LSU mailbag: Updated RB board, QB competition, explaining some Crystal Ball picks
Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman.
In this edition, we touch on LSU’s post-summer running back board, the latest involving the quarterback competition in Baton Rouge, and updates on several notable South Florida targets such as Patrick Surtain Jr. and Anthony Schwartz.
To submit a question for Spiegelman, send a message to @SamSpiegs on Twitter or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the RB board looking like? (@dathompson02)
Personally, I’m not sure if LSU will add a third running back to its 2018 recruiting class.
Several of the team’s top targets at the position have been crossed off the board. Remember, top Louisiana target AJ Carter was committed to the Tigers — for about a week — before flipping back to UCLA. He’s considered a very solid commit to the Bruins at this stage.
LSU has been monitoring running backs such as James Cook and Dameon Pierce, too. Cook, who backed off his Florida State pledge on July 4, is considered a strong UGA lean. He has yet to make a visit to Baton Rouge, providing more doubt that his interest level in the Tigers can be taken seriously. Pierce never landed an offer from LSU, though a visit seemed imminent. Instead, the one-time Alabama commit gave a commitment to Florida, likely shutting down his recruitment moving forward.
The one name that I continue to hear as a potential third running back option for 2018 is Harold Joiner. Yes, the one-time LSU lean has yet to commit and might take this process all the way to the U.S. Army All-American Game. After naming the Tigers as his clear-cut favorite in the spring, Joiner excluded LSU from his top six in July after the team loaded up with Tae Provens, Chris Curry and Carter at the end of June. Joiner, who felt like a priority by the LSU staff, saw the team quickly fill all of its running back slots.
LSU has not stopped recruiting Joiner, though. The 4-star Alabama tailback has quieted down the process a bit. He has been in contact with Alabama, Auburn and LSU, three schools to keep an eye on into the fall.
I expect LSU to continue to push for Joiner, but the chances are much lower than they were two months ago. Auburn and Alabama have in-state advantages, while other top schools such as Texas, Michigan and Southern Cal have less crowded backfields.
LSU remains in a strong position with both Provens and Curry. Those two alone should help the Tigers fill the impending voids that will be left by Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams after the 2017 season, and it doesn’t hurt that freshman Clyde Edwards-Helaire is impressing early in fall camp. Still, LSU needs depth in its backfield. The only third running back option that comes to mind at this time remains Joiner.
How have Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse been coming along in fall camp? Is the QB competition pretty tight or is Danny safe for now? (@Honeywood82)
Unfortunately, LSU will not open up fall camp to the media for another 11 days, so we have no indication of how far along quarterbacks Myles Brennan or Lowell Narcisse are at this juncture in practice.
What I can tell you is that people inside of the building have been singing Danny Etling’s praises the entire summer. Remember that he is coming off back surgery for an issue that was plaguing him dating back to last season. During summer workouts and again early in fall camp, we have heard that Etling is throwing the ball with more confidence and velocity than he did a year ago, and that it should have a positive impact on LSU’s passing game this season.
What that means: Etling is going to be the starting quarterback for LSU when the team travels to Houston for the opener on Sept. 2. That I can assure you, barring any unforeseen injuries.
Etling is a veteran presence in the locker room, and if he is playing well he should provide some stability behind center that the team has lacked for several years. That is not to say that Brennan, Narcisse, Justin McMillan or Lindsey Scott are not talented options at quarterback, but none — that’s right, none — have any starting experience. The Tigers have a bonafide Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield, veterans returning along the offensive line and a top draft pick at wide receiver. The safe move is to lean on the senior quarterback to put that all together.
If Etling suffers a setback with his back, then I believe a real quarterback competition would surface. I am unsure who the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart is at this time because we haven’t gotten a look behind the curtain. McMillan and Scott have been on the team longer, but like Brennan and Narcisse they’re learning a new offense. My gut tells me it would be McMillan, but that’s pure speculation for now.
Any update on Patrick Surtain Jr.? Does LSU still have good chances of landing him? (@jacoblsufan)
For a top-five prospect in the Class of 2018 and a priority target for LSU this cycle, there hasn’t been much to report on Surtain lately.
SEC Country spent a good chunk of time with the 5-star cornerback at Nike’s The Opening Finals in Beaverton, Ore., a month ago. Surtain maintained that LSU is his clear-cut leader, but he is taking his time, making visits to LSU and elsewhere, before he is ready to pull the trigger on a commitment.
Here are a couple of recent updates on Surtain:
- Kelvin Joseph recruiting Patrick Surtain Jr. to join him at LSU
- 5-star CB Patrick Surtain Jr. admits he’s been close to committing to LSU
- Nation’s top cornerback planning July visit to LSU
- Patrick Surtain Jr. explains why LSU remains his clear-cut leader
That final article is probably the most helpful in regards to your inquiry. Surtain has never shied away from naming his leading schools or his actual leader. It has been LSU since last July, when he competed in The Opening Finals as a rising junior. A year later, the Tigers remain on top. That goes to show you how consistent Corey Raymond has been in courting the 5-star cornerback.
