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Danny Etling is LSU's clear leader in the QB competition. 

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

LSU’s starting quarterback competition might not be as wide open as offensive coordinator Matt Canada made it seem last month.

Even before the Tigers begin spring practice Saturday, there’s a “clear” leader, coach Ed Orgeron said. As you might imagine, it’s the guy who started 10 games last season. It’s the guy who’s attempted 966 more college passes than any other quarterback on LSU’s roster.

It’s Danny Etling.

“Danny’s the leader, clearly, right now and will probably end up being the leader,” Orgeron said Tuesday in a news conference previewing spring practice. “We don’t know that, but I wanted to make it open for Justin (McMillan), for Lindsey (Scott), for Lowell (Narcisse), for Myles (Brennan). That’s what we told them when we recruited them. We want to give them a chance.”

Saturday’s opening drills begin a 15-practice spring spread over six weeks, ending with the spring game April 22, scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The spring spotlight shifted, somewhat surprisingly, on the quarterback competition when Canada, during an interview on ESPN on national signing day, called the position “wide open.” Turns out, as many would have guessed, it’s not so wide or open.

Under Orgeron as coach and Etling as the starter, the Tigers went 6-2 last season, rumbling to road wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M, losing a close one to top-ranked Alabama and picking up a trouncing victory over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. Etling developed into a reliable guy at a historically unstable position for the program. 

With Brandon Harris out of the battle — he announced last month that he plans to transfer — Etling is left as the Tigers’ only quarterback who’s started a college game. Justin McMillan has thrown one pass in his career, and the two other scholarship quarterbacks competing this spring — redshirt freshman Lindsey Scott and true freshman Lowell Narcisse — have never played in a college game.

Another obvious sign that Etling, barring an unforeseen injury or incident, will start next season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback: Coaches picked Etling as one of six leaders for LSU’s new offseason workout competition.

The more relevant question maybe: Who’s the backup?

“That’s going to be interesting,” Orgeron said when asked which quarterback might receive the second-string reps this spring. “Matt is going to handle that. I don’t tell (assistants) how to work their reps or nothing like that.”

McMillan, a Texas native who signed in 2015, has an edge in experience as he heads into his third year with the program. Scott, a former Zachary standout, is “right up there in the competition,” Orgeron said Tuesday when asked directly about him.

Narcisse, the highly rated St. James product who enrolled in January, is “looking good,” Orgeron said, and is expected to be healthy enough to participate in spring. He’s spent the past six months recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Fellow freshman Myles Brennan, a highly touted Mississippi quarterback, doesn’t enroll until the summer.

The backup might depend on who can best retain Canada’s new offense, something he began installing last month and a primary goal this spring. Canada will slowly install his new scheme, similar to how defensive coordinator Dave Aranda did during his first spring last year.

“Here’s the deal,” Orgeron started, “as coaches, we can sit in this office and have great ideas, but we’ve got to go out and execute it on the field. I think he’s going to start slow and feel his offense (out). Kind of like Dave did last year. Dave has a menu of defenses. We only ran three last year.

“I think it’s (being) able to adjust to the personnel,” Orgeron continued. “I think he’s going to get most of the stuff, the basics he wants in, and see where we go from there.”

Canada’s quarterbacks won’t be live for spring practice, Narcisse said in an interview in December. They’re expected to don noncontact jerseys, a normal practice for college teams during spring.

Spring practices will mostly mirror the short, quick practices that LSU began running when Orgeron took over in the interim Sept. 25. Practices will expand in length, but only slightly, the coach said. LSU does not practice on back-to-back days, and the program will take off nine days for spring break.

Overall, contact will be somewhat limited outside of two scheduled scrimmages on Mach 25 and April 1.

“Got to just watch your team as they go along,” Orgeron said. “I want some toughness. There are times where we’ll get after it, times we’ll pull off.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.