New OC Cameron opens things up

BATON ROUGE, La. -- While getting new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's red-zone passing offense installed during Tuesday’s practice, LSU was in a formation where running back Alfred Blue was lined up like a wide receiver.

In this era of the versatile back, that's hardly unusual. But at LSU, where power football has ruled the day under Les Miles and previous offensive coordinators Greg Studrawa and Gary Crowton, seeing Blue out wide may represent something of a sea change in the Tigers' approach.

Is it time to forget Miles' signature toss lead on third-and-3 and instead look for something more creative? Evidence suggests that time may have come.

"It's all about creating matchups," said wide receiver Jarvis Landry of the new LSU offense. "Anybody can end up wide -- receivers, tight ends, running backs, all of us. We're looking to find mismatches."

Under Cameron, LSU may still get the ball to a running back, but not necessarily by running a toss lead, power, or a swing pass out of the backfield. If Blue has a slow linebacker on him, he might go out wide to try to create a 1-on-1 mismatch. If a tight end has a small defensive back on him, he might be isolated.

"We're all part of the passing drills, same as the receivers," running back Jeremy Hill said. "Everybody has to be prepared to be part of it. Even fullbacks."

This should come as little shock to those who have followed Cameron, the former Indiana University and Miami Dolphins head coach who was named LSU's offensive coordinator in February.

As offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers in the early 2000s, he developed an offense that routinely took advantage of mismatches involving running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. Cameron would often use running back Ray Rice in the passing game with the Baltimore Ravens, where he was offensive coordinator until he was fired midway through the 2012 season, just before Baltimore began a run to the Super Bowl.

While Cameron has insisted he's the one adapting to what he called a "great system" at LSU, the change in emphasis this spring is unmistakable.

LSU finished 10th in the SEC in offensive yards per game last season (374.2), the third time in four seasons the Tigers have finished near the bottom in the SEC offensive rankings, including a dead-last finish in 2009 (304.5 yards per game). Only the 2011 team, which averaged 355.1 yards per game en route to an SEC title and appearance in the BCS championship game managed to finish in the top half of the SEC in offense.

Some of the lack of production could be blamed on LSU playing to its strengths on defense and special teams. But most of LSU's big losses in recent seasons were games where the Tigers would go long stretches with anemic production, like the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS title game and last year's 14-6 loss to Florida, a game in which LSU went two quarters without picking up a first down.

Miles first attempted to solve the offensive problem by hiring Steve Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator after Crowton left for Maryland following the 2010 season. Kragthorpe, however, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and never coached a game as offensive coordinator, leading to the promotion of Studrawa from offensive line coach.

A year ago, the hopes were put on new quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had the big, accurate arm that the Tigers perhaps lacked since JaMarcus Russell. But Mettenberger put up modest numbers.

Regardless of the changes, the results have stayed the same. Some blame Miles, a former offensive coordinator who favors the power style. But Miles made it clear he would allow his old friend, Cameron -- who once shared an office with Miles while on Michigan's staff under Bo Schembechler in the early 80s -- to enjoy a free rein with the offense.

"There will be an ability for him to change and restructure," Miles said.

So far, Miles seems hands off, staying with the offensive line at practice, helping Studrawa, who moved back to offensive line coach after Cameron's hire.

Meanwhile, Cameron is on another field, lining up running backs wide and installing a redzone offense Landry said was "completely" different from what LSU did last year.

And while there are always growing pains associated with a new offense, the hope is that by the time the season kicks off at Cowboys Stadium against TCU on August 31, a more creative offense will be unleashed.

“It’s tough because it’s a new offense,” Mettenberger said. “It’s going to take some time. But once we get it down, this is going to be a good offense for us.”