Brandon Harris crept behind Cam Cameron and playfully tapped him on the side of the stomach.
“You’re not supposed to be talking to the media,” LSU’s smiling freshman quarterback whispered to his offensive coordinator. Cameron turned away from a group of reporters and smirked.
This is an 18-year-old kidding around with his teacher, right? A bubbly, young player poking at his older coach, no?
Nothing more, huh?
In the tense, tight battle for LSU’s starting quarterback job, the smallest of signs can be viewed under the most powerful of microscopes.
“I would say this confidently,” Cameron said of the duel between Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings, both fighting to replace Zach Mettenberger, “We’re going to have more than one quality starter at LSU.”
Maybe that was the most revealing nugget to emerge from LSU’s annual media day Sunday: Both Jennings and Harris will be ready to play, and both might play.
In their first interviews in months, Jennings, Harris and Cameron were pelted with questions about a competition that appears to be a dead heat one week through a monthlong preseason camp.
No one flinched. Little was revealed. The battle rages.
“There’s a feel element to it,” Cameron said of picking a starter. “You can’t make the decision based on stats and on paper. You’re going to need more than one quarterback throughout the course of the season.
“Right now, I’m confident we can develop more than one guy who can play at the starting level,” he continued. “At that point, I think Les (Miles) will have a greater feel for what’s best for the team and (what) gives us the best chance to win that game. He knows how to win games one game at a time.”
So a flip-flop situation? One of them starts that game and another starts the next?
“We don’t have that answer,” Jennings said.
Jennings seemed to be the favorite entering fall camp. The pendulum began to swing after he followed a shaky Outback Bowl performance with a middling spring game. Harris wowed fans with his vertical passing skills in the spring game, and Miles has said over the summer that he’s got more natural talent than his competitor.
“We’ve got a neat thing going there,” special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto said with a wry smile.
How close is the competition? Tight enough to make Miles put Jennings off limits to reporters during the first week of fall camp last week. Harris, as all true freshmen, is banned from speaking to reporters outside of the annual media day.
For the first time publicly, Harris answered questions about the fight for the starting gig.
How are the two different?
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. He’s a guy who can run just like I can run. He’s a guy who can throw just like I can throw,” Harris said. “I don’t know anything that may separate us from each other. I’m taller, he’s shorter. I don’t know. I couldn’t give you a reason.”
The differences are clear to most. Miles has said that Harris is faster, and Jennings is “thicker.” Harris seems to be better vertically as a passer, but Jennings’ frame is more fit for a college quarterback.
For instance, at one point during practice last week, Jennings was given the ball during goal-line tackling drills. Harris stood and watched.
One’s talkative (Harris) and the other more shy (Jennings).
During interviews, it was clear who was more comfortable and laid back in the setting: the same guy who poked his coach toward the end of the hourlong interview session.
“Les said that?” Harris said when told Miles said he was the faster of the two.
“I haven’t raced him, so I don’t know about that,” Harris said drawing laughter.
The two sat just a few feet apart, answering questions from some of the 200 credentialed media members present. A team communications assistant was never far off, listening as reporters peppered the pair of quarterbacks on the race to win the job.
“Quarterback for a top 15 program,” Jennings said. “This is what happens. I’m ready for it.”
He’s never dealt with it before.
Jennings, a three-year starter at Georgia’s Marietta High, is in the midst of what he says is his first “strong competition with anybody.”
What does he have to do to win the job and remain at No. 1 on the depth chart? Form better chemistry with his receivers, according to the quarterback.
“I’m obviously not perfect, but I feel like I’ve got to get better with the receivers, getting the ball to the receivers, being more vocal with the line,” he said.
Harris, an early enrollee, was playing high school football just eight months ago. But he drops the word “mastered” when discussing his knowledge of LSU’s offense.
He quickly corrects himself in front of 20-plus reporters.
“Got the vast majority of it in,” he said.
“If the game was to start today or tomorrow,” Harris said later during the interview, “I think I’d obviously be ready to play.”
There’s a long way to go before that decision is made, according to comments from Cameron. Whoever is named to start the season opener against Wisconsin on Aug. 30 might not be No. 1 all season anyway.
So sit back, relax and enjoy a quarterback battle that might not end until the 2014 season.
“I learned sometimes it’s cut and dry,” Cameron said. “It’s this guy then that guy. If it’s not this guy then that guy, you realize, you’re going to need more than one quarterback to go through a 14-game season anyway. So you better just focus on getting all ready to play.
“That said, somebody’s going to walk out there and take that first snap. Sometimes you just can’t quantify it,” Cameron said when asked about the determining factor in naming a No. 1. “That’s where head coaches that have great instincts, like Les does, they know this is the starting point. Sometimes who steps out there, it’s just a starting point.”