Of course, Surtain also is high on Florida State. Schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Florida are all hovering in his second tier.
The Tigers likely will lose both Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver to the NFL draft after the 2017 season, which means there would be a chance for Surtain to earn a starting job or significant playing time as soon as he arrives in Baton Rouge. That was one of the main aspects he aimed to check out when he and his father, Patrick Surtain Sr., returned to LSU’s campus last month. That was their second unofficial visit in a four-month span, and this time they were able to bring along Surtain’s mother. She had an opportunity to get a closer look at the academics. It’s also worth noting that both of his parents have family in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.
With the depth at QB, why would LSU not redshirt Brennan and let him grow into his frame and learn the playbook? (@CajunTiger1787)
Well, let’s not get too overwhelmed with the depth at quarterback just yet.
As I mentioned earlier, Etling is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience as a starter. McMillan has attempted one pass in his LSU career, whereas Scott redshirted in 2016 and both Narcisse and Brennan are bracing for their first seasons on the team.
But back to your question. This “quarterback competition” is ongoing because it was a recruiting promise to both of the freshman quarterbacks. Narcisse and Brennan were told that they would have a chance to state their case to be LSU’s quarterback in 2017. Narcisse enrolled early and participated in spring practices. Brennan enrolled in June and is competing during fall camp.
Don’t expect either to start, though. As we mentioned earlier in this mailbag, Etling is a clear-cut favorite to retain the starting job. He is the most experienced and battle-tested quarterback on the LSU roster, and after undergoing back surgery in the offseason he is playing better now that he’s healthy.
Of course, we have not yet seen the quarterbacks during fall camp. We will on Aug. 21. The most important thing to look out for here is which quarterbacks are getting reps with the Nos. 2s and 3s and how this pecking order is shaking out. Because Etling has had struggles when dealing with back pain, LSU needs a competent starter behind him in case that injury acts up. My gut tells me it will be McMillan, who quietly put together a strong spring.
If that’s the case, then I’d say it is likely that Brennan and Narcisse both take the redshirt route. For Narcisse, it’s another couple of months to ensure that his knees are healthy after tearing each of his ACLs over the last few years. For Brennan, it’s a matter of continuing to grow stronger in Tommy Moffitt‘s weight-training program, which has already helped the former 4-star passer bulk up to close to 200 pounds.
Both Narcisse and Brennan could benefit from extra time in the weight room and more time in the film room with first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada. I believe that next spring there will be a legitimate quarterback competition between these two former high school All-Americans. While their presence on the field naturally brings excitement, it may be a bit too early for either to be starting SEC football games.
What made you predict Anthony Schwartz to Florida? (@cfmalloy)
It’s quite simple, really.
Schwartz, a 4-star speedster out of South Florida (who happens to be teammates on a loaded American Heritage High School team with Surtain) recently trimmed his list of top schools to six. LSU made the cut along with Florida, Auburn, UGA, Tennessee and Southern Cal.
Schwartz made stops to most of the Southeast schools in July, including LSU on July 29. That was his first time in Baton Rouge and it followed Ja’Marr Chase’s surprising commitment to Florida.
Sources in Florida believe that the Gators will wind up taking four wide receivers in their 2018 recruiting class. With the addition of Jacob Copeland, they are up to five wide receiver commits. After Schwartz visited LSU, I put in a Crystal Ball pick — for Florida.
Schwartz has maintained that Florida is his leading school. That isn’t too surprising considering how close the Gainesville, Fla., campus is to his home in Fort Lauderdale. Florida has offered Schwartz a football and a track scholarship, and he plans on competing in both sports at the next level. The Gators boast one of the nation’s premier track & field programs.
Florida is Schwartz’s leader, but LSU, Auburn and UGA are considered Tier-2 schools among his top group. Tennessee and Southern Cal are closer to the bottom, sources have said.
Schwartz could pop to the Gators sometime before the start of his senior season. That would push the number of wide receiver commits to six in their 2018 class. I don’t anticipate that Florida will sign six receivers when Feb. 7, 2018, rolls around.
With blue-chip talent such as Copeland and Chase and potentially Schwartz, I also don’t foresee the Florida coaches trying to ease out a talented wide receiver. That isn’t in the cards. It will be very difficult for them to hold on to six elite receivers through signing day. Copeland is still getting pushed by Alabama and Florida State, while LSU has refused to let Chase leave The Boot without a fight.
Again, I expect Schwartz to commit to Florida. But that doesn’t mean that the Gators will reel in six top wideouts in this class.