New school talented, but lacks two-way versatility of former Tigers
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
A stray thought wafted through the LSU press box Saturday at the Purple-White spring game: Could Spencer Ware, the impressive sophomore tailback who put on a clinic running the ball, do what Jerry Stovall did a half-century ago?
Ware, who averaged more than 10 yards a carry in last season’s Cotton Bowl, and threw the best ball in LSU’s 2010 season, a 39-yard touchdown strike to Reuben Randle against Auburn, picked up right where he left off Saturday. Ware gained 94 yards and scored two touchdowns against his intramural competition.
Sitting in the stands was Stovall, along with two dozen other former LSU All-Americans, watching the shaping of the next edition of the Fightin’ Tigers.
There’s no question Ware has the makings of an outstanding runner, just as Stovall did in his sophomore season of 1960. Jim Taylor made a few eyes pop running the ball in the 1950s, as did Billy Cannon. The presence of Y.A. Tittle as a passer forced LSU to switch from the Single Wing to the T-formation in the mid-1940s.
Every one of those athletes except Tittle, enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, went on to All-America acclaim, but for more than excelling at more than one specialized role. Stovall, second in the 1962 Heisman Trophy balloting as a halfback, also was a defensive back - where he was later an All-Pro in the NFL.
Of course it’s possible, but the thought occurred of whether Ware - or any other current Tiger - could play elsewhere, be a “total player?”
Could Jordan Jefferson or Zach Mettenberger do as Tittle did and play in the secondary? Which is also where Cannon, recipient of the 1959 Heisman Trophy, put in time when not running back punt returns.
Could Jakhari Gore do as did Taylor, also a Hall of Fame inductee, and play linebacker as well as fullback?
In other words, can today’s players do anything more than the learned duties of the single position they were herded into in junior high?
Maybe 40 years ago former Baton Rouge State-Times sports editor Dan Hardesty interviewed former LSU All-American and Tiger coach Gaynell Tinsley on the same subject. The old Tiger said he did not see a great deal of change in the game he played in the 1930s and coached in the 1940s, except in the use so many specialists, which he saw as a detriment to developing a player to his fullest.
“A boy (today) only plays what he can do best,” Tinsley said, “and he spends all his time on that. He should be better at that one thing if it’s all he does.”
The same logic was applied once by Lynn LeBlanc, a former All-SEC tackle and assistant coach under Charlie McClendon.
LeBlanc was saying the average Tiger athlete today is about 60 pounds more than the 200-pound average than the 1958 team which won the national championship and on which he played. The game today, he said, favors bulk, even over athletic ability in a smaller package.
The Tigers of 50 years ago, who, ironically ushered in the age of specialization, though, were more complete players, he contended, having to play all phases of the game. A 201-pound lineman, LeBlanc said, “We were smaller, but just as fast, and probably just as quick. We did it all. I wasn’t just a left tackle. On defense I was an end; I played on punt and kickoff coverage teams. Now they are asked to play just in certain situations. Back then we did it all.”
Considering how football has evolved, it may be an unfair query but you do have to wonder how many of Les Miles’ Tigers could do it all?
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.