Les Miles showed up in front of the assembled media Wednesday loose, chatty and playful to talk about the Tigers as they checked in to kick off practice for the 2012 season.
It was pretty much the same introductory message he has delivered seven previous times since showing up as the LSU coach in 2005, with two major exceptions.
1. With their best pure quarterback since JaMarcus Russell and a loaded cast around him, the Tigers enter this season as one of two prohibitive national favorites to contend for the national championship – a team with minor question marks compared to other years when there were obvious deficiencies.
2. For the first time in his tenure, Miles’ program welcomed in a high-profile recruit from a BCS program: Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden, who arrived in Baton Rouge and checked in with 102 other players.
Yep, this year is a little different and the arrival of Bolden, projected as much as an insurance policy to new starter Zach Mettenberger as much as anything.
The addition of Bolden fit for LSU and the QB after incoming freshman Jeremy Liggins failed to qualify academically. Liggins, the only quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class, will head to Gulf Coast Community College in Mississippi.
Bolden, meanwhile, does not count toward LSU’s 85-man scholarship limit because of the sanctions handed down against Penn State by the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Bolden arrives as a junior and has two years of eligibility left, plus an option to redshirt. He will start counting toward the scholarship limit in 2013. The former 4-star QB was an LSU recruit in 2009, the same year the Tigers landed Zach Lee. “Coming out of high school, we thought he was a very talented guy,” Miles said.
Much of Miles’ half-hour session with the media revolved around Bolden, a strong-armed 6-foot-3, 208-pound signal-caller from Orchard Lake, Mich. In an up-and-down two-year career at Penn State, he was the first true freshman to start under center in 100 years and started 16 games, eight in his each his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Here are the notes and highlights of Miles’ comments to wave of questions about Bolden:
“There's so much that has to be accomplished bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece. … I want him to come in here, get him comfortable, let him relax, let him know there's a lot to learn.”
“It think he's going to be a great teammate. I think he's going to be able to compete. He’s a great addition to our team, and certainly something that we need.”
“The good thing about him is he’s played in big games. He's played in big games, he's been a starter, he's walked into loud stadiums.”
“He doesn't know how to call a cadence, he doesn't know how to call the plays, he doesn't know (LSU’s) nomenclature. He has a long way to go. But he's a talented guy who will have every opportunity to compete.”
“We happened to have a specific need once Jeremy Liggins didn’t qualify, so it really fit us extremely well.”
Before and after the flurry of Bolden-oriented queries, there other news and notes:
Defensive tackle Bennie Logan will wear the No. 18 jersey, which has come to symbolize one of the team’s top leaders.
“He’s a guy who has really defined himself by effort and energy and want and constantly did right things, improved annually and improved daily,” Miles said. Two newcomers’ arrival could be delayed as they wait out test scores that will get them clear of NCAA requirements. Miles said receiver Avery Johnson is waiting for a test score to post, while offensive lineman Fehoka Fanaika is waiting on a grade to be finalized. Miles said he is optimistic both will be cleared soon.
As he spoke about the freshman he’s eager to evaluate, Miles rattled off the names of Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones, Trey Granier, Danielle Hunter and Corey Thompson.
LSU will enter the season ranked either No. 1 or 2 in every poll imaginable, which isn’t earth-shaking news for the Tigers.
“This ranking thing certainly is a compliment to the body of work that’s going on here, but nobody in this room feels like there’s anything guaranteed anybody,” Miles said. “It’s all about earning it. We understand that. The good thing about this room is it carries the No. 1 tag for a number of weeks throughout its years, and we’ll be fine. We’ll recognize that it’s only earned last.”
For approximately the 8,752nd time, Miles was asked about how the Tigers will bounce back from the disappointing 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game last Jan. 9.
“There’s a necessity to learn from your past experiences, but the good news was it was last year,” Miles said. “This is about this year. This is about what we can get accomplished.
“The great news is this is a team that’s tremendously achieved and very, very talented. But they didn’t get it done, and how wonderful that is to be very honest with you at this point in time. It’s an opportunity to go do some more.”