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QB battle again LSU's offseason concern

1/6/2015

BATON ROUGE, La. – Everyone needs to perform more effectively for LSU’s quarterbacks to play better in 2015 – including the coaches. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron admitted as much last month in a speech in front of the New Orleans Quarterback Club.

“I have to be honest with myself,” Cameron said. “I think I could’ve done a better job.”

Certainly the quarterback position was not the only reason LSU lost five games in 2014, but it was easily the greatest source of frustration among Tigers fans and the most inconsistent position on the team.

Starter Anthony Jennings conceded late in the season that the Tigers could have contended for the SEC West title, at minimum, if he hadn’t made some glaring mistakes in big games.

The sophomore finished the season having completed 48.9 percent of his passes (111 of 227) for 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he realizes that is simply not good enough.

“I think just coming in, my mindset needs to be different,” Jennings said. “I think that coming in and going harder than I ever have, improving, getting chemistry with these wide receivers that we have and getting those guys on the same page as me.”

The question now that the offseason has arrived is how might next season be any different? For one thing, Jennings said, he now has the benefit of essentially a full season as a starter under his belt after entering 2014 with very little on-field experience.

“I just think that I didn’t really know how it was going to go,” Jennings said. “I didn’t know what starting was in the SEC. I talked to Zach [Mettenberger, LSU’s former starter], talked to other quarterbacks here, but I think it’s different when you get in there and actually step on the field and play against the Floridas and Bamas and going at away teams, going to hostile environments.”

Certainly inexperience was an enormous issue for Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris, whose lone start, at defending SEC champ Auburn, was an unmitigated disaster. Dealing with that kind of youth was not new for Cameron, but it had been some time since he had dealt with such raw players.

After spending a decade in the NFL dealing with players such as Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, Cameron helped turn Mettenberger, a player with an NFL-ready skill set, into one of the nation’s most improved quarterbacks in 2013. But Jennings and Harris clearly had a lot more work to do in 2014, and Cameron conceded that he needed to approach the teaching process differently for his young quarterbacks.

“I’m evaluating how I’m teaching and trying to streamline some things to help Anthony play better and help develop Brandon Harris,” Cameron told the quarterback club.

Developing Harris might turn out to be the key piece in this puzzle. Once Hayden Rettig and Stephen Rivers transferred after spring practice, Jennings and Harris were LSU’s only legitimate options at quarterback last fall. And buy into the transfer rumors about Notre Dame’s Everett Golson or Ohio State’s Braxton Miller at your own peril.

Most likely, LSU’s quarterback competition will come down to Jennings and Harris again next season, and LSU coach Les Miles confirmed that there will indeed be another competition.

“The two that we have, if they continue to improve, we’ll like where they end up,” Miles said.

For now, the leader in that competition is still Jennings. His on-field performance was lacking, but Harris – who finished 25-for-42 for 452 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs – barely saw the field after his Auburn implosion. He has a lot of work to do this offseason in order to catch up with Jennings in terms of respect within the locker room and confidence from the coaches.

“I’m a leader of this offense and I think all the guys around me know that,” Jennings said. “I just have to come in every day, continue to improve. Obviously the coaches have confidence in me to keep putting me out there.”

LSU’s coaches didn’t have a great alternative in 2014, but they might if Harris takes greater command of the huddle during spring and preseason practices. If that happens, Jennings will be on a shorter leash – and he’ll have no choice but to improve upon a subpar debut season as a starter.

“I don’t think my confidence ever really wavered. I think that I just needed to play better and I just have to continue to put W's in the win column,” said Jennings, who is 9-4 as the Tigers’ starter. “I think that all these guys around me are going to continue to improve with me, also, and it’s just going to continue to keep going.”