Danny Etling believes he has cured the passing problems that made him such a polarizing quarterback at LSU.
It took a trip to California to deeply analyze and adjust his throwing motion six days a week for five weeks. It took thousands of miles of driving in his rented electric car, up and down Interstate 5, from Los Angeles to San Diego.
It took early morning throwing sessions at Huntington Beach, just south of LA, alongside Andrew Luck, Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota. It took afternoon weight-lifting sessions at Scripps Ranch, north of San Diego, and combine training workouts at Chula Vista, a touch south of San Diego.
Thursdays are the worst. He visits all three sites — a day that starts at 8 a.m. and ends around 9 p.m.
“It’s a lot of driving back and forth, but these are the best guys,” Etling said during a phone interview earlier this week. “There are a lot of mechanical things that I’m fixing and have fixed. I’m getting consistency with the flight of my ball.”
So what was wrong the past two seasons in Baton Rouge? That explanation comes later, but first there’s this: Etling’s “new throwing motion,” he calls it, has arrived just in time for the biggest stage of his career.
The Indiana native returns home next week to participate in the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, just a 50-minute drive from his hometown of Terre Haute. His sister won a handful of tickets to the event, so the Etlings, at least a few of them, will be in the house to see him work out next Saturday in front of hundreds of NFL executives and scouts.
He’s one of 10 LSU players invited to the combine, a week-long, invitation-only event where college prospects showcase their skills some two months ahead of the NFL draft. Etling’s invitation was unexpected to many in the industry.
“Surprised the heck out of me,” said Matt Miller, NFL draft analyst for Bleacher Report. “I was shocked.”
There were eight expected LSU invitees: potential first-rounders Derrius Guice, Arden Key and Donte Jackson; and mid-to-late round projections DJ Chark, Kevin Toliver, Will Clapp, Darrel Williams and Toby Weathersby.
Then there’s Etling and tackle KJ Malone, who said he was somewhat surprised at the invitation himself. His father, former basketball star Karl Malone, didn’t believe his son when KJ broke the news last month.
“We were chilling at dinner,” KJ said, retelling story
"‘Oh yeah, got a combine invite,’ ” he told his parents. “Dad was like, ‘What? No you didn’t.’
“I showed him the email from my phone,” KJ said laughing.
The man in the middle of LSU’s offense this coming season could be a rookie.
For so many, LSU’s loss to Troy last September was just that — one singular loss.
The news was so unexpected because the lineman, already projected on the fringe of being drafted, missed the second half of his senior season with a knee injury. Malone still planned to train for the draft — he’s been doing that in Houston — before he potentially enters the law-enforcement field.
His left knee still is not completely healthy. He injured his patellar tendon in a win at Florida in October and played through the injury during LSU’s bowl game on Jan. 1. He estimates that it was then at 70 percent.
“I’d put it in the 90s now,” he said.
Malone is ready for questions about the knee from NFL personnel, an important and sometimes overlooked part of the combine week. The event begins with physicals and other medical exams Tuesday before interviews Wednesday and Thursday. Each player gets about 15 minutes with each of the 32 franchises.
While Malone expects injury questions, Key should prepare for off-the-field topics. The edge rusher from Georgia took a leave of absence last spring for what his family called “personal reasons,” and he too has injury issues — a shoulder, a knee, a finger.
“Key really needs to explain what happened last offseason and talk about where he is now,” said one of the anonymous executives. “He was the biggest disappointment of the 2017 season.”
Etling is prepared for questions about his faults, he said. What are those? Bad habits, he called them, he acquired from playing with an ailing back in 2016. He underwent back surgery last April.
“I had gotten bulky,” he said. “I was muscling the ball. It’s something, like, you’re not using your hips and shoulder. Not creating any torque.”
A lack of torque hurt his velocity and his distance. Swing analysis showed that Etling does not necessarily have a “weak arm,” the quarterback said. He can throw the ball up to 65 yards. The problem: no torque.
“That’s why my balls were dying,” he said. “All the throws weren’t getting (my full arm strength) on it.”
The bad part is learning all this two months after his college career ended.
“That sucks. It really sucks,” he said. “I’m just now figuring this out. The way they said it, you’d never have time to figure it out in college. It’s incredible to know now, but it does suck.”
Etling had his detractors — LSU fans who berated him in Tiger Stadium or across internet message boards. He’s still got detractors, too.
“The grade I gave him was so low that we kind of stopped watching film on him,” Miller said. “Intermediate throws … we killed him for those. Missed guys with his eyes. Arm is OK and size was OK. Mechanics are bad.”
He’s fixed those, Etling said. And now it’s time to show them off.
“I was hopeful even though the (combine) invite was pretty late,” he said. “I’m going to be there the entire week. I’m excited to throw the ball.”
No one is more grateful for Augie Garrido and Skip Bertman than Michael Papajohn.
NFL combine workout schedule
- Friday: running backs, offensive linemen, kickers
- Saturday: quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends
- Sunday: defensive linemen, linebackers
- Monday: defensive backs
LSU combine participants
- WR DJ Chark
- C Will Clapp
- QB Danny Etling
- RB Derrius Guice
- CB Donte Jackson
- DE Arden Key
- OG KJ Malone
- CB Kevin Toliver
- OT Toby Weathersby
- RB Darrel Williams