By now, Les Miles' golden quest for a QB should be made into three-part Hollywood epic, starring Harrison Ford, in a role that revives his action career (we pretend THIS never happened). At the end Les Miles would grab the QB, say something cheeky, "Get off my mid-game snack," let out a hoot and a howl and /scene.
The always elusive SEC-worthy QB. Where do you find one? What does it look like? Some are human freakazoids willing and able to destroy all foes by land and by air. Some are jitter-bug party animals that zip and dart around no. 1 defenses with the ease of of crawling between warm sheets on a cold winter night. Sometimes they are statue mobile and laser-armed and genius smart and quirky funny. No two SEC quarterbacks are created equal, and no matter how hard we try to connect the success dots, they don't always translate to yards and points and victories. LOOK AT YOU, YOU SHOULD BE SO VERY GOOD, GOOD, GOOD, BUT YOU ARE SO VERY BAD, BAD, BAD.
There's been very little middle ground for Les Miles in LSU QB recruits. The quality of play for QBs recruited by Les ranges somewhere from abominable to well, that wasn't the worst game a QB has ever played. Translation: no bueno. It's been ugly.
From Jordan Jefferson's 46-yard passing days, to Jarrett Lee's pick-six-anation (this is a horrible attempt at a pun) to Andrew Hatch doing whatever Andrew Hatch did that one time, Ryan Perrilloux moonlighting as a knuckleballer, to Chris Garrett swilling beer, to Russell Shepard, well, I'll you count the number of passes he attempted here, to Jerrard Randall, scout team QB extraordinaire, to the unwritten stories of Stephen Rivers and Zach Mettenberger, it's just a lot of boo and hiss and nobody puts baby in a corner except for every LSU QB since 2008. [Dare I say thy name Gunner Kiel, may you and your absent chest forever prosper]
Yuck, five years of ineptitude leads us here. It's 2013, for the sixth straight offseason we're hoping against all good hope that somehow, someone, anyone can save us. Well, this guy probably could have. All that hope generally leads to a throwing up Budweiser on some kid when [insert LSU QB here] launches a beautiful pass right into the waiting defensive huddle of players. "Boy it suuurreeee looked pretty coming out." The pass, not the throw up. Okay, both.
But lo! Unto us a [pair of] QB(s) is born. It's another year, another name and another savior(s). Alas, they bring not just their beings but a new leader, young Cam of Cameron, he of the fired offensive coordinator caste, here to resurrect the corpse we affectionately refer to as "LSU offense." May god have mercy on your soul, Cam. I have a feeling this may change his "Never worked a day in my life," outlook. Okay, that's the longest lead you've ever read in your life.
Hayden Rettig, and his pristine, angelic blonde hair come to us all the way from sunny California, the City of Angels, no less. He comes with much acclaim, a consensus 4-star QB prospect with an Army All-American Bowl bullet point on his resume and the bloodlines of a pretty dadgum good older brother.
He's been around for a hop, skip and a jump; his name began circulating in recruiting circles in 2010, when he traveled with his older brother to QB camps and flashed his young skills. He started off his junior season with a bang 6 TDs, 508 yards. In one game. Then he tore his ACL. Fortunately for Rettig, in 2013, tearing an ACL is like spraining an ankle in 1975, so he was able to return for his senior season where he posted good numbers. 3,400+ yards passing and 40 TDs.
Rettig is a bit more like the classic QB than the current trend of mobile, spread 'em out and read-option till their eyeballs bleed, types. He lists at LSU at 6'2, 201 pounds. It seems that height continues to creep down. In 2010 article they measured him up at 6'4. His recruiting profile lists him as 6'3, and now he's just 6'2. By the time Rettig hits the field, he'll be a 5'8 and praying.
Nevertheless, he's got plenty of size to play the position and just by eyeballing the practice photos, a pretty good build. This is important, because he has the mobility of me. I played OL at 6'1, 165 pounds. I ran a 4.9 40. This isn't a compliment. But really, he doesn't need to be especially mobile. As Chip Kelly says, "It's a bonus." Rettig isn't gonna beat Alabama running the short-side option. He's gonna beat Alabama with his brain and his arm. And that's just fine.
One thing to note is that Rettig was pretty vocal on twitter and connected with a lot of the players from the recruiting class. Let's hope that translates to leadership in the huddle and on the field.
There's a lot else we could say about him physically, but let's take to the tape and see.
What I Like
We can lead this discussion by talking about what is pretty obviously Rettig's best quality: his arm strength. Arm strength is typically a misunderstood quantity when it comes to scouting with too much emphasis placed on the deep ball and not enough placed on zip. Rettig has an "all platforms" arm. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it's essentially the ability to throw the ball from any position on the field.
There's a great example of the arm at the 44 second mark. Rettig is essentially throwing from right hash to left sideline. That's a difficult throw for any QB to make. It's also imperative he put a little arc on the throw and drop it over the defender but with enough room for his receiver to catch it before going out of bounds. Rettig puts it on the money. Strong throw with the right amount of touch. More impressively, it looks effortless. Rettig didn't have to "whole body" that throw out there. Flick the wrist, and the ball spins off nicely.
