Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE,La. If Brandon Harris has a debut against Wisconsin on Aug. 30 in Houston even remotely similar to that of another freshman quarterback coached by LSU's offensive coordinator, something truly amazing may happen.
All 102,321 seats in the new and larger Tiger Stadium may actually be sold for the season opener against lower division Sam Houston State on Sept. 6. Plenty of tickets remain as of now.
Antwaan Randle El debuted as a freshman quarterback for Indiana and then-head coach Cam Cameron on Sept. 12, 1998, and all he did was set an NCAA freshman record for total offense with 467 yards 385 through the air on 22-of-29 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions and 82 rushing on 23 carries with another three touchdowns.
Indiana beat only Western Michigan that night, 45-30. But Randle El kept it going against Big Ten competition as he won the conference's freshman of the year award with 1,745 yards passing and 873 rushing as the Hoosiers went 4-7. He finished fifth on the NCAA's career total yardage list in 2001 with 7,469 passing yards and 3,895 rushing with 92 touchdowns and became the first college player ever to gain 2,500 total yards in each of his seasons.
'Except for last year and the previous year, I've had a first-year or very young quarterback basically every place I've been,' Cameron said. 'Randle El was special, though. But you really enjoy it. Young quarterbacks keep you young. They teach you a lot. I've often said that I've probably learned more from all the quarterbacks I've been around, than they've learned from be because they're all different.'
Cameron last season had Zach Mettenberger, who was a fifth-year senior who had started 12 junior college games and 13 at LSU before Cameron's arrival. But Mettenberger apparently had room to learn as he became only LSU's third 3,000-yard passer in history in 2013 under Cameron with 3,082 after throwing for 2,609 in 2012. He also improved his passing efficiency from 128.3 and 13th in the Southeastern Conference in '12 to 171.4 and second in the SEC in '13.
In 2012 as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Cameron had veteran and future Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco, but he had been grooming him since Flacco was a rookie with the Ravens in 2008.
Other fresh quarterbacks who learned under Cameron in the NFL were Drew Brees in 2002 and Phillip Rivers in 2004 with the San Diego Chargers. Brees was a rookie in 2001, but he played only sparingly before blossoming the next season under Cameron. Others were Gus Frerotte and Trent Green when Cameron was quarterbacks coach with the Redskins in 1994-96.
'I know a lot more of the offense this year,' said LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings, who remains in a heated battle with Harris for the starting job. 'I'm more comfortable in my skin. I think coming in with Coach Cameron in my first year helped me a lot.' Harris has received a more accelerated course load as he arrived in January.
'Why this guy may be open because of this. Or why we run this route concept against the cover two defense. Coach Cam has taught me that in the six months I've been here,' Harris said. 'And learning defenses and learning drops from him have been big. In high school, you may have been the best player on the field, and you trusted your arm a little bit too much. And you were able to take improper footwork and make up for everything with your arm. At this level, that's not going to work.'
Cameron, meanwhile, applies how he taught past young quarterbacks to how he teaches the new ones now.
'As you're helping them grow, you find out little things that help them reach their potential,' he said. 'Anthony and Brandon are similar, but they're completely different in some ways. It's been great competition all camp with them. Both guys have improved, and that's our focus. You just try to help them get better, but it's a situation that I'm pretty familiar with.'
As he did with Randle El and others, Cameron is not thinking long term growth. He wants results immediately ... like on Aug. 30.
'There is no room for growing pains here,' he said. 'This isn't one of those schools. LSU is not a program where you develop a quarterback in his first year, and then you kind of get him going in his second year. And then in his third year, he really gets going. That ain't this place, and our guys know that. Our quarterbacks are charged with winning today, whether he's 18, 19 or 22. That's the expectation.'