BATON ROUGE, La. -- Eric Zeier played for LSU assistant Steve Ensminger more than 20 years ago, but the former Heisman Trophy contender has no doubt that the same offensive principles that worked for their explosive Georgia offenses in the early 1990s can still thrive today.
We're about to find out whether Zeier's theory holds true.
"Without question it would work," said Zeier, who developed into an All-American while working under quarterbacks coach Ensminger and offensive coordinator Wayne McDuffie. "The wrinkle that we didn't have, and this was because of the quarterback, not because of the scheme -- so, me -- we didn't have the zone-read implemented into our offense. But everything else we did in terms of today's offense. It translates very well to today's football."
When Zeier's college career ended in 1994, he was the SEC's all-time leading passer -- he now sits fifth on the list -- and held 67 Georgia records and 18 SEC marks. With Heisman Trophy finalist Garrison Hearst behind him in the backfield and targets like Andre Hastings lined up out wide, Georgia boasted one of the nation's most well-rounded offensive attacks.
Zeier credits Ensminger for helping him become the triggerman who made it all go.
"He's just a phenomenal offensive mind, really fundamentally sound and gets the most out of his players," Zeier said. "Most definitely got the most out of me, as well. My time with him, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I got a lot better underneath him."
Ensminger this week accepted another chance to become a quarterback whisperer, having taken over as LSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after Cam Cameron's firing. Many who have worked alongside the veteran coach believe he can help a run-heavy offense that struggled under Cameron and head coach Les Miles.
"They'll know how to adjust," said Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, who worked with Ensminger at three different programs. "Ed [Orgeron, LSU's interim head coach,] is going to know how to get the guys motivated and Steve will know how to adjust it. Of course, they know all the players they've got, all the talent. But they've got to do something to give themselves a chance. They just don't have any chance with what they're doing right now. Les was three feet and a cloud of dust."
Tuberville said he and Ensminger were groomsmen in Orgeron's wedding, so the three coaches know each other especially well. Tuberville once trusted Ensminger with the same responsibilities that Orgeron did this week in shifting him from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Tuberville's Auburn offense was a mess midway through the 2008 season when he fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and handed the reins to Ensminger. There was no saving that offense, which averaged fewer points in the second half of the season under Ensminger (16 ppg) than it had before Tuberville dumped Franklin (19.5), but that season's dysfunction and talent that did not match the scheme were hardly Ensminger's fault.
Orgeron said at his introductory news conference that he expects Ensminger to make some minor tweaks on offense to help the passing game become more productive and create more space for running backs like All-American Leonard Fournette to operate. Tuberville said his former assistant should have no difficulty implementing helpful changes.
"It won't be that hard," Tuberville said. "I'm sure they've got something in there that they've been working on a little bit. Les has been so vanilla forever. They need to open it up. They need to give him a chance because everybody's keying on that dang tailback. Steve knows a lot. Steve knows a lot about it. He's been around it."
That he has, with more than 30 years as an offensive coach. He has also been around the LSU program for the last six-plus years as tight ends coach, so he has a solid understanding of the personnel that is now under his guidance.
Those from his old position group believe Ensminger's directness and attention to detail will be just what LSU's offense needs.
"He's as straight a shooter as they come," said fullback J.D. Moore, who played tight end under Ensminger as a freshman. "If you mess something up, he's going to tell you right then and there. He's not going to sugarcoat it, but he's going to make sure you know how to correct it. He's not going to leave you hanging."
Tight end Foster Moreau agreed, adding, "He will say exactly what he wants done, to you. He won't beat around the bush. He'll make what he wants done done."
There's no denying that Ensminger inherits a difficult situation. Miles and Cameron would still be employed if LSU's offense had been more productive, after all. However, Zeier believes his old coach can make a difference with the Tigers if he gets the requisite buy-in from his players.
"The X's and O's, that will come because that's what he's been doing for his career. He knows how to do it and he'll be able to get the kids to relate to what he's trying to do," Zeier said. "I wouldn't foresee any issues with that. He'll be able to play to the talent and the strengths of the guys that are on the field. None of that is really going to be any kind of issue. It's really keeping that unit, as the leader of that unit, focused every day on getting better. That's his challenge right now."