Baton Rouge -- Les Miles usually reserves judgment on his team until the fall, leaving the spring for the Tigers to iron out their kinks and set the levels for their own expectations.
But after one weekend of football the Mad Hatter was ready to voice his pleasure with one piece of the team’s two afternoon practices: intensity.
Without pads until Tuesday afternoon, four Tigers – all younger players – found a way to mix contact work into the weekend.
“We had a push-and-shove, and that push-and-shove turned into a little friskiness,” said Les Miles after the team’s second workout of the spring. “That happens. A team full of men that are wearing pads and then not wearing pads, you occasionally get a little anxiety and exchange blows. I’ve never been around a team where that didn’t happen.
“I kind of enjoyed it to be honest with you.”
Now that the tone has been set, Miles is anxious to see where the next 13 practices take the Tigers, a team that returns 17 starters and is pegged by many analysts as one of the top contenders for the National Championship.
“I like the way the team looks,” he said. “I like the youth of our team. There are a couple of guys making big plays that need to.
“Our quarterbacks, both guys that are veteran looked veteran. (Jordan) Jefferson looks much better. And I like Zach Mettenberger. I think he’s going to be a nice addition to us. It’s a work in progress, but there is reason to believe we are going to be better there. It looks that way from where I am standing.”
Here are some notes to take into the second week of the spring.
- - Les Miles will practice the team in full pads for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, which will be the first workout since their Saturday morning go. “It will be a partially-padded practice,” he said. “Not a tackle practice, but a nice gear-up, if you will. The two practices in helmets follow closely on Friday and Saturday.”
- - With the first session closed to the media, Saturday’s practice had all eyes on newcomer Zach Mettenberger, who joined seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee as the three quarterbacks that worked under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe. Miles said that all three quarterbacks had strong days, even noting that Jefferson appeared to be in the best shape of his three years on campus. As for his first impressions of the two new names in the passing game, Miles was high on both Kragthorpe and Mettenberger. On Kragthorpe: “He’s an attention to detail guy. He’s correcting the quarterbacks extremely well. He knows how the attack gets put together." On Mettenberger: “He can definitely throw it. He’s a very smart quarterback in terms of reads. We are throwing a lot at him. It’s not like we go slow. His pickup was really good.”
- - Defensive end Sam Montgomery, who was injured in the Tennessee game and missed the remainder of the season with the subsequent surgery, won’t take part in live contact drills this spring, but that doesn’t mean the sophomore hasn’t made huge strides. Originally set to return to the team next fall, Montgomery said that he is nearing full-health. “Certain guys are gifted in the fact that they heal quickly, and it’s a good thing,” Miles said. “Then there are those guys that bite onto an idea and do not let it go, and that’s what he’s done. By the time next fall comes there will not be a whisper of an issue.”
- - Karnell Hatcher’s move from safety to strongside linebacker is a permanent one, Miles said. Hatcher will compete with Stefoin Francois, who started every game at the position a year ago. “I think (Hatcher’s) knowledge in the back end gives him advantages in the front end,” he said. “He knows where everybody is. He can line our defense up. He has speed and has always been very physical.”
- - The three early enrollees – Zach Mettenberger, Anthony Johnson, and Kenny Hilliard - were all dressed out for the first two days of practice, and each made their own impression on Miles. As for how quickly they will be shuffled into the rotation? “You bring them along at their own pace,” he said. “Some guys learn quickly and you pop them in right away. Some guys take time, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t good players, but there’s a different pace for them to be used optimally. Mettenberger has come along fast. He’s had some experience throwing it like we are. Kenny Hilliard is coming because he knows how to run the football. Anthony Johnson is probably going to play a lot of football this fall. Each guy is different.”
- - The defensive secondary has been pegged as one of the deepest units on the team, and then Friday and Saturday brought additional good news their way. Starting safety Brandon Taylor and starting cornerback Mo Claiborne were both expected to miss at least the first half of spring, but both were dressed out and participating in defensive backs coach Ron Cooper’s drills. “Brandon looks like he has little issue there,” Miles said. “It will be interesting to see. Two practices he has run to the ball and played and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Both Mo and Taylor are ahead of schedule. That’s obviously very good. Mo was very competitive (Saturday). He was playing the way we would recognize him to play.”
- - Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has switched his jersey from No. 14 to No. 7, the number worn by former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. “I told him you did a great job with 14, and I remember 14 pretty dang well,” said Miles when approached by Mathieu about the switch. “You don’t have to change for me.” Mathieu told reporters that he would keep the jersey number moving forward.