METAIRIE, La. – In late June, LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger sat down with the print media at the Football Caravan event in Metairie for a 15-minute chat that covered a number of topics. This is the second part of that Q/A, focusing on the Tigers’ scheme and Ensminger’s recruiting philosophies at quarterback. Part One is available here.
Editor’s note: The order of the questions and answers have been rearranged at some points to group them together thematically – i.e., questions on Joe Burrow from the end of the interview might appear after questions about Burrow from earlier in the interview. The original Q/A in its chronological order can be viewed here.
How far into installing the offense are you, and how much has to wait until the fall?
We’ve probably put in about 50 percent of our offense through the spring. During our vacations during July, I’m going to be there Monday through Thursday. (Offensive line) Coach (James) Cregg is going to be there the first week. We’re going to talk about the new personnel. (Running backs) Coach (Tommie) Robinson’s going to be there the next week. Coach Mickey (Joseph, wide receivers) is going to be there, (Senior offensive assistant and passing game coordinator) Coach (Jerry) Sullivan’s going to be there the next week. We didn’t get a chance to put 20 personnel in. We didn’t get a chance to put a jet (sweep) package in. We’re going to do some jet stuff. We put some empty sets in, but I want to be able to go empty with 12 personnel – two tight ends. There’s a lot we have to get through in July and August. We’ll see where we’re at. I think we’ve done a good job of evaluating our talent. Probably our number one personnel is three wides. Probably our number two personnel is two tight ends, two wides. But, you can’t be predictable in those sets, in those personnels. I would like to be able to do every formation we have out of three different personnels – out of 20 personnel, out of double personnel, out of three-wide personnel – and out of regular personnel. It’s challenging to the kids. I had a chance to meet with our offense yesterday and say, ‘Hey, knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can get on the field. The more we can get in regular personnel and be in an empty package or a three-wide package, the better we’re going to be as an offense. We still have a long way to go. We’ll have to figure it out before game one.
You say you’re 50 percent in. How much harder does that make it now that you have to teach Joe Burrow everything on top of also teaching everyone else the rest?
You’re going to tweak the passing game. You go through spring, and you probably have 100 routes in. You can’t run them every game. You say, here are the routes for this game, we’ll tweak this route. We’ll tweak the passing game. But I want to know: can we do it in regular personnel? Can we do it in doubles personnel? Can we make the defense stay on the field with base personnel and get a mismatch, whether it’s with our other tight end or with a wide receiver? We’ve got a long way to go, but we have a frame for it.
What are some of the qualities you’re looking for when you’re recruiting quarterbacks right now?
The number one thing I’m looking for in a quarterback is accuracy. That’s it. We have all these camps. I don’t know how many camps we had this June. At every camp, there’s big, strong-armed guys who can throw it out of sight. They can throw it deep. They can throw. But in this league it’s about completing the pass. So number one, accuracy. Number two, can you lead this football team? Number three, are you a football junkie? Do you want to learn it all, or are you a know it all? Number four is toughness. If you’re going to lead this football team, you’ve got to be a tough kid. You gotta take some shots. When you take some shots, you gotta turn around and tell your line, ‘That’s on me. I held it too long.’ That’s what I’m looking for.
Is the tempo going to be greater? Do you run the risk of going too fast?
When you’re the tight ends coach and you’re on the road, everybody talks to you. I’ve talked to a bunch of different coaches in this league, outside this league. The thing I’ve learned from studying is defensive coaches are pretty comfortable these days with tempo. They’re pretty comfortable nowadays because of substitutions and personnel. What they don’t like is the change up. ‘Okay, they’re huddle, huddle, huddle, now they’re fast.’ Or, ‘They’re going fast, they’re going fast, now they’re huddled up.’ Will we use more tempo? No doubt about it. We’re going to huddle. We’re going to do a great job, from Coach Orgeron, Coach Aranda, and myself, to get a feel for the game. It might be, ‘Man, he’s been out there too long, so let’s slow it down.’ Or, ‘We’re in a pretty good deal with our defense right now, let’s go fast and see how they react to it.’
Offensive line, are you feeling good about where things are?
I talk to them every day. I tell them, ‘I want to go fast. You better be in good shape.’ They understand where we’re going. I do know they better be prepared for it.
How much mobility to do you rely on with your quarterbacks?
You’d love the mobility. But some quarterbacks have the knack of moving in the pocket, throwing the football. Some quarterbacks have a knack of anticipating a throw. Two of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen at LSU were Tommy Hodson and Jeff Wickersham. I didn’t think either one of them had a very strong arm. But they knew where they were going with the football, they could anticipate and get the ball out of their hands. Everyone is different. If they can anticipate, not a problem. Can you move around the pocket and throw the football? Not a problem. Can they get out of the pocket and run? Lowell can do that, Justin can do that. I’m not looking for it. As long as they have some accuracy.