Despite finishing the 2014 season with a bowl game loss to finish 8-5 and an offseason that again centers around a quarterback competition, Les Miles is as enthusiastic as ever entering Year 11 in Baton Rouge.
The coach, who sports a 103-29 record with LSU, met extensively with reporters as part of the program's media day. The following is a copy of that session, as transcribed by LSU Sports Information:
COACH MILES: Thank you very much. My goodness. I guess I'm expected to give a quality overview. We're into camp, and many times you get the view of what needs to be done, but I'll step back away for a second and kind of go through how I see it.
I like this team's attitude. They're in shape. They're competitive. It's been -- there's leadership on the field. Our culture's intact. They work hard. They compete against each other. They're physical. There's different focus. There's competition at a number of places.
And I can just tell you that, after the first major scrimmage and 12 practices in, I like where we're at. We went into Tiger stadium in the evening. It was a beautiful night, about 80 degrees. We had an afternoon shower. And our football team enjoyed it very much.
Again, the 12th practice, red zone, tight zone, a very physical scrimmage. Scored five touchdowns, and when you're really down in there, that's considering eight possessions and two other possessions with guys that -- that's really a pretty strong showing for the defense overall.
I felt like there was some real bright spots. I think the backs, that backfield is going to be a quality backfield. I think the youth on our team is very talented there.
Offensive line, we're augmenting the veterans with some of these freshmen, and there's some very talented guys there. We think that that offensive line will play even better.
Our linebacking corps, Beckwith was the leading tackler and is a fast, physical mike backer. Showed big last night. The defensive line and offensive line squared off, and it was very competitive.
Quarterbacks came out of green when they operated with the first team versus the first team defense. Both guys performed well, scrambled out of the backfield, made big plays, made some plays with their arm. Really had one turnover, and it was a -- almost a forward -- it was just a two-minute play that stopped the drive.
But the defense played very well. There were a couple guys that missed some tackles. Again, I think that that was having to do with the fact that our backfield set is so talented.
If I had to eliminate some things from practice, from our team's characteristic, in a first scrimmage, it would be pre-snap penalties. I don't think we got lined up right. We had some young wide receivers that cost us five yards. And those things happen too regularly. Occasionally, you have to hone in those players into doing what the play is called to do. I think we find at times that that's not how it was designed, and we have to get them on the same page.
The things that we need to be, consistent with both run and pass in our execution. Ball security was very good for the offense. Defense got one, but I saw several strips, and we are a physical football team. I suspect that that will stay that way.
Q. Scheme-wise and personnel-wise, why should this defense be better than last year? What do you see that makes this defense better than last year?
COACH MILES: I think our linebacking corps is more comfortable and more understanding of calls and more technical. I think it allows them to play even faster. I mean, they had great speed and ability to get to the ball, but now when they're comfortable in the call and understand what their responsibility is, you find that they're showing up sideline to sideline. I think that that's one of the reason the defense is playing better.
The interior guys are tough to block, LaCouture and Godchaux are horses. So we're not getting up on the linebackers very easily. So they're getting to plays.
Q. You mentioned your quarterbacks came out of the green for scrimmage yesterday. Is it more important this year that they're kind of ready to take that running load on than maybe last year?
COACH MILES: Well, here's the -- it was more for the passing game than it was for anything. You wanted them to understand that you just couldn't sit back in that pocket and throw the ball. So they felt what was actual pressure, and they made adjustments in the pocket, which I enjoyed and we needed to see. Then they scrambled out and went and made some big plays, both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings both.
Q. How were the first string snaps split between the quarterbacks? Did somebody take the majority of them?
COACH MILES: Well, Brandon Harris had the advantage there in number of snaps, by half a dozen or so. Statistically, we were 20 for 34 with five drops. So 25 for 34 would have been certainly a lot better, but five drops, I think our guys will catch the ball better beyond our first scrimmage. We rushed the ball 42 times for 193.
So we're basically 200 yards apiece, both run and pass. That kind of balance is really what we were kind of looking for.