When I'm looking for arm strength, I'm looking for throws like the one at the 1:08 mark. It's not a particularly long throw, but it gets on his guy in a hurry. Or throws like the one at the 1:50 mark. As you go up each level in football, you have to, more and more, possess the ability to throw in tighter and tighter windows. Here, his target is right between two defenders and Rettig puts enough smoke on the ball to fit it in.
The throw at 2:06 may be the best example of pure arm strength, though. Getting knocked back by a defender, Rettig is still able to amp a throw out to his receiver, 25 yards downfield.
One common problem for a QB that can really amp up their throws is that they tend to power every throw. Russell did this a lot early in his career at LSU. Not every throw requires turning it up to 11. In fact, a lot of throws are about touch and accuracy. One thing I like about Rettig is that he shows a fundamental consistency in throwing screen passes. Screen passes aren't always the easiest of throws. Lollipop and you risk a drop (or worse, a fumble). Drill it and you risk the same. It's got to have the right balance of touch and velocity to put your runner in the best position to get the ball and go. Check 2:35, for an example. Nice, easy throw that let's his runner grab it and go. Zach Mettenberger struggled with these types of throws throughout the 2012 season.
The throw at the 4:01 mark may be his most impressive, though. Rolling left, he zips a ball right over the head of a defender but drops it low and outside for only his guy to catch. Sail that throw and it's a pick six at worst, a batted pass at worse. Throw it too low and you get a similar outcome.
I'm also impressed with his ability to improvise. About half way through the video you see a lot of protections breaking down and Rettig stays mostly composed, keeps his eyes downfield, avoids the rush and either scrambles for modest gains or makes strong throws. He doesn't seem panicked under pressure.
What I Dislike
When the Eagles drafted Matt Barkley this past weekend, the media asked Kelly what he liked about Barkley, and while he gave a fairly lengthy answer, one of the best things he said was "repetitive accuracy." It's the first time I had heard it termed that way, but it's a pretty straight forward term. Can a QB make the same throw to the same spot over and over and over again.
This worries me a bit about Rettig. He's got the ability to make some jaw-dropping throws, but there's also a good bit of "just get it out there" in him. This isn't uncommon in young QBs. I've read a lot of reviews of him that say he's "further along" and "more developed" than most his age. To me, this is either a) Referencing his mental aptitude (of which I have no knowledge) or B) Stereotyping.
Rettig's fundamentals are quite inconsistent. His footwork, in particular, can be painful to watch. His feet get choppy and his throws sail off target. In HS this is less of a big deal because you are often throwing to wide open players and placing a throw at a particular spot isn't terribly important. But it is important for him to understand that his accuracy starts with his base. When he loses it, things get ugly. When he has it, he can make some sensational throws, like at the 6:54 mark. That's a damn good drop for a HS QB, and once he hits his back foot the ball comes out. That's as good as you can ask for. Applicable side note: Matt Barkley has sensational footwork.
Footwork aside, I do like his upper body mechanics. He's got a nice, easy, repeatable throwing motion. It's generally over the top and the ball comes out quick, without wind up. If he pairs that with better footwork, I'm guessing his accuracy will go up and up and up. He does get a bit "side-arm-y" at times, but that's likely a product of his arm strength and impatience.
He threw 18 interceptions last season. You won't find those on highlight reels, so what happened? Bad decisions? Trusting the arm too much? Poor surrounding talent? That's too many and turning the ball over is the quickest way to earn the "I love ya, kid, but only when you're on the bench" award from Les Miles.
What I Don't Know
Rettig ran a spread passing attack in HS, so it's hard to garner how much pre-snap reading he's doing. He doesn't seem to be setting many guys in motion or really adjusting plays at the line. This is neither good nor bad, it's just unknown. Why didn't he? DId he not need to? Did the coaches not trust him to?
Further, there's not much on him taking snaps under center. I'm not sure if he did this during AA practices or not, but we all know it's a part of the LSU offense that isn't likely to go away. He's clearly comfortable operating out of the Shotgun, though.
None. That's no insult, but if Rettig steps onto the field for the Tigers this season, it's likely a very, very bad thing.
I fully anticipate Rettig will be the Freshman QB that winds up taking the redshirt, and he could use both the polish and the year of spacing from Anthony Jennings, who might just be the special talent we've been waiting for. I like that his career starts right away with mentoring from Cam Cameron. Call Cameron what you want, but he knows QB play and if Rettig goes along, he'll bring the best out of him.
I'm bullish on his overall potential. I like that he graduated early. I like that he wasn't scared by moving from California to Louisiana. I like that he has an older brother who has walked the walked. I like that he connects with his teammates. I like that he wasn't scared off by Anthony Jennings committing. I think he has the physical tools to be an effective starter if he can marry the mental side and clean up his mechanics.
High End: I think he will be the starter, some day. But that day is a ways away. He needs to be patience. Jennings (IMO) is going to steal the back-up gig this season and the starter spot next year. Assuming Jennings starts as a true sophomore and junior, the earliest Rettig could hit the field is as a RS Jr. in 2016, or maybe not even until his Sr. year.
Low End: I could see him transferring out if the above scenario plays out.
Realistic: It really all depends on Jennings, to me. I LIKE Rettig as an SEC starter, but depth and timing may dictate otherwise. If Jennings is as good as I think he is, that's great for LSU and likely bad for Rettig. If he's not, Rettig will get his shot.