BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Another LSU football fall camp is underway and once again, we have some very compelling story lines when it comes to the quarterback position.
Danny Etling returns as the incumbent and despite what he's produced, some fans (and I stress some) talk about Etling as if he's never completed a forward pass. Uh, do you remember the 2014 season? I've been told "he's not an SEC quarterback" and in the lower, dirtier channels of Twitter sewage he's even been referred to as "hot garbage."
Look, there's no doubt Etling is limited - he doesn't have the arm of a Brandon Harris (who left LSU in the off season for the North Carolina Tarheels) nor does he have the wheels to escape the pocket and take off for a 50-yard gain like Alabama's Jalen Hurts. But for the love of God, he was competent enough to pass for 200 yards or more in seven of his nine starts last season and finished the year pretty well, despite playing with a bad back that later required surgery and in an offensive scheme that was terribly complicated, yet utterly mundane.
Steve Ensminger deserves a street named after him near Death Valley for taking over as the offensive coordinator after Cam Cameron's dismissal and transforming LSU into a great play-action team (oh look, tight ends can catch!) and basically making the very most of a really bad situation.
Now back to the present.
There's a new kid in town, a kid named Brennan. Despite Etling being a fifth-year senior and playing in some of college football's toughest and most boisterous venues (in The Big 10 and SEC), true freshman Myles Brennan, who didn't even participate in spring football, is getting a few first team reps at practice and in scrimmages (we're now calling them "preseason games"). When I talk to people around the LSU football program about Brennan, there seems to be a pause, followed by a nodding, acknowledging smile and a - "Yeah, he's going to be pretty good."
Now, let me say this - I remember clear as day - LSU football players looking me straight in the eye during the 2013 fall camp and saying Anthony Jennings was "amazing" and "unbelievable." I mean, buckle up, here comes Randall Cunningham. Jennings, to his credit, had his moments but we all know how that worked out. August is the never-ending downpour of compliments between teammates that water and flourish the bouquets of love tossed around on your local news or in the newspaper. Everyone is great. Everyone looks good out there.
But when it comes to Brennan, this appears to be more than just killing time with glowing sound bites. As it was described to me, the LSU defense recently had Brennan totally contained in the pocket, with nowhere to go.
"We had him at the bottom of the well," one defender described it to me.
But instead of a quarterback sack, the next thing everyone heard was the "wooosh" of the football rocketed from the pocket and into a receiver's hands down the field. Myles Brennan has a blazing release and fires Alex Lange-like fast balls. He stands 6-foot-4 and has bulked up to nearly 200 pounds, which could easily become 230 in another year under veteran strength and conditioning Jedi, Tommy Moffitt.
However, the talk surrounding Etling has also been pretty positive. The back surgery in the off season has improved his torque and velocity on passes. He can run and scramble without experiencing excruciating pain. He feels better even now than at the start of camp in late July. And with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada implementing his fresh, exciting attack, who knows? Etling may pass for 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns this year.
Some fans are already taking bets on what game Brennan will start. It's a situation LSU must handle with great care and caution. Do you really want a true freshman starting at The Swamp, in Tuscaloosa, or in Knoxville? Maybe Brennan could handle it, but the risk of frying his brain and damaging his psyche in such relentless arenas is great. And if Brennan starts before the end of the year, how will fellow true freshman Lowell Narcisse and sophomore (he's only a sophomore???) Justin McMillan handle that? Would they stick it out or join Brandon Harris and Lindsey Scott Jr. on the transfer train?
The bottom line is this - it's only mid-August. A lot can happen between now and the season opener in Houston against BYU. Danny Etling needs to progress with his deep passing, prove he can take hits after the surgery, and play better in big games. Fair or not, when it comes to Etling's resume, many LSU fans have tunnel vision for his poor performance against Alabama last year in Tiger Stadium. Well, in case you weren't watching, the entire LSU offense got overwhelmed that night, including the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Leonard Fournette.
Etling deserves to start the season and, barring something unforeseen, he probably will. Brennan will continue to improve and maybe can be spoon-fed some action against Chattanooga, Syracuse, and Troy in Baton Rouge before we flip the calendar to October. If LSU is out of the running for anything substantial entering November, then things get really interesting. This, without question, will be a fascinating watch.
LSU quarterback drama. Ain't it great?