The 225 Gonna Replicate
HOOVER, Ala. -- LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. loved LeBron James before last month. But the Tigers sophomore sealed his devotion to the NBA MVP when James led the Miami Heat to the league title.
Something about the Heat having lost in the Finals a year earlier and living with that disappointment appealed to Beckham.
"You come so close," said Beckham, whose Tigers are expected to contend for the BCS National Championship this season after losing to Alabama 21-0 in the title game this past January. "It's almost like LeBron James going to the Finals. ... In a way, it's motivation. Think about what [James] had to go through, and you try and imitate that."
That thought has occurred to LSU coach Les Miles, too. He said there's a pretty good chance his team will see video of the Heat's victory. That kind of motivation is more palatable than the memory of the offense gaining 92 yards against the Crimson Tide.
But the Tigers might have an answer for that, as well. Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger looks as if he will be the passing weapon LSU needed against Alabama last season.
Mettenberger, who turned 21 on Monday, is 6-foot-5, 222 pounds and has an arm that is not only live but accurate. He played in five games last season, completing eight of 11 passes for 92 yards in garbage time. He put up big numbers (176-299-4, 2,678 yards, 32 touchdowns) at Butler (Kan.) Community College in 2010.
"To hear that Coach Miles has confidence in me means a lot," Mettenberger said. "I'm not kidding myself. We're not going to throw the ball 70 times a game. We've got five running backs and a veteran offensive line."
Mettenberger will provide the offensive balance Miles craves, balance the Tigers lacked last season. The LSU secondary, considered one of the best in the nation, includes All-American corner Tyrann Mathieu and preseason All-SEC safety Eric Reid. The defensive backs refer to themselves as "DBU." But the swagger disappeared when someone asked Reid how Mettenberger performed in the spring.
"We didn't do too good," Reid said. "His accuracy is really good. He puts it in a spot where only his receivers can catch it. I'm always telling him to throw me a ball. He's too smart for that."
But he has remarkably little experience for someone who has been handed the keys to this kind of car. Beckham raved about Mettenberger's maturity.
"On and off the field," Beckham said. "His leadership, keeping his teammates out of trouble, keeping everybody level-headed. He says to us, 'Don't make dumb decisions. Be smart.'"
Mettenberger is at LSU because he made a dumb decision. In May 2010, while a sophomore at Georgia (he had enrolled in January 2009), Mettenberger pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery for groping a woman in a bar.
When asked about his maturity as a quarterback, Mettenberger responded by discussing his maturity in and out of uniform.
"I've definitely had signs of immaturity in my past," he said. "I think I finally got it right."
Mettenberger talked about "taking care of my 1/11th of the offense." He said all the right things. Although he and his teammates might think of a return to the BCS National Championship Game as a "second chance" or "shot at redemption" or some other sort of cliché, Mettenberger understands what those phrases mean. When LSU opens the season against North Texas on Sept. 1, Mettenberger will start at quarterback.
"It's what I've been looking forward to my whole life," he said.
Smith, Hogs Ready To Roll The Dice
HOOVER, Ala. -- It wasn't long into Arkansas interim coach John L. Smith's news conference at SEC media days Wednesday before a reporter asked him whether he wanted the job beyond this coming season.
"Well, certainly," Smith said. "Do I look stupid?"
Then Smith smiled and said, "Don't answer that."
More than three months after former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was fired for misleading athletic director Jeff Long about a motorcycle accident in which a female employee with whom Petrino had an inappropriate relationship was also a rider, Smith prepares to lead the Hogs into preseason camp next month.
Smith inherits a team that finished 11-2 last season, with its only losses coming against Alabama and LSU, which played for the BCS National Championship. The Hogs play the Crimson Tide and Tigers at home this season, and if their defense is any better, they might be poised to finally challenge the two SEC West heavyweights.
The Razorbacks certainly figure to have plenty of firepower on offense. Quarterback Tyler Wilson threw for 3,638 yards with 24 touchdowns last season, although he'll be without many of his top receivers from 2011. Tailback Knile Davis ran for 1,322 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2010 before breaking his ankle last preseason and missing all of the season.
"We have one goal, and we're not bashful about reiterating that goal," Smith said. "The goal is to win in Miami [site of the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game]. Our goal is to be a national championship football team, and that's what we want to get done."
Smith was Petrino's special teams coordinator with the Hogs from 2009 to 2011 until leaving to become head coach at Weber State, his alma mater. He is much more relaxed than Petrino and seems to be even looser now that he's seemingly playing with house money this season. He wasn't the obvious choice to replace Petrino and probably won't be the guy to permanently replace him, unless, of course, the Hogs have a magical season.
"You have to be ready for whatever when it comes to Coach Smith," defensive end Tenarius Wright said. "He has a swag about himself, which is really funny and enthusiastic. It gives you energy."
In fact, there isn't much of anything that's normal when it comes to Smith -- even his motto for his latest football team. Davis said the Hogs have printed T-shirts that read "GYPH," or "Get Your Piss Hot," a term their new coach coined during the offseason.
"He's a good person and he's funny," Davis said. "He has a way of getting the best out of you without pulling it out of you."
