"So how are the Tigers looking?"
Without a doubt, that question will be posed to me and other members of the local media countless times in the next month. Whether it's at the grocery store, the gym, a local restaurant or whatever quarterback club...it's coming up. Some will ask with a smile ear to ear. Others will give a stern look of concern. And, like every August, I will struggle to give a good answer. I'd really like to...because I totally understand what it's like to be an anxious fan just before the season starts.
Heck, I was anxious and excited in the early 90s for those bad Curley Hallman teams, even in 1992 when the Tigers went 2-9 and lost to Colorado State. Talk about an optimistic dork. But, the truth of the matter is in many ways the media will find out what the Tigers are made of about the same time you do...Sept. 3 against Oregon.
Sure, we'll go to practice, which begins Thursday on "The Ponderosa" or "Area 51," whichever nickname for LSU's fortress you prefer. But, not for very long. The media will be allowed to stay maybe 20 to 25 minutes during the early stages of camp. Then, that time will progressively be cut as the season opener with the Ducks draws closer. Eventually, the gates will be closed altogether and we will then create finger puppets to re-enact practices for our sportscasts. Not really. But eventually, yes, we will be totally kicked out.
During the practice time we do observe, there will be plenty of meaningful things to watch for. Which of the Tigers have bulked up? Which have slimmed down? Who throws the prettiest deep ball? Is there any player getting praised repeatedly? Unlikely. Is there any player getting chewed out? Highly likely. And, what coach is doing the yelling? Which wide receivers have the best hands and which are dropping the ball? Who runs well and who seems a step slow? We can do a pretty good job ascertaining those answers.
And to LSU's credit, "The Big Cat Drill" has added some spice and flare to practice. The exercise is intense one-on-one action with thunderous contact. It's typically great visuals for fans to enjoy at home.
But the fact of the matter is this...the quarterbacks will be passing against air. It doesn't tackle well or break up many passes. We will never watch Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger work against a live LSU defense all camp, not even during 7 on 7 drills. When the Tigers do scrimmage, we obviously won't be permitted inside. Steve and I are especially being punished because we're behind on our TAF points. We didn't make enough basketball games last season. Sorry, it was tough to watch.
Seriously, we will be at the mercy of what statistics LSU releases. And, if Jefferson has a rough day, head coach Les Miles may choose not to release those numbers at all. And honestly, you can't blame him. There's plenty of negativity swirling once the season begins...no need to create any more before the opening kickoff.
We obviously have sources and certainly will have good information to pass along. There is a reason to watch! But predicting a record for the season or Jefferson's passing numbers? That's a little blurry right now. Maybe we'll take a decent stab at it Sept. 2.
I do know this - August is the most challenging month of the year for the LSU football players. News flash - it's hot as hell. I took a jog on the levee near LSU on Wednesday during "the cool time of the day," around 5 p.m. Yeah, it was cool alright. Even then, the heat can simply cripple and drain you. The Louisiana sun is the undefeated champion, no doubt. You can battle it sporadically...but no one can beat it in a sustained fight.
The Tigers are indeed first class athletes. They've been running and lifting for months in preparation of this "fall camp." Still, players will drop from time to time and some will likely vomit. And, it won't be unusual for some of the larger players (offensive and defensive lineman) to lose 15 pounds of liquid during one practice. I heard 2003 National Championship 1,000 yard rusher Justin Vincent recently talk about "waking up in the middle of the night with full body cramps" during the dog days of August. This stuff isn't for the faint of heart.
So, don't call these guys overprivileged and pampered, at least not this time of year.
Players with LSU begin taking their first real steps together as the 2011 Tigers. Where will the journey take us? Are we destined for the Superdome again?
Hop aboard and let's find out.