HOOVER, Ala. — Danny Etling isn’t a robot anymore.
Three months removed from minor back surgery to alleviate pain he’d been feeling since the end of 2016, the incumbent starting quarterback for the LSU Tigers is back to “almost 100 percent,” according to coach Ed Orgeron. Because of NCAA compliance rules, Orgeron can’t watch Etling throw or participate in any on-field activity during the summertime, so he’s mostly going off what he’s been told.
But from down on the front lines, running back Derrius Guice and wide receiver D.J. Chark are seeing a new Etling.
“He says he feels the best he’s felt in years,” Guice said. “It shows. He’s throwing a lot better, a lot smoother. He looks more natural out there. In the past year, it was like he was a robot trying to throw some of the things. No one knew he was going through all the pain he was going through until the surgery. Hopefully he’ll be a lot better now.”
If anyone would know that to be true, it’d be Chark. Chark said Etling urged him to go play catch almost immediately after his surgery, a plea Chark initially turned down. But Etling was persistent. so eventually Chark went out and caught a few passes.
He was immediately impressed.
“He can definitely put more power on the ball when he needs to,” Chark said. “I know the first time I was catching with him, I was expecting some loafing and he threw it real hard and I was like, ‘Whoa, you ain’t gotta show me all your strength right now.’ ”
Arm strength is one thing. But Chark has noticed that Etling has upped his anticipatory skills during the down time.
Chark and Etling throw with one another practically every day. The relationship between LSU’s top receiver and the leader in the Tigers’ quarterback competition is as strong as its ever been. So strong, in fact, that when Orgeron said he approached Etling about sending Chark to SEC Media Days instead of himself, Etling loved the idea.
That’s the sort of selfless passer Danny Etling is. Etling is the kind of guy who will deflect praise but absorb blame. Chark even joked that Etling blames himself when Chark drops passes.
So it should come as no surprise that Chark didn’t know Etling was hurt before the surgery. The only surprise came after.
“Danny’s the type of guy that he doesn’t want anybody to have pity for him,” Chark said. “I could tell he would be hurt sometimes. But during that spring grind, a lot of people have nicks and bruises. I was out for some time like everybody. But I didn’t know it was that serious. Having the surgery, it was eye-opening. He was like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t want nobody to feel sorry for me.’ That’s the type of guy he is.”