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LSU quarterback Danny Etling fields questions during player interviews, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at LSU's football operations facility in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

NATCHITOCHES — Danny Etling played injured for “the whole spring,” but the senior quarterback chose to put off surgery until after drills, coach Ed Orgeron said Friday.

“He could have been operated on in the middle of spring, but he wanted to go through the spring, so we let him,” said Orgeron, speaking after he served as the keynote speaker at the Northwestern State Legends Gala on Friday night.

Etling, LSU’s projected starter this season, underwent what Orgeron called “minor” back surgery two days after the spring game April 24. He went 4-for-11 in the game, and Orgeron chided Etling and the other quarterbacks for their performance.

The coach, though, said he understands that Etling’s back issue affected his play.

“I know it did,” he said, “but he wouldn’t say that.”

Etling was battling the back injury last season, but it only flared up significantly this spring, the coach said.

“Condition just got worse,” Orgeron said.

Orgeron said he expects Etling to begin throwing after a 4-to-6-week rehabilitation program. That puts his return, at latest, to early-to-mid-June.

Etling is integral for the Tigers. Though coaches are leaving open the competition for No. 1 quarterback, he’s the heavy favorite, having started 10 games last season. Etling, a transfer from Purdue in 2015, brought stability to a shaky position.

Brandon Harris’ transfer this spring left LSU with just two quarterbacks on the roster who have thrown a college pass: Etling and Justin McMillan.

McMillan has thrown, and completed, a single pass.

Thomas gets waiver

Austin Thomas is back on the road recruiting, and that’s good news for Orgeron.

“Great recruiter,” the coach said of Thomas. “Great evaluator.”

Thomas, LSU’s general manager, is being allowed to continue to recruit this spring via a waiver through the Southeastern Conference office, Orgeron confirmed. Thomas spent the fall and January recruiting in place of defensive line coach Pete Jenkins, a 75-year-old who came out of retirement to join Orgeron’s interim staff.

The SEC granted a waiver for Thomas to recruit on an interim staff and has continued it. Orgeron was not sure when or if the waiver expires.

Orgeron retained Jenkins on his long-term staff. Jenkins is known to many as one of the premier defensive line instructors in the college game. He spends part of his spring tutoring NFL-bound college players in technique, and players raved about their improvements under Jenkins' leadership this fall.

Kiffin was coming

Orgeron revealed Friday what’s been reported since November: He was after then-Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as his next offensive coordinator.

“We were looking at Lane Kiffin. He was going to come. He got a head (coaching) job,” Orgeron said.

Kiffin left Alabama in December and landed the head coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. The Advocate reported about Orgeron’s serious interest in Kiffin after the coach met with athletic director Joe Alleva during his interview for the long-term job Nov. 25. The two are close friends from their days as assistants at Southern California.

Kiffin confirmed his interest in LSU’s job this week, too. Bo Mattingly, a sports radio host in Arkansas, asked Kiffin if he was serious about joining the Tigers.

“I was, because I really think they’re going to win a lot there and do great things, and they got some great players coming back — especially the running backs,” Kiffin said.

‘Meatball’ wins

Outside linebackers coach Dennis Johnson won a spring weight-loss competition with Orgeron.

Johnson, whom most on the team know as "Meatball," lost 30 pounds to Orgeron’s 25, the head coach said Friday. Orgeron gave up chocolate, Diet Coke and energy drinks for Lent. He’s extending the diet, too.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.