: I'm not sure that the doghouse is what kept Hilliard out of games so much as Hill taking an opportunity and running with it. As a result, Hilliard's skill set became redundant.

Both are physical runners with surprising speed for their size. In relief of the starter, LSU liked to go to speed back Michael Ford or to Spencer Ware in passing downs. With Hill getting the bulk of the "physical back" carries, that left limited chances for Hilliard. I think Hilliard will get his chances this year.

From Chuck (Atlanta): Kwon Alexander looked like he was heading for a "monster" year before hurting his ankle last season. It seems as if the strength of this defense going forward will be the LB corps. Do you think Kwon is going to have a breakout year and do you see the "Chief" [defensive coordinator John Chavis] adjusting his calls a little bit to take advantage of athletes like Lamar Louis and Alexander?

GL: I think the linebackers are simultaneously a luxury and a dilemma for Chavis.

LSU is young on the defensive line and may not have quite the usual quality in the secondary. At the same time, Chavis always talks about how this is may be the best group of linebackers he's coached, which is quite a statement.

How do you take advantage of that? Last season, LSU often went to 4-2-5 and 3-2-6 looks. This year, I'm wondering if the Tigers won't stay in the base 4-3 more, or maybe use some 3-3-5 looks in passing downs.

You've got to find a way to get that talent on the field. I wouldn't be shocked if LSU always has three linebackers on the field and rotates six of them to stay fresh.