Absence after absence by LSU players from the first few days of the Tigers’ football practices was like a yellow alert. Alarming, yes, but they haven’t started taking roll yet for real with the regular season still a little less than three weeks away.
But when quarterback Joe Burrow missed the Tigers’ last pre-scrimmage practice last week and then Saturday’s closed scrimmage in Tiger Stadium (coach Ed Orgeron calls them “practice games”), well, that pulled the pins on the Bonnet Carre Spillway of worries about this rapidly approaching LSU season.
It is a season filled with promise and great expectations coming off last year’s 10-3 record and No. 6 final ranking after the Tigers’ Fiesta Bowl finishing win over UCF. A win that typified how much Burrow has come to mean to this LSU team. How much his play and toughness permeates it.
Orgeron tried to put the best face on Burrow’s absence, as he is wont to do on most topics. He pointed out that Burrow being sidelined allowed more work for designated backup quarterback Myles Brennan as well as incoming freshman Peter Parrish.
“You never want your starting quarterback to get hurt,” Coach O said. “I thought it was a perfect scenario if it was going to happen this week, give him time to get better and come back next week to see the guys step up. Myles had to step up. Pete had to step up.”
But Orgeron, to his credit, was candid as well in terms of what Burrow means to this LSU team.
“We’re not the same team without Joe in there,” he admitted. “We haven’t got there yet. The offense has been having a tremendous week with Joe in there. Without Joe, we’re not the same.”
No one who knows was saying exactly what Burrow’s injury is, other than it wasn’t that serious and he was expected to return to practice sometime next week. It is worth noting that Burrow was seen Jan. 20 at the NFC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with his left (non-throwing) shoulder in a sling. It is at least possible this absence is related to that, but it is mere speculation.
Other LSU players who had offseason surgery, like Rashard Lawrence and Chasen Hines, have been given time off as they eased back into playing form during preseason camp. That could be the case with Burrow, though Orgeron did characterize Burrow’s ailment as “a minor camp injury.”
“He should be back sometime next week,” Coach O said Saturday.
Starting LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has a "minor camp injury" and didn't play in the Tigers' first scrimmage of fall practice, LSU coach Ed Or…
If that is the case, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about from LSU’s perspective. But even assuming Burrow “returns to health” to borrow a Les Miles-like phrase, even his short-term absence speaks to the fragility of the Tigers’ high-flying aspirations in 2019.
LSU is like an antique vase on display in a museum. The Tigers are quite beautiful to behold with all their skill talent and depth and experience.
But it all could break with one wrong tap of the hammer. Or maybe if someone breathes on it too hard.
Can the Tigers make a go of it long-term with Brennan running the offense? Clearly LSU wants him to play a meaningful role this season, not just in mop-up duty here and there. He is being groomed to be the starter for 2020 after Burrow has exhausted his eligibility.
But Brennan is not the best solution for this season. It’s Burrow’s team, and he is the best fit for this new run-pass option spread attack that LSU coaches have promised will be the scheme for this season.
Is there reason to worry that LSU’s offensive chemistry will suffer with Burrow away? Perhaps, but LSU’s players have been doing plenty of work together all summer long, work that has carried into the first few days of camp.
“They're not there yet, but we have a great group of receivers,” Coach O said. “We have a great plan for those guys.”
And, once again, to perhaps make himself feel better as well, Orgeron added, “I think Joe's going to be back soon."
Still, you don’t want this to go on too long. And despite all the assurances, the anxiety will ramp up each day until Burrow does return.
It’s not a one-man team by any means. But Burrow by far makes the Tigers the best version of themselves.
Optimism abounds for LSU football as the Tigers check in for preseason camp Thursday and open fall practice Friday.