Anthony Jennings’ summer has included the normal doings for an LSU football player.
He’s gone through the agility workouts, the weight lifting, the conditioning sprints. He’s gone to class, met with coaches and studied the playbook.
There’s something else he’s done, too, said Scott Burton, Jennings’ high school coach at Marietta, Georgia.
“He feels like he’s had an opportunity to turn this into his team,” Burton said. “Anthony feels like this is his job, this is his team.”
In eight days, LSU’s starting quarterback battle between Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris revs up. The Tigers open fall camp Aug. 4, 27 days before the squad begins the season with a primetime showdown in Houston against Wisconsin.
Jennings and Harris have less than a month of practice to claim the job as Zach Mettenberger’s replacement. Coaches have less than four full weeks to anoint a successor.
Less than a week before the race starts, the buzz in Baton Rouge centers around what many expect to be a hotly contested boxing match between two similar and talented quarterbacks.
No one in the program is calling favorites or showing their hand.
The battle in spring practice and workouts over the summer has led to this: a dead heat.
“Tell you what,” running back Terrence Magee said, “they’re making it tough for coach Cam (Cameron) to decide who’s going to be the starter for Game 1.”
Jennings enters fall camp atop the depth chart. He feels, according to Burton, that he’s formed and built relationships with teammates over the summer — enough to call LSU his team.
He shook off a flat Outback Bowl performance and a shaky spring-game outing and “attacked” the summer, Burton said.
“What he’s telling me is that he feels so much more comfortable now than even last semester,” Burton said.
“Timing, decisions and things of that nature. He has a good sense of what opposing defenses are going to give him this year.”
The challenger, though, isn’t far behind.
In just his fourth month in Baton Rouge, Harris, an early enrollee, outplayed Jennings in the spring game. He’s the hotshot recruit who fans want to see thrust into the lineup, an instant talent infusion capable of making big plays.
Even coach Les Miles has said Harris has “a future” at quarterback for LSU, and he was one of four freshmen that the coach last week said “we would expect to have great impact on our season.”
Harris’ high school coach, Parkway’s David Feaster, watched with the other 18,000-plus in Tiger Stadium at the spring game.
He expected his former quarterback to look different among major college athletes than he did in high school.
“My overall impression was it’s not a different game for him,” Feaster said. “When he pulled it down and ran, he was still the fastest guy on the field. He looked very composed to me.”
Jennings was, at times, shaky. He threw two interceptions and completed just nine passes.
“There’s been a lot of things said about the spring game,” Burton said. “Not that those things are inaccurate. Anthony doesn’t shy away from challenges. He knows the spring game wasn’t necessarily his best day. He knows that there’s more to it than the casual observer sees.”
Jennings has used his ugly spring game to fuel a summer that’s seen real progression. Asked about Harris’ summer last week, Miles brought up Jennings.
It could just have been a way to keep the playing field even. Or it could have been the truth — that Jennings has had a strong summer.
“He feels like he’s had a great summer and has connected and made relationships with teammates,” Burton said.
Is this really a dead heat entering fall? Who knows?
Those close to the LSU football program said Cameron isn’t revealing his thoughts on the situation. Most expect the veteran offensive coordinator to make the final decision on a starter.
Left tackle La’el Collins, when asked about the quarterbacks, pointed out Jennings’ understanding of the playbook and his command in the huddle.
“Brandon is still learning,” Collins said.
Yet Collins said this about Harris: “He walked in the huddle in the spring game and said, ‘Man, just give me three seconds.’ I said, ‘Man, I like this guy. I love this guy.’ We gave him the time he needed, and if he doesn’t see it, he’ll get out of the pocket and run.”
Dead heat? Looks like it.
Said Magee: “You can’t pick one.”