BATON ROUGE - LSU coach Ed Orgeron sounded like a man quarterback starved Wednesday night after practice.
This is understandable as he has been an LSU fan since he was a kid around Bayou Lafourche in the 1960s and '70s, and truly successful passing quarterbacks have been few and far between over the decades for the Tigers, particularly in recent years. Orgeron spent a year out of coaching in 2014 at his home in Mandeville and watched LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings finish 83rd in the nation in passing efficiency at 117.8. And there have been worse passing seasons than that. In 2010, when Orgeron was an assistant at USC, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson finished 92nd in the nation in efficiency at 114.6.
As LSU's defensive line coach in 2015, Orgeron watched as quarterback Brandon Harris finished 63rd in the nation in efficiency at 130.6. Orgeron took over as interim head coach at LSU last year following Les Miles' 2-2 start, which included Danny Etling taking over for Harris. Etling was better, but not by a lot, according to the numbers. He finished 53rd in passing efficiency at 135.6, but he was playing hurt with a bad back that affected his throwing motion and eventually needed surgery.
He is better now and more fluid, players and coaches say. But Etling is not a strong armed thrower at his best. True freshman Myles Brennan is, and Orgeron raved about him.
"I tell you what, it's just fun to see," Orgeron said of Brennan, a member of the Brennan family restaurant dynasty in New Orleans who completed 275 of 399 passes last season for 68 percent, 3,982 yards and 48 touchdowns with three interceptions at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. He did not see the greatest of prep competition, and most of the elite colleges did not recruit him. But that is still a phenomenal 190.95 efficiency rating. That would have finished No. 2 in college football last year to Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who was at 196.4.
"Myles Brennan comes from a passing offense, and he is a natural thrower," Orgeron said.
So was Harris, who threw for 3,172 yards and 34 touchdowns at Parkway High in Bossier City as a senior in 2013 with a big arm against stronger competition than Brennan saw at St. Stanislaus. But Harris was not coached by offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who is in his first season at LSU after building systems around the quarterbacks he groomed for years at Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.
"He still has to learn the offense, obviously," Orgeron said. "Still has to be more comfortable with his reads."
Harris struggled with that.
"But his release and his ability to throw the ball is very special," Orgeron said as Miles used to say of Harris.
Nevertheless, Orgeron said, "It's fun to see that ball come out of his hands. But you know what, we've got to bring him along when he's ready. We are not going to throw him into the fire until he's ready."
Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron threw Harris into the fire at Auburn as a true freshman in 2014, and it was not pretty.
"That's the worst thing we can do, and we need to let him develop," Orgeron said. "Let Lowell Narcisse (another true freshman quarterback) develop. Give them the opportunity to compete, and when they're ready, give them a chance. But right now, Danny is still our No. 1 quarterback. I thought Danny had another good day (Wednesday), followed by Myles Brennan, who continues to do a lot of good things."
In just two weeks of practice, Brennan has apparently already passed Narcisse, who went through spring drills as an early enrollee in the class of 2017, as well as sophomore Justin McMillan, who has been in the program since 2015, and 2016 signee Lindsay Scott.
"It's still not over yet," Orgeron said of the Etling-Brennan battle. "The quarterback race is not over yet."
Orgeron, who likes to keep recruiting in mind when discussing quarterbacks, admitted that Brennan has not taken a lot of snaps with the first team, however. That has been mainly Etling.
"Very few. Very few," Orgeron said. "Don't want to put that on him (Brennan) right now. He doesn't know all the plays. It's a new installation every day. It's a heavy installation. The guy's still in a learning period with a learning curve. I don't want to put him in there and put too much pressure on him."
Orgeron also admitted that Brennan is getting more snaps than Narcisse, McMillan and Scott, partly because Brennan only just got here. They've seen the others.
Still, Orgeron struggled to contain himself concerning Brennan's raw talent.
"Does he have the ability to be a first string quarterback as a freshman? Yes, he does," Orgeron said. "There's no question about that. Is he ready? Not yet."
Should Etling, a senior, win the starting job for the season opener against Brigham Young on Sept. 2 in Houston (8:30 p.m. ESPN) and keep it as the season goes on, Orgeron hopes to get Brennan and/or others some playing time, conceivably for 2018.
"We're not looking that far ahead," Orgeron said. "You know what I'm saying? But obviously, hopefully, there are some chances where we can play some quarterbacks - let them play in the game."
And let Orgeron see more of that arm.
NOTES: Starting senior left tackle K.J. Malone of Ruston returned to practice this week after missing some time with what Orgeron called a minor injury. Two other returning starting offensive linemen remain out with minor ailments. Those are junior center William Clapp, who started at guard the last two seasons, and junior right tackle Toby Weathersby. "They should be fine," Orgeron said. "They're still battling injuries, but they're going to be OK. They should be back very soon." True freshmen and walk-ons have been with the first and second teams on the thin offensive line. ... LSU added a late signee this week to get up to the maximum of 85 on scholarship with Destrehan High wide receiver Justin Jefferson, whose older brothers are former LSU players Rickey and Jordan Jefferson. ... Tyler Shelvin, a five star defensive lineman from Notre Dame of Crowley in the 2017 class, is expected to join the team soon as the NCAA Clearinghouse makes the final checks on his high school transcripts. "Right now, his paper work is at the Clearinghouse," Orgeron said. "It's something that should be cleared in hopefully a week." ... LSU will scrimmage on Saturday.
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