BATON ROUGE, La. — In the immediate aftermath of his offseason back surgery, LSU senior quarterback Danny Etling felt good. Perhaps too good.
“Sometimes I’d really feel good and I really want to push myself to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get this by the season.’ So I really pushed myself hard and [LSU director of athletic training Jack Marucci] would pull on the reins a little bit and tell me not to do it,” he said.
“I think he was upset with me when I ran the conditioning test about six or seven weeks out. But I was feeling really good. I hadn’t felt that great in a long time. I wanted to do that sort of stuff.”
Etling said that he felt better “the instant” he woke up from surgery after LSU’s spring game. The goal was to alleviate pain in his lower back that he’d been feeling for about a year. As a result, Etling forced himself to endure a gauntlet of post-surgery workouts, including throwing passes as often as he could.
Based on early reports, the surgery seems to have been worth it. At SEC Media Days, senior wide receiver D.J. Chark said he’s never seen Etling throw better. And after LSU’s first fall practice Monday, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said Etling looks healthy.
But health isn’t Etling’s main concern. Sure, back injuries can flare up at any time, so he needs to be careful not to needlessly subject himself to punishment. But Etling’s chief goal right now is ironing out his mechanics.
Etling played through pain last season and developed some bad throwing habits. Namely, he would “fall away” from his throws to avoid putting pressure on areas where he’d feel pain. As a result, Etling relied entirely on arm strength to muscle passes where he wanted them go, instead of working through a full mechanical motion.
In LSU’s first practice Monday, Etling said he fell into some of those bad habits when plays and progressions got fast and he started rushing. Habits don’t change overnight, but Etling’s goal is to make those disappear by the end of camp, if not sooner.
“You’ve been doing that for a year and a half, it’s going to develop a habit and those are not good habits to have,” Etling said. “I’m going to keep working on breaking those and try to get to that 10,000-rep minimum that you need to break a bad habit.”
Etling started 10 games and played in 11 for LSU in 2016. He completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,123 yards with 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Etling hasn’t officially been named LSU’s starting quarterback for 2017, but the competition from the spring seemed to put him on top. Still, Etling doesn’t want to rely on his incumbency to coast into the job. He’s never felt secure as a collegiate starting quarterback, and he doesn’t want to start now.
“I’ve never really not been in a quarterback battle,” Etling said. “It’s always something I’ve been a part of every single year. Whether you’re at Purdue and you just finished up with your career-high game, boom, you’re in another battle.
“It’s something you’ve got to get used to, especially when you go to the next level if you’re lucky enough to do that. You’re fighting for spots, and there’s not that many people who get a chance. So you’ve got to take it as you’re always in a battle, you’re always trying to get better and the best players are going to play, so you’ve got to do everything you can do to be that best player.”