As of Saturday, there were still 175 days to go before the LSU football team’s Aug. 30 season opener against Wisconsin in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
But on a mild, late-winter afternoon, LSU’s quarterback derby — which could wind up being one of the hottest and more intriguing in recent history — officially got underway when the Tigers returned to the practice field to begin a month of spring drills.
Sophomore Anthony Jennings. Redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig. True freshman Brandon Harris.
The trio should make for an interesting spring for coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who must try to sort everything out and find a successor to Zach Mettenberger.
As Miles quickly pointed out Saturday following the first of 15 practices — which will be capped by the spring game April 5 — it’s going to take some time.
“I think the idea that you make the decision early is foolish,” Miles said. “There’s always going to be that point in time where a young guy gains speed late or an injury makes the decision, or the more veteran guy just shows he’s worthwhile.”
Obviously Jennings is the leading candidate to take the first snap against Wisconsin.
He took over in the regular-season finale to lead a 99-yard game-winning drive against Arkansas, then made his starting debut in taking over for an injured Mettenberger and led the Tigers to an Outback Bowl victory against Iowa on Jan. 1.
But Jennings didn’t have a great game in the rain and mud in Tampa, completing just 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards with an interception in a 21-14 win.
Miles admitted Saturday that Jennings will have a slight advantage in the early stages of spring practice, if only because Rettig and Harris have yet to take a snap in a game.
“It’s all in the process,” Miles said. “The early practices, (Jennings) should have some advantage in the fact that the offense is kind of repeated for him. We’re just looking for him to compete, take the job.”
Yet that doesn’t mean there won’t be a battle when he was asked whether he wanted Jennings to treat the job like it was his to lose.
“I want them both, all three of the quarterbacks, to know that it’s going to be given to no one (and) earned by the one that plays,” he said.
In the portion of Saturday’s practice that was open to reporters, the coaching staff had two quarterbacks throwing at the same time.
Jennings and Rettig were with the first rotation, followed by Harris and walk-on Brad Kragthorpe.
The top three quarterbacks were mostly throwing to a group of receivers that included Travin Dural, who hauled in the 49-yard game-winning touchdown from Jennings against Arkansas.
Dural was joined by John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Kevin Spears and Avery Peterson.
The quarterback that has the most ground to make up is Harris, deemed one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks last fall at Parkway High.
“The older guys obviously know cadence, so there’s some comfort there,” Miles said.
“We want to have a quality competitive environment for Brandon and the other quarterbacks. So we have to bring Brandon up to speed to get comfortable with the offense, then let’s have at it and see who’s best.”
Miles said he already has seen a lot of improvement in the offseason in Harris, who was an early enrollee in January.
“I felt both quarterbacks, Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, have gotten stronger and more capable,” Miles said. “Brandon, in his short amount of time here, has gained some weight and strength and just looks a little bit better.
“Hayden Rettig’s lost some weight. He looks more athletic, and he had a nice practice today.”