Rabalais: New LSU QBs more like Johnny Football

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings greets Iowa wide receiver Jordan Cotton (23) after talking to Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock (15) after the Outback Bowl in January in Tampa, Fla. LSU won 21-14. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings greets Iowa wide receiver Jordan Cotton (23) after talking to Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock (15) after the Outback Bowl in January in Tampa, Fla. LSU won 21-14.

LSU needs a Johnny Football at quarterback this fall.

This is not to put pressure on sophomore Anthony Jennings, incoming freshman Brandon Harris or even redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig to perform at a Heisman Trophy-like level as Johnny Manziel did at Texas A&M in 2012.

Far from it. Why? Because no one is likely to come up with a freshman like Manziel any time soon, if ever. Did you ever see anyone like him as a freshman before? Or as a sophomore?

The prosecution rests.

But if anything seems clear from the way LSU is recruiting the quarterback position, the era of the statuesque purple and gold pocket passer looks like it has gone the way of single bar facemasks. Quarterbacks like Zach Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee, who played as though they had their feet anchored to a pedestal, are giving way to guys like Jennings and Harris. Guys who can run and throw and hit a target on the move like the Sundance Kid in shoulder pads (“I’m better when I move”).

We won’t try to speculate on the playing potential of 2018 LSU quarterback commitment Zadock Dinkelmann at this point. By the time it’s his time to become a Tiger he may be a dual-threat QB or have decided to become a Tibetan monk or given up football because he invented a new Internet search engine (“I found hotels for my LSU football road trips this fall quickly and easily at Zadock.com”).

But back to the clear and present danger for this 2014 LSU football program: the quarterback position.

There are other areas of pressing need as spring football practice opens its limited four-week engagement Saturday. Defensive tackle, certainly. Wide receivers, without question.

But nothing presses the panic button like iffyness at the quarterback position. Not in a Group of Death league like the Southeastern Conference.

In the SEC, you’d like to be “if” free at the quarterback spot. That was LSU last year with Mettenberger.

But not this year. LSU hasn’t had this many questions and so little experience behind center since 2008, when Matt Flynn had graduated and Ryan Perrilloux had finally gone rogue one too many times for Les Miles to tolerate.

Remember 2008? It’s now known on the Chinese calendar as the Year of the Pick Six. But it was also the year an unheralded walk-on from Harvard named Andrew Hatch started the season at quarterback. He got hurt and gave way to Lee, who in turn was succeeded by freshman Jordan Jefferson, who started LSU’s last two games but had at least seen action in five others before getting shown the fire.

Jennings had basically one super-clutch game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas and a super-struggle of a rain-soaked showing in the Outback Bowl against Iowa.

Retting knows how to signal in the plays. Harris has seen games on television.

And that’s all she wrote it in the quarterback experience reservoir tank.

However it pans out, this will be the most environmentally friendly LSU team in at least six years when it comes to the quarterback position. Green, green, green everywhere.

Somebody will win the job. But if it’s Harris — the punter’s choice with the betting public at this highly uneducated stage in the game — or even Jennings, LSU will be at a disadvantage against the rest of the NFL stars in training that populate the SEC, at least from the start.

Conventional SEC wisdom used to dictate that it was darned near impossible to win — or at least win at the level to which LSU is accustomed — without experience at quarterback.

Manziel came along and riddled that theory to pieces. But it’s still true you need a strong, steady hand at quarterback, a quick study, preferably someone wise beyond his years.

Jennings and Harris, being that he’s at LSU and taking part in spring practice, gives the Tigers a chance to have that. But either one will have to grow up in a hurry AND find a workable chemistry with a similarly inexperienced LSU wide receiver corps.

If Leonard Fournette comes in at running back and lives up to even a fraction of his recruiting hype, he and Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and the rest of the LSU running backs should be fine.

But you can’t just win like LSU has become accustomed to winning by being able to only run the ball. You have to have a dual threat, which brings us back to the kinds of quarterbacks Harris and Jennings are in the first place.