LITTLE ROCK — Angst and age mean Arkansas’ Jim Chaney is more insulated from fan criticism than any of the other new offensive coordinators in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.
At LSU, Cam Cameron is supposed to mold a big, strong-armed, erratic quarterback into a first-round choice in the NFL draft. Last year, the 6-foot-5 Zach Mettenberger didn’t play well enough to get a mention for All-SEC in a season that ended with him being sacked six times in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Citing Cameron’s association and tutelage of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, and other NFL quarterbacks, LSU fans are convinced that Cameron has the magic touch.
At Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel is a certified miracle worker. His new coach is Clarence McKinney, replacing new Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who called the plays when Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. McKinney has added the speed option to the Aggies’ playbook and he better hope Manziel doesn’t get injured running that play.
At Auburn, the DOB is in play. Associated with head coach Gus Malzahn for more than half his life as a player or coach, coordinator Rhett Lashlee is 29. Kingsbury took over the A&M offense at 31 and there have been other young and successful coordinators, but Lashlee’s age and background at Samford and Arkansas State will be cited if the Tigers repeat as the least productive offense in the SEC.
Lashlee’s immediate cover is the search for a quarterback.
In Fayetteville, Chaney has that going for him, plus he’s 51 with a resume that includes Tennessee and Tyler Bray, Purdue and Drew Brees, and the NFL. If Tyler Wilson had another year or Brandon Allen had done more than 6-of-20 with an interception in an embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Monroe, Razorback fans would be more demanding.
Two weeks deep in spring practice, their first question is who will be the starter. Once that is answered, they can speculate about production.
Both Chaney and Lashlee have more wiggle room than the other two because they are part of a new regime and first-year coaches and their staffs are due a pass when taking over programs that were a combined 7-17 and 2-14 in the SEC like the Razorbacks and Tigers. The programs are also similar in that both must whittle down the abundance of candidates at quarterback.
Arkansas’ offense is more of a work in progress; Auburn is only one season removed from Malzahn calling the plays as offensive coordinator. For either, a minor bowl game would be an accomplishment and a 3-5 SEC record would be excellent.
At the top end of expectations are LSU and A&M, which won a total of 21 games last year.
Although Mettenberger is a clear No. 1, LSU coach Les Miles, with an eye on 2014, said recently that sophomore Steven Rivers and two freshmen who are already on campus will also get snaps with the first team. Last week, the quarterbacks combined for 33-of-58 for 363 yards and four touchdowns and Miles was quoted by The Advocate as saying of Cameron’s play-calling: “He went after it, and the offense responded.”
That unit must carry more of the load than normal because the defense has lost seven starters, including a half-dozen who left early for the NFL draft.
At College Station, the transition began shortly after the regular season. McKinney, who has been with head coach Kevin Sumlin for five years, called the plays when the Aggies made 633 yards vs. Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Recently, McKinney trotted out the “take what the defense gives us” cliche and then added, ” … it helps to have No. 2 taking those snaps.”
Give me the proven commodity at College Station over the project in Baton Rouge or the process in Fayetteville and Auburn.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.