Les Miles isn’t ready to proclaim Brandon Harris as the leader in LSU’s starting quarterback competition, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that the highly touted sophomore from Bossier City has the edge in the battle.
Harris took the first snaps in a 35-play, impromptu scrimmage Thursday during the Tigers’ eighth day of preseason camp, and Miles continued to laud the quarterback’s progression from last year as the season opener quickly approaches.
“I think he’s so much beyond that, it’s not funny,” Miles said referring to Harris’ shaky start at Auburn last season. “I think he’s much more comfortable now in his play and what we’re asking him to do.”
A week into preseason camp, something has clearly come to light in this ongoing competition: Harris is ahead of Jennings.
In a 20-minute news conference Thursday, Miles said that he might not publicly announce a starter before the Sept. 5 game against McNeese State. Players and quarterbacks will know who will start, the coach said.
Miles also said LSU’s offense may lean more on a spread-type attack to use the deep and talented receiver position and a developing Harris, the No. 3-ranked dual-threat quarterback nationally out of Parkway High School.
What Miles won’t do — admit that Harris is the leader in the race.
“Keep defining that any way you want to define it,” the coach said Thursday when asked if Harris was leading the competition. “I’m still going to wait until I get to the back end of this thing and make the right decision. Both guys are getting a lot of reps, giving them some throwing reps. Both guys are getting better. And that’s what I want.”
In a story published Aug. 2, two LSU players on last year’s team said the quarterback competition is in a different state than it was last year around this time. Harris has matured, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, even, is speaking to the quarterback in a different way.
One player on last year’s team — both wished to remain anonymous — said receivers meshed with Harris over the summer while Jennings was suspended and that the quarterback “should be the guy” this season.
The meshing did happen, receiver John Diarse said last week. The Harris who went 3-for-14 at Auburn last season is not the guy players saw over the summer.
“He took that fire, that approach, that downfall and really, really recovered from it,” Diarse said. “I’m excited to see how he does.”
During Southeastern Conference media days earlier this summer, linebacker Kendell Beckwith admitted to seeing a different Harris this summer from the player he was last year — from a leadership role and down.
“He gets on them. It was kind of surprising. I didn’t expect Brandon to get on somebody the way he does,” Beckwith said. “He’s really been working hard, making crisp passes. He’s been making some great passes, been putting some balls in some windows like I haven’t seen.”
Harris is expected to get the first-string snaps during a 50-plus play scrimmage Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, but Miles isn’t ready to say much more. The coach has been guarded about the competition since it began when Harris enrolled early in January 2014.
Both quarterbacks have been unavailable to reporters during camp. The pair will speak on the team’s annual media day Sunday.
Miles suggested Thursday that a starter may not be announced until game day against McNeese.
“That’s probable,” he said. “As long as the guys know what they’re going to do in the game and the decision is made early enough so the players are very comfortable with what we’re going to call and the team expects how those guys are going to be used, that’s the most important piece.”
Miles said Thursday that Harris continues to digest an expansive playbook. It will be trimmed when the season rolls around.
“We’re developing there,” he said when asked if he’s comfortable with Harris with the playbook. “It’s a mastery of a pretty broad book right now. When we get to a game plan, it will be much more succinct.”
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