LSU tests young quarterbacks

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Quarterbacks Brandon Harris (6) and Anthony Jennings (10) look for receivers downfield during practice drills. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Quarterbacks Brandon Harris (6) and Anthony Jennings (10) look for receivers downfield during practice drills.

Miles regrets not putting more pressure on Jennings in preparations before Outback Bowl

“The ability to pull the ball down and get you some yards is good, too. Both guys anticipate getting out of the pocket better than they did at the beginning of the spring.” LES MILES, LSU coach on the progress and abilities of new quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings

Les Miles can’t go back in time.

Over the month of practices leading up to the Outback Bowl, freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings’ exposure to a full-bore pass rush was checked by donning a green jersey.

That has not been the case in the Tigers’ first two scrimmages of the spring, the second of which unfolded Saturday in 120-plus plays inside Tiger Stadium.

Under duress, Jennings and early enrollee Brandon Harris are live targets for pass rushes and face the split-second decision to complete a hot route, escape the pocket or ditch the ball.

“This is exactly how we should have practiced,” Miles said of prepping Jennings ahead of his first career start in a 21-14 victoy against Iowa. “He would have helped us significantly in the bowl game, because there were times where he’d have a comfort with what he had, he’d have gotten out of there.”

Yet the sloppy play marring last week’s first scrimmage was cleaned up.

The Tigers’ young signal-callers combined for 295 yards passing and four touchdowns along with splitting reps with the first unit in statistics provided by the school, which closed practice to the media. The Tigers rushed for 231 yards, led by senior running back Kenny Hilliard’s 57 on an unspecified number of carries.

Senior wide receiver Quantavius Leslie snagged four catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns, while Travin Dural had four receptions for 36 yards and a lone touchdown.

Obviously, the Tigers’ wide receiving corps will get an injection of talent with blue chippers in Barbe’s Trey Quinn and John Curtis’ Malachi Dupre, the nation’s top prospect at the position, arriving in August.

But Miles said it was important for Leslie, who caught a lone pass for 11 yards last season, to make his push now.

“It takes some time to get on, to understand the system and figure out what you have to do, how you run the routes,” Miles said. “The quarterback made nice throws, and (Leslie) did the things he can do. He made some really nice grabs.”

Jennings and Harris also tossed three interceptions — one to sophomore safety Rickey Jefferson and a pair to senior safety Ronald Martin — but Miles said those had less to do with poor decisions or bad throws.

“The ball was thrown pretty much where it was supposed to,” Miles said. “There were just some great plays made. It’ll be interesting to see how the film looks.”

The Tigers’ highest-profile position battle appears to be close, but unfolding in a way Miles publicly thinks it should.

LSU’s spring game April 5 will be a public unveiling, but the approach so far has been to put Jennings and Harris under pressure.

Can they recognize blitzes? Do they know how to get the ball out quickly and wisely? And when do they flash the athleticism that made both coveted dual-threats in high school?

“The ability to pull the ball down and get you some yards is good, too,” Miles said. “Both guys anticipate getting out of the pocket better than they did at the beginning of the spring.”

Swaps solid

Moved from defensive end to middle linebacker, sophomore Kendell Beckwith’s transition showed evidence of paying off.

The former East Feliciana High star notched six tackles, including two for loss, and a “real nice play on the goal line,” Miles said.

Meanwhile, the Tigers coach said he’s still pleased with Kwon Alexander settling in on the weak side, and Lamar Louis sliding in behind D.J. Welter at the strongside position.

“Both Kwon and Lamar are guys who are very athletic and can really hit you,” Miles said. ‘There were some real collisions today.”

‘Review is what’s needed’

In the wake of the National Labor Relations Board approving a request by Northwestern players to unionize, Miles said the move is “well meaning” but doesn’t want it to alter the structure of the sport.

“What’s happened in the past, it’s allowed guys, young men, an opportunity at an education they may not have naturally put themselves in a position to achieve,” Miles said. “I don’t want them to change that piece of it.”

The decision, reached Wednesday by the Chicago district of the NLRB, would allow the players to qualify as employees and collectively bargain as the College Athletes Players Association. The school also announced it will appeal the ruling to the full NLRB board in Washington, D.C., a move Miles approves.

“Review is what’s needed,” Miles said, “and I just don’t want them to change the game.”