Getting offensive with Russell Shepard
Junior receiver discusses Kragthorpe, Mettenberger, passing game
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
Day one of spring football practice is down, and so far, Les Miles and Steve Kragthorpe have been men of their word, at least according to wide receiver Russell Shepard.
The Houston native said following Friday’s practice that the offense threw the ball a lot to usher in the spring.
“Today, we put a lot of emphasis on passing the football,” said Shepard. “It’s kinda different because usually when you come out with a football team, you want to establish the run. But that’s one thing we know we can do and we have a lot of confidence in. We’re LSU. We can run the football. But (today) we came out and we had an amazing day passing. A lot of players made a lot of plays really on all levels.”
Talking with the LSU head coach and newly minted offensive coordinator the past few weeks, that’s been a common thread - the notion that the offense needs to be more efficient passing and has to have better quick-strike capability. Both promised that would be the major area of emphasis during spring drills.
When asked what the receiving corps must do to help create lightning in a bottle through the air, Shepard offered some insight. He also indicated there’s a lot of proving left to do for the players auditioning in front of a new coordinator for the first time.
Shepard explained: “You’ve gotta be able to create plays. One thing with us, by us being the type of team we are, LSU, an SEC-style team, we’re gonna run the football first. That’s the most important thing. So one thing that Coach Kragthorpe puts a lot of emphasis on is we’re going to pound it and pound it and pound it, and then we’re going to fling it out there to y’all on the edges and y’all have to be able to create plays and make plays.
“The thing that he says is ‘We live by the Missouri motto - the Show Me State.’ So we’ve got to show him. So each one of us, we’ve got to show him that he has to give us the football.”
Shepard, who finished the 2010 campaign with 254 yards and a touchdown receiving to go with 226 yards rushing and two scores on the ground, enters the season as the starter in the slot for LSU, alongside starting flanker Rueben Randle.
Staying on the topic of Kragthorpe, No. 10 went on to say the former Tulsa and Louisville headman really isn’t changing much. Rather, he’s boiling down a lot of what the Tigers have been doing to the basics.
“It wasn’t a whole lot different,” continued Shepard. “That’s the first thing that Coach Kragthorpe said is ‘I’m not going to change anything. I’m going to simplify things, and we’re going to make it to where y’all are very confident within the schemes.’”
After dishing on the passing game and his new coordinator, Shepard turned his sights to the quarterback battle and transfer signal caller Zach Mettenberger. The former Georgia quarterback comes into the 2011 season swapping reps with seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, at least at the onset.
On the quarterback situation, Shepard said, “Everybody got evenly distributed reps. He (Kragthorpe) split it three ways, so it’s an open competition. Obviously, Jordan and Jarrett are the ones that have a lot more experience than Zach for the most part. But Zach has played a lot of football in his day. He’s been at a D-I program, (and) he’s led his JuCo team to almost a national championship. So, they all have experience throwing the football.”
The wide-out then honed in on Mettenberger, comparing his release and the ball he throws to that of his counterparts. In doing so, Shepard invoked a comparison between the new LSU signal caller and the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger. (And, no, the comparison had nothing to do with common extracurricular affairs in south Georgia.)
“Zach’s (release) has a lot of zip,” Shepard said. “It’s kinda funny - Zach is kind of a tweener between Jarrett and Jordan. Jordan has a long release, and it kinda flings, you know, pheww (making noise), and it comes off his hand. Jarrett’s (release) is not long and gets out quick.
“Zach is somebody who has a long release, and it flings off real quick. It’s something that as receivers it takes a while to get used to, but we definitely got used to it (during 7-on-7 drills). We call him ‘Little Ben.’ He doesn’t have the same throwing motion, but as far as (being) mobile in the pocket, (and he’s) very, very football smart and football saavy. He’s like Ben. He’s kind of a tweener between (our other two guys). He’s got a lot of zip, good spin on the ball, and he’s got probably one of the best arms I’ve seen in a while.”
Shepard finished his thoughts on Mettenberger by acknowledging the player’s “polished” game coming into Baton Rouge.
“You can tell he’s been coached up well,” said Shepard. “He comes from a good high school background. He comes from a family of football from what I understand. He’s somebody that knows football, so that (mechanics) is not going to be a problem with him.”
- Karnell Hatcher said today that he’ll be “exclusively” at linebacker going forward (meaning no splitting reps between there and safety). He went on to indicate Coach John Chavis told him about this switch about two weeks ago and the player genuinely seemed okay with the move. Hatcher is also up to 225 pounds, from 210, and said Chavis wants him to learn both the outside LB positions and the Mike.
- Speaking of Kelvin Sheppard’s old position, Hatcher and Ryan Baker confirmed Kevin Minter is currently running with the ones at Mike. His back-up is currently Lamin Barrow. D.J. Welter is also in the running.
- Baker and Hatcher both raved about one great aspect of Hatcher’s moving down: The team can now seemlessly rotate between nickel and base 4-3 without changing personnel. This, of course, is due to Hatcher’s ability to be able to step back and handle some intermediate coverage.
- DE Sam Montgomery also spoke with reporters and said he feels about “70 percent.” He then candidly said that although he feels he can be back and play all spring, he’d rather play it safe and sit out longer for the betterment of the team, even if he’s starting to feel up to snuff. What that means, for now, is no contact for Montgomery, who is going through all the running drills and is also attending rehab every day.
- Finally, on the injury front, LG Josh Dworaczyk told reporters today he was currently not able to practice, out with a knee injury. Dworaczyk was hopeful he’d make it back by the end of spring practices, but was unsure at this point. He also said T-Bob Hebert was working in his spot during his absence.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.