By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Steve Ensminger has spent the last eight seasons – minus an eight-game stint as LSU’s interim offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2016 – coaching tight ends. It’s been nearly 20 years since he was calling plays and working with QBs fulltime.
Now that he’s back in charge of the offense, named the Tigers’ full-time offensive coordinator on Wednesday, he’s ready to hop back on a bike he’s not ridden in a while.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Ensminger said at his (re?)introductory press conference Thursday. “You don’t forget how to be a quarterback. You don’t forget the three-step drop, the five-step drop, you don’t forget how to throw a damn out route or a curl route. That’s just part of being a quarterback. I look forward to showing these guys how to do it.”
In 20 minutes or so with the media, Ensminger and head coach Ed Orgeron laid out their vision on what LSU’s offense will look like under the coach nicknamed “Slinger.” In their mind, it will feature wide receiver-heavy sets, run-pass options, quarterback runs, and passes to the tight ends – which, they hope, will help recreate the success Ensminger had as an interim, when LSU averaged 32 points and 465 yards per game.
Ensminger famously played in a two-quarterback system at LSU with David Woodley under head coach Charles McClendon from 1976 to 1979, throwing for 2,770 yards and 16 touchdowns during his playing career. With Danny Etling, one of just five players in school history with back-to-back 2,000 yard passing seasons, graduating, the Tigers will turn to either Myles Brennan, Lowell Narcisse, or Justin McMillan to take the reins.
Or, perhaps, two of those three.
“When I played under Coach Mac, I didn’t understand it,” Ensminger said of the two QB system. “He taught me how to understand it. I accepted it, and it was better for the team. If we have to play two quarterbacks, I guess we’ll play two quarterbacks. I don’t know that right now.”
What they do know is that they’ll plan to play to their quarterbacks’ strengths. If Narcisse or McMillan, the more mobile threats, are playing, LSU will look to run more from the position. If Brennan – the early favorite to replace Etling who completed 14-of-24 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, and two picks as the backup in 2017 – is in, Ensminger’s attack will, Orgeron said, focus more on the controlled passing game.
“We will have quarterback runs,” Orgeron said. “We have two guys who are excellent runners as quarterbacks. We’ll run from a spread offense with those guys, have quarterback runs.
“We have an excellent – one of the best pure passers coming out of football in a while that we’ve signed here at LSU in Myles Brennan. We’re going to have a short, controlled passing game: slants, sluggos, sticks, throw the ball to the tight end, take shots, throw the ball deep.
“At LSU, we must, and we will develop championship quarterbacks to be a championship caliber team. We have three outstanding quarterbacks coming back. They all have different skill sets. Steve is equipped, and his offensive staff is equipped, to run the offense to utilize their skill sets.”
Ensminger said he sat down with the offensive staff Wednesday for an in-depth conversation on personnel and came away believing LSU’s most talented position is wide receiver.
The Tigers lose their top three pass catchers – D.J. Chark and Russell Gage at receiver, Darrel Williams at running back – from 2017, but they’ll add Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, who went over 1,000 yards receiving in 2016. They’ll also bring back promising underclassmen like Stephen Sullivan, Drake Davis, Dee Anderson, Derrick Dillon, as well as five-star signee Terrace Marshall, the No. 1 receiver in the 2018 class who is already on campus as an early enrollee. They could even add another five-star in Rummel wideout Jamarr Chase.
That means LSU plans to put them all on the field, playing an uptempo style built around the passing attack.
“We have very talented receivers,” Ensminger said. “The strength of our offense right now, in my opinion, is our receivers. We have depth at receiver, which we haven’t had the last couple of years.
“I think we have to put three and four wide receivers on the field. I think we have to be an RPO team. I think we have to be a more fast ball team. I think we have to go no huddle. That’s the direction we’re going.”
The only thing left to determine is how and what Ensminger calls his plays.
He hinted at switching from a numbered system for routes over memorization, but he says he hasn’t even looked at terminology yet, focusing his early conversations on the job toward personnel.
“I have not even studied (terminology),” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. I know what I want to do. But I haven’t even studied our terminology and how we’re going to call formations and everything else. Because I want our staff to be a part of it. I want them to make suggestions.
“All we did was spend the whole day yesterday evaluating our talent and what direction we want to go in with our offense.”