Jennings’ mobility gives Tigers another tool

Anthony Johnson made the decision midplay not to chase Anthony Jennings.

It just wasn’t worth it.

In his second practice as LSU’s starting quarterback Tuesday, Jennings fooled a defensive end with a fake option pitch and then sliced inside for a 20-yard gain.

Johnson, LSU’s 300-pound defensive tackle, turned to see Jennings’ backside and thought the better of trying to catch the speedster during a practice.

“I ain’t chasing him,” Johnson said moments later during interviews with reporters. “I ain’t about to pull nothing for him. I’m too big for that.”

For the first time in nearly two years, LSU has a new quarterback taking first-string practice snaps. Zach Mettenberger’s season-ending knee injury against Arkansas has thrust the slippery true freshman into the lead role.

As expected, things are different with the dual-threat Jennings behind center.

LSU is using more read-option and option plays, and Jennings and his receivers aren’t yet a cohesive group, players say.

There’s plenty of time to work out any kinks.

No. 14 LSU (9-3, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) is three practices into its 12-practice bowl schedule, and the Tigers don’t meet Iowa (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) in the Outback Bowl until Jan. 1.

In the meantime, LSU’s defenders can adjust to practicing against the elusive Jennings.

After all, they’re not used to this.

“Zach is more of a sitting duck,” Johnson said. “I don’t like to talk like that about my brother, man, but he’s not too mobile. Anthony Jennings is a guy that can give you a lot of problems.”

His speed is, at least slightly, changing an offense that’s been without a shifty quarterback since the BCS national championship loss to Alabama after the 2011 season.

LSU coach Les Miles claims LSU’s offense won’t change with Jennings at quarterback, but it’s obvious that it already has.

“You can do a little bit more option type things and read option stuff,” receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “With him having the ability to run, even if you’re in a pass set, if things break down, things are covered, he has the ability to just take off with his legs.”

Johnson said: “Anthony Jennings, he allows us to open up the playbook more.”

It’s not like LSU’s never done this before.

Most of the Tigers starting quarterbacks in Miles’ nine years have been guys with mobility: Matt Mauk, Ryan Perrilloux, JaMarcus Russell and Jordan Jefferson.

They’ve been mixed in with traditional pocket passers who lead a more old-school offense: Jarrett Lee and Mettenberger.

Behind Jennings, it’s clear which scheme will be on display in Tampa, Fla.

“He’s a guy that can make a lot of plays with his feet,” linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “He’s going to be hell for the defense.”

That includes passing.

Despite those read-option and option plays, Jennings is a passer first, Miles and players say.

The quarterback showed both skills on that 99-yard game-winning drive against Arkansas three weeks ago. He completed four of six passes on the drive and had a 21-yard first-down scamper that had the Tiger Stadium crowd roaring.

Sure, his feet separate him from Mettenberger, but the goal is for him to pass from the pocket, receiver Jarvis Landry said.

“We want him to stay in the pocket,” Landry said.

“He wants to stay in the pocket also and throw the ball. We understand he has the ability to extend plays. He knows that also.

“Thing is, for us, when he escapes out of the pocket, (we) try to find his eyes, get him to find us. And if he can’t, he’ll run.”

The passing part has been an issue early.

Landry and Beckham both say the receiver-to-quarterback connection needs work. Jennings was not made available to reporters Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jennings’ passes are different than those thrown by Mettenberger, receivers say. One is a true freshman and another was projected, before his injury, as a top 50 NFL draft pick.

Jennings’ passes aren’t as accurate, they’re not arriving as a tight spiral, and they’re being thrown earlier than expected.

The last is an easy fix, Landry said.

“Just for us right now we’ve got to get a few timing things down and that just comes with time,” he said.

“I think if we can do that, we’ll be fine.”

Beckham said Jennings’ accuracy “is going to get there probably by game time.”

That tight spiral might be a bigger chore.

“Anthony has a little bit bigger hands, so he’s holding the ball a little bit bigger than Zach does,” Beckham said. “He’s throwing it and it doesn’t have the same release.”

In all, for scheme and players, Jennings’ promotion means an adjustment — and that includes the LSU starting defenders.

“Not fun,” Barrow said shaking his head, “ to chase him.”