HOOVER, Ala. — One by one, LSU players tried to rewrite the story of Brandon Harris.
They started by chipping away at the premise. You know the one. It goes something like this: Harris as the No. 1 reason why LSU didn’t reach double digits in wins last year. His completion percentage, which ranked 101st among qualifying QBs, was too low. Six interceptions wasn’t bad, of course, but 13 touchdowns wasn’t nearly enough. He just couldn’t move the ball downfield, the offense struggled to feature anything more than the power running game and it nearly cost LSU coach Les Miles his job.
But at SEC media days last week, his teammates pushed back against the narrative. Center Ethan Pocic said that Harris “got the short end of the stick.” Star running back Leonard Fournette agreed, chalking it up to the way fans and media put losses at the feet of the head coach and the quarterback.
“But it takes all 11 of us,” Fournette said.
Did it look to you like Harris lost his confidence late in the year? After LSU started 7-0, his stats flatlined, beginning with an anemic 6-of-19 performance against Alabama. But if you ask close friend and LSU defensive back Tre’Davious White, there wasn’t anything mental at play. He’ll tell you that Harris never wavered, that “he wants that pressure.”
Pocic said the same thing: “He was the same quarterback that he was at the end of the season, the middle of the season, the beginning of the season -- a 7-0 quarterback. I feel like he got too much of the blame at points.”
Looking at the big picture, coach Les Miles thought of Harris’ two years with 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns as a “nice position to be in.” And that’s certainly one way of spinning it: The former blue-chip recruit isn’t a failure; he’s just getting started.
“Everybody asks me about Brandon,” Fournette said. “I think he’s going to do a marvelous job this year, guys.”
He added that, “I’m just ready to see the new Brandon Harris when Sept. 3 comes.”
But who is this new Brandon Harris and how is he different from the one we’ve gotten to know the last two seasons? Let his coach and teammates tell you.
Fournette, for his part, harped on a greater sense of confidence.
“He has that new swag to himself,” he said. “He’s talking the way I think a quarterback should talk.”
Pocic pointed toward the little things as a sign of a big Year 3 jump.
“As he’s grown, he’s more fluid in the huddle, on the line, with his progressions and everything,” he said. “He’s becoming more of a total quarterback.”
White, meanwhile, said he’s been impressed with the way he asks questions.
“The guy, he wants to be great,” he said. “I’ve never seen a quarterback — after 7-on-7s, he wants the DBs to stay extra. He wants to know what we think of when a receiver does this, when a quarterback looks this way, what are we thinking. So he asks questions from a defensive back’s perspective, and I think that’s going to pay off huge for him.
“He didn’t do that last year.”
During his opening remarks at media days, Miles spoke of a quarterback with more poise and more comfort in the offense. And then he started to describe Harris in a way that doesn’t come up often: ambitious.
“The more you accomplish, the more you want to accomplish,” Miles said. “The artistic piece of being a quarterback is the style of throw, and the style of throw is really where he's at. You know, 'Do I drive it? Do I put air on it? Where am I? What is this throw?' And there's where you want a quarterback to spend his time, and he is.”
In a new place of maturity, with a new confidence, with a new way of doing things; that’s the quarterback LSU players sold to reporters in Hoover, Alabama, last week.
Everyone wants to know: Has Harris changed?
Whether the stories are true and what they mean won’t be realized until the season opener against Wisconsin. Even then, after starting out so hot last season, we’ll have to wait and see.
But one thing is certain as the offseason comes to a close: The old Brandon Harris won't cut it. He needs to look like a new version of himself to make the most of Fournette, a solid offensive line and a talented group of receivers, including veteran Travin Dural and Preseason All-SEC pick Malachi Dupre.
For the Tigers to break through and win the SEC West for the first time since 2011, the total transformation of Harris is required.