Opportunity Knocks, Gillislee Ready To Answer
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mike Gillislee has never started a game, rushed for 100 yards in a game or carried the ball more than 59 times in a season.
But the senior running back is convinced he's about to turn in one of the greatest seasons by a running back in Florida football history. Gillislee's goal is 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, the latter of which would break a record held by Tim Tebow (23 rushing TDs).
"I've got to make something happen for Florida to remember me," Gillislee said Wednesday at SEC media days.
That certainly would be a memorable season because only one other player in school history has run for more yards in a single season: Emmitt Smith (1,599 yards in 1989). It also would make Gillislee just the eighth player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and the first since Ciatrick Fason did it in 2004.
"I'm all for it," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "I love his confidence."
There are several reasons for it. After three years of getting mop-up work behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, Gillislee is finally getting his chance to be the Gators' main back. He's also completely healthy for the first time since the middle of his sophomore season. Plus, he's playing in an offense that's built around running the ball between the tackles.
For Gillislee, those three things mean he's going to finally get his chance to prove he's one of the better backs in the SEC.
"I already know when the season comes I'm going to get the ball," said Gillislee, who has run for 920 yards in his career. "In the past I was told I was going to get it [and didn't]. At times [it was discouraging], but I just stayed humble about the whole situation and I just knew a day like this would come, a year like this would come."
Now Going Steady
HOOVER, Ala. -- Tyler Russell's constant role reversal during his career at Mississippi State was both frustrating and helpful.
On one hand, being in and out of the starting quarterback spot helped him prepare more for the unknown each week brought. But it also caused him to force a lot of his throws, creating more headaches than high-fives.
"Last year, my role was to come in and make something change," Russell said Wednesday during the second day of SEC media days.
"You try to make throws that you wouldn't normally make if it was the start of the game because you're trying to get your team over this hump, you're trying to win this game."
In eight games last season, Russell threw for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
But with Chris Relf finally graduated, Russell was handed the offense this spring, meaning his days of wondering when or whether he'd play were gone.
With that covered, Russell said he relaxed this spring, and according to those around him, there's been a vast difference in his approach.
Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said Russell is more comfortable and confident, and anticipates him being one of the league's top quarterbacks this fall.
Coach Dan Mullen, who butted heads with Russell at times during his freshman year, has newfound trust in his QB. With everything Russell has been through in two-plus years, Mullen sees big things in his quarterback's future.
"I expect him to have a huge year," Mullen said.
"There's a great deal of trust between him and our coaching staff that he knows we're going to turn the keys over to him, put it on his shoulders, let him go, give him control of the offense, have a lot of input in decision-making, give him a lot of freedom in play calling at the line of scrimmage, to put a lot on him that way that there is that trust in him."
SEC Media Days On Twitter
Wilson Leading The Way
Confidence Never Lacking
HOOVER, Ala. -- LSU safety Eric Reid said he didn't see the epic Twitter rant of his teammate, Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu, on Friday. When Reid heard about it, however, it didn't phase him.
"That's just Tyrann being Tyrann," Mathieu said Wednesday at SEC media days.
The LSU junior free safety, entering his third season roaming the same Tigers secondary as Mathieu, is clearly used to the trash talk from the "Honey Badger." Mathieu, whose 12-tweet tirade came in response to media criticism of his play, has never been afraid to talk on the field, either. Reid is usually right there to hear it.
To read the rest of Laney's story on the LSU secondary, click here.
Muschamp Makes Adjustments
Kentucky OL Up To The Challenge
HOOVER, Ala. -- Kentucky senior offensive lineman Larry Warford took last season's offensive struggles harder than most.
"Not being successful on offense was my fault," Warford said Wednesday. "I take all the blame for that. I could have done a better job of getting everyone prepared."
The Wildcats' line suffered a handful of injuries last season, and the offense ranked last in the SEC in scoring, passing and total offense. To Warford, the key to rebounding is not just the play of the offensive line, but making sure the depth along it is adequate.
"Getting these young guys ready is the biggest thing for us," he said.
"They've been taking that challenge well. I've been real impressed with them."
Phillips Looks For Playmakers
SEC Media Days Blog
Smith Makes For Smooth Transition
A Healthy Return
HOOVER, Ala. -- Of all the things that plagued Auburn's offense last season, the Tigers' inability to generate a downfield passing game was probably the most damaging.
Auburn finished ninth in the SEC in passing offense, and opposing defenses dared the Tigers to go down the field most of the season.
Their most dependable threat, Emory Blake, was battling a high ankle sprain, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday that Blake was completely healthy for probably only three of the Tigers' games last season.
"Getting Emory back healthy is one of the best things that can happen for our passing game," Chizik said.
Indeed, Blake caught eight touchdown passes during Auburn's 2010 national championship season. He dropped off to five touchdown catches last season and missed three entire games during the middle of the season.
Blake has embraced first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler's new offensive system and said it won't be as dependent on one or two players.
"Our passing game will be completely revamped," Blake said. "With Coach Loeffler's style of offense, it has to be. It's going to be a lot better than it was last year."
To read the rest of Chris Low's story on Auburn, click here.
Johnthan Banks: 'Tape Don't Lie'