Q. Are your quarterbacks that different in that you can maybe utilize a different offensive game plan for each of them? Or do you think they're kind of to the point now where they're very similar in what they can do?
COACH MILES: I think there's more similarities than there are differences. I would not hesitate to make a call if it there was a real advantage to one over the other in a situation. Again, I think they're both competing towards that -- for that first game. Again, I think they're very similar.
I think Brandon is obviously a little bit more explosive, but Anthony is a little bit more veteran.
Q. Each of the last three years, your sack totals have decreased. How much of an emphasis has pressure been in this camp? And is there a reason that you see to believe that that number's going to come back up?
COACH MILES: First of all, I think the awareness of our defense of that specific is very acute. I think our guys want in that backfield. I think there's an immediate pass rush that's taking place. I think it was addressed certainly early in practices, and it continues to be a point of focus and emphasis.
I think they'll be in that backfield a little bit more regularly, and I think they have several ways to do that.
Q. Back to the quarterbacks, have you guys been able to identify who would be considered a No. 3 guy?
COACH MILES: Justin McMillan has really had a nice camp to this point. He was 2 for 3, and I think threw a 50-yard touchdown. He's in no way out of consideration. He's participating. We're just not giving him the equal snaps, and he's got a nice arm and making plays.
Q. Can you tell us how it's gone so far with both Coach Steele and Coach O and what these guys have brought to this defense?
COACH MILES: I think Kevin Steele has done a great job in orchestrating the step-by-step approach to bringing the defense together, and I think that we're really in good shape at this point. I think he has a pretty clear plan for implementing for the first game and thereafter.
And, of course, Ed is full bore. He's got great enthusiasm. I think it rubs off on his players, and his players are playing at a high level.
Q. Over the summer, Cam said that maybe he wasn't as relatable with the quarterbacks as he maybe could have been as far as teaching. He came in more at a pro level than a college level. Have you seen him alter that, or has just another year under the quarterbacks' belt helped them understand better what you all want to do?
COACH MILES: I think the NCAA rules prohibit too much aggressive coaching, if any at all, in the summertime. So it's hard to have hands on a guy in a drill you're not watching. Basically, a meeting that would occur that was orchestrated by the player. Again, I see his frustration. I'm sure that most of our coaches have that.
But I think there's more -- again, we're going to stay with the things that we've brought into the game plan. These quarterbacks now are starting to feel real comfortable with it, and they understand reads and where they're going to go with the ball, and their mechanics are better. So I think that we're seeing just some real quality improvement.
Q. Les, did any projected starter not scrimmage yesterday?
COACH MILES: Yes, absolutely. Travin Dural did not scrimmage. He's got a nick that we don't think will be serious in any way. And Trey Quinn, who was off to a nice start, got nicked, and we took him out. Again, it's not -- these are not serious, long-term injuries, but required the opportunity to stop them from playing.
So I wouldn't be surprised if both played on Monday, but if they didn't, Tuesday would probably be the last time -- I guess we wouldn't hold them out any further than that.
Q. In reviewing the -- everybody talks about improved play at quarterback, but in reviewing the passing game from last year, what did you all find? As much as improved play from quarterback, how much different will what you all do offensively look than it did last year?
COACH MILES: I think there will be some differences if you sit there and watch it. I think you'll be able to see different scheme and different attack. But I think you'll see some similarities too. We don't want to lose the things that we do well.
Q. Looking back, Brandon Harris started Auburn. How much of a different player is he today? What do you think he learned by that? Do you think it humbled him? What are your thoughts from that day till now?
COACH MILES: I think it's night and day, to be honest with you. His experience, the things he's done thereafter, played a little bit in the Alabama game, came in and understands much more of what's required of a quarterback than he possibly could have known going into the Auburn game.
There's no similarity with how he'll play as a quarterback and how he played against Auburn.
Q. How has Dwyane Thomas handled his discipline, his disciplinary measures?
COACH MILES: Dwyane Thomas has come humbly to the team and has always given great effort and energy. He is back in place in position to play, and we're excited about it.
