- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we will break down each of LSU’s position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. We begin today with the quarterbacks.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Without question, LSU’s ongoing quarterback competition will be the talk of the Tigers’ preseason practices, a debate that could once again stretch well into the season.
Will Les Miles and Cam Cameron go with junior Anthony Jennings, who started all but one game in a rocky sophomore season, or Brandon Harris, who was unable to overtake Jennings last season as a true freshman? Making the situation even murkier is Jennings’ indefinite suspension following a summer arrest, a costly penalty that allowed Harris additional time during offseason workouts to develop a rapport with the receivers while Jennings is away from the team.
Miles expressed confidence last week at SEC media days that Jennings would return to active status soon and that the quarterback competition will resume in August. Should that happen, Jennings will have to shake off the rust quickly because observers regularly described his competition with Harris as neck-and-neck even before the arrest.
He might be the incumbent starter, but Jennings hardly cemented a starting role with his mediocre performances in 2014, and upstart Harris will be difficult to hold off for another season. But whoever wins the job, the Tigers desperately needs more from their quarterback this fall if they are to have any chance of reaching their SEC and playoff goals.
Newcomers: Justin McMillan (Fr., Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill, ESPN three-star prospect, No. 38 dual-threat QB); Danny Etling (Jr., Sitting out season after transferring from Purdue).
Keep your eye on: Harris. His impressive skill set -- particularly a powerful throwing arm -- was evident while watching Harris in practices and limited work in games, but he only supplanted Jennings as a starter once last season. His opportunity ended with a dismal performance in a 41-7 loss at Auburn. If we’re giving Harris the benefit of the doubt, it’s awfully difficult for a true freshman to excel as a starting quarterback in the SEC. If we’re being critical, the Jennings-led LSU passing game rarely enjoyed success against SEC defenses, and yet Harris still couldn’t get onto the field. If he’s going to make a big move in this race, the time is now -- particularly after Jennings’ off-field issues opened the door for Harris to grab the job.
Confidence meter: Shaky. Will LSU’s quarterbacks surpass last season’s subpar performances? Almost certainly, although that’s a low bar to clear. We haven’t seen anything resembling consistency from either player yet. Jennings and Harris acknowledged during the spring that they were tired of quarterback being viewed as LSU’s weak link. That perception is accurate, however, as LSU’s depth chart features few glaring questions aside from quarterback, inarguably the most important position on the field. If one of the candidates grabs the job and proves himself a consistent performer, the Tigers should contend in the SEC West, at minimum. If their quarterback fails to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box in order to slow down Leonard Fournette and a potent running game, the Tigers could be also-rans in the division race once again.