Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:12 PM
BATON ROUGE — There was a little edge to Les Miles’ voice at one stop on the checklist of goals he mentioned for LSU when it starts spring football practice today.
“We’re going to give more time to the 4-minute scenario,” he said, “where you have the lead with 4 minutes left in the game, and you get the opportunity to keep it by getting first downs. We are going to focus on that some.”
It was the sore spot of last year’s 10-3 season. In two of its three losses — a potential upset of eventual national champion Alabama and a last-second-loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl — LSU had the lead with less than 2 minutes to play. One more first down would have sealed both wins — failing that, one defensive stop would have salvaged them.
So both sides of the ball will have plenty to work on when the first of 15 practices begins.
There are plenty of holes to fill after 13 juniors opted to leave school early to make themselves available for next month’s NFL draft. The defense was particularly hard hit with four returning starters.
Miles said the staff wasn’t caught totally off guard by the early defections.
“It is a really positive thing,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a number like that in the future, but it is a strong statement that the Tigers come in, they get prepared and they have the opportunity in three years to further their football in the NFL.”
He said the Tigers have plenty of good players left. The spring, he noted, is a time to “identify dominant and elite players.”
“It’s important to identify those guys,” he said. “You have to evolve your talent. Our guys have to get better.”
The offense returns mostly intact, but the key left tackle spot will be a spring focus after Chris Faulk opted to try the NFL early. Faulk, a projected All-American before missing all but the season opener last season, was one of the few defections that surprised the staff.
Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk handled the position in Faulk’s absence most of the season.
The plan, Miles said, is for junior La’el Collins, a starter at left guard last season, to move over a spot.
“It is not just him (but) he is going to get the first look,” Miles said. “I think he is ready to do that. I think that he is lighter than he has been and is a very strong and capable guy. He is a guy that can sit in there and have real success.”
Josh Williford, a starter at guard before missing the second half of the season with lingering concussion symptoms, is back and will also get some looks at replacing P.J. Lonergan at center.
LSU lost four starters in the defensive line, although Anthony Johnson played about as much of any of them and has stepped up a leader, Miles said.
He also said he expects the inexperience up front to be offset by a linebacker corps that “may be one of the stronger groups we’ve ever had.”
The key will likely be Lamin Barrow’s ability to move from the outside to middle linebacker to replace tackling machine Kevin Minter.
“It is probably his,” Miles said. “We are going to be able to fit guys like Kwon Alexander, Tahj Jones (of Sulphur), Lamar Louis and Deion Jones on the outside. So let’s go find that middle linebacker first. You know you have Barrow that can play well. He’s done that at a number of spots.”
Some others, such as junior D.J. Welter, will also get a look inside.
“Then we might move Barrow back outside,” Miles said. “Initially, we’ll start with Barrow (inside).”
Miles said he is already impressed with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who comes to LSU after most recently being offensive coordinator for the NFL Baltimore Ravens.
“In my opinion he will have great effect,” Miles said. “He has done a great job already, just the approach of the offense and how we see ourselves.
“I can’t imagine there being any issues.”
Miles said, if had to pinpoint anything in Cameron’s philosophy, it would be his desire to get running backs and tight ends more involved in the passing game.
“I think you will find some of his offensive past will be evident. I think Cam will take our better players and devise those things that give them the opportunity to have touches. In the NFL, that was the case. … There will be a quality balance to the attack.”
The spring football game will be at 2 p.m. April 20.
“Certainly, there is a lot to accomplish,” Miles said. “We are by no means in position (yet) to predict a grand season. This is the style of team that if they work hard and do the things they are capable of doing, they will be like other teams that have gone through here — compete for a title. That is always the mark here, and will certainly always be.”