Q. In your time at LSU, you never had a back who averaged more than 20 carries per game. Would you like to see Leonard Fournette ideally be that kind of back? If he was, would that mean you need to scale him back as a kickoff returner?
COACH MILES: If that was the case, then we might think about scaling somebody back. The thing that we've always tried to do is have our backs be fresh, guys that could give their greatest effort on every play that they're in.
There's reason to say that Leonard could be that 20-carry back, but I think there's a point in time too where you don't want to wear him out, and you do not want an injury. You don't want to keep pressing the line of scrimmage when he's tired. So we're very fortunate to have guys that can step in and play and play very big roles behind him.
Q. How comfortable do you feel that you found and identified your starting five on the offensive line?
COACH MILES: I want you to know I think that there's still some progress being made there with that. I'm looking at a couple young offensive linemen that are standing in the backdrop that don't necessarily know what to do, but when they do, they're pretty talented. So we're going to continue. We have a number of guys there that will vie for that who are the best five, and we're excited about it.
Q. And one more. With Tashawn Bower back at defensive end, how does that change what Arden Key and Isaiah Washington have been doing, and how much are they factoring in at practice?
COACH MILES: I think those guys will always factor in because of their ability. They're very quick twitch, very fast guys, good length, long arms, good pass rushers. I think both of those guys will stay in a close to the field position that allows us to get them in games.
Q. Because Trey and Travin were nicked, did it give you opportunity to see some stuff from guys like Tyron Johnson and D.J. Chark, and what did you think of their performance in scrimmage?
COACH MILES: Both of those guys played in scrimmage, Chark more, obviously, and then Tyron. So many times a freshman in a system can become overloaded. I'm not really ready to say that those guys are in position to -- now, D.J. knows exactly what's going on and is having a nice camp. Tyron is a freshman. Sometimes it takes some time for a freshman to understand exactly what he's doing. So first scrimmage, I think he did very well.
Q. With all the defensive coaching shuffles, Will going to Auburn, you getting Kevin, and John going, does it make it easier or harder to coach and maybe disguise what you want to do?
COACH MILES: I think any time you move quality coordinators in the conference, you know somewhat what to expect, but, again, you'll also expect that they'll be very quality defenses and guys that can coach and understand when the offense has an advantage and how to align properly. It just says get ready to play a very, very quality defense, and when you line up against those guys, that's what you're going to see.
Q. Coach, your media guide talks about fullbacks still being a prominent position. How much do you see this offense using a fullback, and what other combinations of backs do you think we could see in there, like with William?
COACH MILES: I think there's a likelihood that there will be a two-tailback set, an opportunity to get not only Leonard, but some other guys in the game in the backfield.
And I think there's at fullback, J.D. Moore is a great receiver and a great blocker and a guy that really we can use.
I think behind that, David Ducre and Bry'Kiethon Mouton are both big, strong, physical guys, and when you want to go downhill at the line of scrimmage, it's nice to have a lead back that can step in there and get you some room.
Q. Your 11th season, Coach. Do you feel like -- are you always trying to mold a team to fit your style? Does every team kind of take on its own identity and you allow that to take shape through the fall camp?
COACH MILES: I think what you do is you look at the talent that you have and you want to really make that talent productive for you. So by formation, by play call, you want to do those things that your players can do first and foremost. And then what are the things that augment those things?
What is the -- if there's five base plays or five base play actions, what are the -- and you operate that way. And then you say, what is your best personnel group? What is? And what are you going to do in that personnel group? Is it a throw first? Is it a run first? Where's your priority? Five wide receivers? I think frankly we'd like to look at a five wide receiver set because I think we have some talented guys. Get them all on the field at the same time healthy and in position, it's something that we're looking to.
Q. And to that end, you ran the ball 69 percent of the time last year, the most in your tenure. Does that feel like too much? Would you run it more if you could win the ball game?
COACH MILES: If the situation in the game called for a strong running attack, it will benefit us. If we have to win the game in two-minute, that will benefit us. The key piece is to make sure that your team has a variety of skills and abilities that you finish with and you win the game.
Thank you very much.
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