Tom Layberger

Spring Battles

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Spring often means a new look

Friday, April 06, 2012

New quarterbacks, new coaches and new schemes are what spring practice is all about for many programs. Here are a few teams that one way or the other will have some kind of new look when the 2012 season begins.

Zach Mettenberger has earned praise from his LSU teammates and coaching staff this spring as he prepares for his first season as a starting quarterback at the major-college level. Coach Les Miles has stated he wants to air it out more in 2012, certainly more than the Tigers did with Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson last season. They may have ranked 24th in pass efficiency, but were only 106th in yards per game with 153. Mettenberger has not only responded, but he has excelled in guiding the offense in spring drills. With the Tigers’ strong group of running backs and talented cast of receivers led by senior Russell Shepard, it is easy to see how this can be a potent offense with Mettenberger at the controls.

The team that finished just ahead (105th) of LSU in passing yards per game? These Tigers struggled mightily at times with injuries and inconsistency at the position. Clint Moseley finished the season as the No. 1 signal caller, but while he has been bothered with a shoulder injury this spring, Kiehl Frazier has been opening eyes with his effort in running a new-look offense. Coach Gene Chizik wanted to see how Frazier can perform in a conventional offense instead of just the Wildcat the QB operated in at times last season. This spring has presented the opportunity for Frazier to do just that, a chance he has welcomed with open arms. Frazier’s accuracy is much improved and he could very well head into August with at least a slight edge toward winning the job.

Coach Mack Brown, of course, will not say which QB among David Ash and Case McCoy has the edge heading into the fall. It is difficult to imagine Ash not having some kind of lead. He concluded last season by playing the entire Holiday Bowl victory over Cal and wrapped up the spring with the better performance in the Orange and White game. He was not necessarily superlative, but Ash has been protecting the ball better than fellow sophomore McCoy. With their superlative running game, game management from the quarterback position in 2012 may be job No. 1. If so, Ash has the lead.

We see it time and again: an injury opens the door for another player to assume a spotlight he might not have expected to shine him anytime soon. Not that the Buffaloes had a firmly entrenched No. 1 quarterback heading into the spring, but Nick Hirschman, who started one game last season and is entering his third season with the program,  was looked upon as having the advantage. A broken foot suffered prior to spring practice was not only horrible timing for Hirschman, but his dreams of being CU’s starter may have been shattered as well. Enter Texas transfer Connor Wood, who has not thrown a pass in a college game, but has been handling all the first-team reps and has left no question as to who will be atop the depth chart when fall camp commences in August – even if it’s openly stated by coach Jon Embree. Of course, if Hirschman is fully recovered by that time, then the storyline could be altered based on how performs.

North Carolina
Bryn Renner may have been 10th nationally in pass efficiency last season and ahead of more attention-grabbing names such as Geno Smith, Darron Thomas , Landry Jones and Tyler Wilson, but a new year in Chapel Hill means a new coach and a new offense. In other words, last season is just that. Larry Fedora, who was the sideline boss at Southern Miss for four seasons and previously OC at Oklahoma State and Florida, brought his spread offense to Chapel Hill. While Renner is not alone, it has been quite a learning curve. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams, a redshirt freshman last season, has been thriving this spring in the spread. Competition is a good thing, and Renner certainly has it.

Washington State
Mike Leach has taken over in Pullman which tells you all you need to know about the direction of the Cougars’ offense in 2012. The question is, who will be the director? Predictably, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday have been battling it out this spring. Tuel missed much of last season due to injury and has had an up-and-down spring learning Leach’s system. Halliday, recovering from a lacerated liver, has not been able to fully participate, but he has been sharp in passing drills. This is a competition that will continue into fall camp.

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