LSU football opens spring practices

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Hello Zach Mettenberger.

You are now officially the big man on campus – the starting quarterback for the LSU football team.

The Tigers held the first of 15 spring practices this week at the Charles McClendon Indoor Practice Facility.

With a near 100-man roster clad in helmets and shorts for most of the week before shifting to full gear, the majority of the talk surrounded Mettenberger, who will likely be the team’s primary signal caller in the fall.

So far, so good – LSU coach Les Miles has had nothing but praise for the Tigers’ 6-foot, 5-inch, 222-pound standout, who will replace previous starters Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.

“He has command of the huddle and it appears that he has the anticipation as to where the ball is going,” Miles said. “He is throwing it pretty well.”

Throwing well is a must for Mettenberger as the Tigers progress toward the fall.

That’s because Miles has said countless times throughout the offseason that LSU will open its playbook in 2012.

That’s something the team couldn’t do with Jefferson and Lee, who both struggled to be consistent. Mettenberger, at least on paper, appears to be a better candidate for the job.

As a freshman at Georgia, the signal caller beat out First-Team All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray and was named the Bulldogs’ starter.

After being kicked off the team in Athens for disciplinary reasons, Mettenberger transferred to Butler Community College.

While there, he showed why Georiga coaches were so high on his ability, completing 176-of-299 passes for 32 touchdowns and four interceptions, while also leading his team to the JUCO National Championship Game.

Miles said he sees several of those flashes in practice, adding the key for Mettenberger before the 2012 season will be maximizing his reps so that he can fully understand the rigors of SEC play.

“(Zach) just needs reps,” Miles said after the opening day of practices. “He looked sharp today. We only have a thumbnail of our offense in at this point so there’s a lot to learn, but it was a nice first day. There were a lot of positives.”

With a new quarterback in place, the focus shifts to what appears to be a loaded LSU offense.

The Tigers return all of their running backs from last year’s team, a loaded stable that includes Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Tri-parish native and former Patterson great Kenny Hilliard. Also joining the stable is true freshman and highly touted recruit Jeremy Hill, who is having an impact in spring workouts.

With the backfield on point, LSU also returns receivers Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham and also four starters along the offensive line.

One player who could fill in and push for playing time is sophomore Elliott Porter, who has made a position change and is now a center.

His work and progression at the new position has caught Miles’ eye so far this spring.

“He got better today and he continues to improve,” the coach said. “I think he will challenge for playing time.”

Defensively, LSU will likely field one of the best units in the country.

National Defensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy Finalist Tyrann Mathieu highlights a lightening LSU secondary that also returns starters Tharold Simon and Eric Reid.

Also returning up front for the Bayou Bengals are contributing names like Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Anthony Johnson and Kevin Minter.

The Tigers also figure to be set at special teams with kicker Drew Alleman and punter Brad Wing both returning.

Miles said with so many experienced players in-house, the biggest challenge of the spring has been conditioning.

He added that the team appears to have done the necessary work to ready themselves for the workouts.

“Our players have done a great job during the fourth quarter conditioning program getting ready for spring practice,” Miles said. “We have a lot of players with experience coming back.”

Probably the biggest reason the Tigers entered the spring so hungry is because of the way the 2011 season ended.

Miles again addressed LSU’s BCS National Championship Game failure this week, saying that the taste of the defeat still lingers in the team’s mouths.

He added that the players are reminded daily of their shortfall and everyone within the LSU program expects to make another push for a championship in the new season.

“Anytime you end a season when you didn’t finish the last game the way you liked, frankly you look forward to getting that feeling behind you,” Miles said. “So, the next time that you take the field, it’s as good a feeling for you as there is.”

Isom trying out for LSU roster:

While dozens of LSU players grapple and joust their way up and down the depth chart this spring, one player is looking to get a shot at becoming a member of the program.

Miles announced this week that soccer goalie Mo Isom is attempting to join the team as a walk-on kicker.

The coach said last Tuesday that the former LSU women’s soccer standout would take part in a workout period where the team’s coaches would example whether she could benefit the team.

If Isom gives LSU “an advantage,” Miles said he wouldn’t hesitate to give Isom a roster spot.

“If she gave us an opportunity and an advantage, we will certainly consider that,” Miles said of Isom’s chances of making the squad. “There has to be an advantage to the team. The good thing about this is that she’s an athlete. She’s been through team before and she understands commitment. I would have much less reservations with her than I would with any number of other people who frankly didn’t know what they were getting in to.”

The coach added that no timeline has been set for a final decision on whether Isom would be invited to join the team this fall.

LSU junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger (left) talks to LSU quarterbacks’ coach Steve Kragthorpe during spring practices.