For years, it seems that Les Miles has recruited two different styles of quarterback. For every traditional pocket passer (Stephen Rivers, Jarrett Lee, Zach Mettenberger), there was a "running" quarterback to go along with him (Jerrard Randall, Jordan Jefferson, Jeremy Liggins).
And that brings us to the Signing Class of 2013 when LSU signed Hayden Rettig and Anthony Jennings. A lot of people watched a few highlights of both and said "here we go again" regarding the varying styles of quarterback. And while it's true that Rettig is a more traditional pocket passer, Jennings should not be type cast as a runner first. Jennings appears to represent the entire package at quarterback, a guy truly able to attack a defense with his head, his arm and his feet. In that sense, he represents the first such guy on LSU's roster since Ryan Perriloux's brief career came to a close prior to the 2008 season.
The most appropriate cliché is that he can open up the entire playbook. The last time LSU could utilize such a guy was in 2007 with Matt Flynn, and sometimes Ryan Perriloux, at the helm. That was also the last time LSU had an offense that most would consider "really good". Coincidence?
LSU recruited Anthony Jennings very hard out of Marietta, GA and was competing with Oregon, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, West Virginia and many others for his services. But then seemingly out of the blue, Hayden Rettig committed to LSU. Most figured that was the end of LSU's recruitment of Jennings, but that was not the case. Never one to doubt his own abilities or shy away from competition, Jennings still felt that LSU was the best place for him. And thus, LSU landed two top notch signal callers in the class.
While tabbed with the "dual threat" label, Jennings proceeded to impress everyone with his passing skills on the summer camp circuit, even winning MVP at an Elite 11 event in Atlanta. That carried over to Jennings' senior season, where he completed 61% of his passes for 2,338 yards with 25 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He also rushed for 673 yards and 10 touchdowns. That follows a junior season where his TD/INT ratio was 19/4.
Jennings enrolled at LSU in January and took part in spring practice. He wasted no time making a move on LSU's depth chart. He was routinely praised for his work ethic and attitude, and he made a quick study of LSU's playbook. He split second team reps and then earned the starting job with the #2 offense in LSU's spring game, where he impressed. He was just 8 for 21 on the day, but looked in control of the offense and delivered some nice throws. He added 26 yards rushing, using his legs to move the chains on a couple of occasions. And this was with the second team offense matched up against the first team defense.
The only knock on Jennings at this point would be his height. He's listed at 6'2", though he's probably a shade under that in reality. This is not a huge deal at the college level, but it's also not ideal. It sure didn't seem to affect guys like Aaron Murray, Russell Wilson or Tahj Boyd. In fact, I compared Jennings to Boyd when he signed with LSU.
What you'll notice throughout these two highlight videos is that Jennings seems to always be in control. Yes, he's a D-1 caliber athlete playing at the high school level, so he should demonstrate some command. But it's still nice to see him show confidence in the play that is called and routinely make right decisions on where to go with the ball and when to tuck it and run. His ability to run the ball gives him a way out on plays that break down, and he uses that to his advantage . Whereas an immobile quarterback may force some throws when faced with pressure, Jennings simply buys more time with his feet or takes off running and takes what the defense gives him.
Note that in the second video, each play is shown twice...once from the sideline camera and once from the end zone.
You'll also notice that Jennings does not show off a rocket arm. It's certainly good. SEC good. But his arm strength is not in the Zach Mettenberger / Jamarcus Russell category. He's not going to be able to drive the ball to the far hash mark on an out route like we saw Mettenberger frequently do last year. And that's OK. It's OK because Jennings has an exceptionally quick release. When he makes the decision to throw, the ball is out of there in a hurry. That's not the case for Mettenberger, and it was not the case for Jordan Jefferson or Ryan Perriloux. All three of those guys have / had fairly significant wind ups to get the ball out. In almost every scenario, that quick release can help make up for any difference in arm strength. On the second video, the 7:55 mark provides a good example of this. Jennings takes a shotgun snap and quickly gets rid of a ball for a touchdown strike. The ball arrives just before a defender cuts in front of the route. Without Jennings' quick release, that ball may be tipped or picked off.
But just so you don't think Jennings is weak-armed, check the 5:55 mark of the second video. Jennings has time in the pocket, steps into the throw and really drives it into a tight window. With a defender draped all over his receiver, Jennings really needed some steam on that throw, and he delivered.
One thing I love about Jennings is that he shows off some excellent awareness and feet in the pocket. I'm not talking about his ability to run the ball or throw on the run (yet), but merely avoiding pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. This is something that Mettenberger struggles with and despite his athleticism, Jefferson struggled with it too. Check out the :13 mark on the first video. Jennings takes a deep drop after a shotgun snap. The left defensive end gets around Marietta's tackle and pressures Jennings. While keeping his eyes downfield, he feels the pressure coming, steps up into the pocket, resets and delivers a strike to his receiver. That play seems simple enough, but a lot of quarterbacks, especially at this level, can't do that. They'd move their eyes away from their progressions and by the time they looked downfield again, the rhythm of the play would be blown up.
In the second video, we see several more examples of this. At the 1:10 mark, Jennings does a great job of avoiding pressure and stepping up. Rather than tuck the ball and run for a nice gain, he recognizes that he has the potential for a big play and makes it happen with his arm. At 2:17, he again avoids pressure and makes a completion down the field, one that his receiver makes an excellent play on. The 4:00 and 13:48 marks are two more excellent examples.
Going one step further, Jennings also shows off the ability to throw the ball while on the run. Check out the play at the :19 mark on the first video. Jennings initially looks to the right side of the field for a receiver but receives some pressure from up the middle. He rolls to his left and keeps his eyes down the field. He squares up his shoulders and delivers a strike for a touchdown. Again, he passes up what would have been a nice gain with his feet by sticking with the play. Sticking with the first video, check the 1:14 mark. This is a very simple play...just a designed roll out to hit a receiver in the flat, but Jennings delivers it accurately. As simple as it is, it really reminds me of this play and the inability of Mettenberger to complete this pass on the run, which essentially cost LSU a victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The 1:41 mark is another example that is very similar to the first one I showed you with Jennings rolling left but delivering an accurate pass. 8:43 is another beauty with Jennings again rolling to his left and throwing back to the right side of the field for a touchdown.
Jennings also shows plenty of ability to simply stand in the pocket and strong accurate throws. We see plenty of examples throughout these videos. I like the one at the 1:18 mark of the first video. Jennings takes the snap and has really good protection on the play. He initially looks to the left side of the field but doesn't like what he sees so he goes through his progression and finds his next receiver on the right side. He shifts his feet and then quickly fires a strike. This clip is also a pretty good example of Jennings' arm strength.
At the 2:04 mark of the first video, Jennings shows some nice accuracy and touch on a deep ball. He does the same thing in LSU's spring game at the 1:26 mark. .
As a runner, nobody is going to confuse Jennings for RGIII or Johnny Manziel, but he's plenty dangerous. But again, a Tahj Boyd or Russell Wilson makes a nice comparison. First and foremost, Les Miles likes his runners to be tough. Jennings shows off plenty of toughness as a runner. Take the first highlight of the first video where Jennings gains nearly 20 yards after initial contact and takes some defenders along for a ride. I also like the 9:52 mark of the second video. As Jennings heads for the end zone on a QB keeper, a defender has a perfectly clean shot at him at around the five yard line, but Jennings simply bounces off the guy for the score.
He's also got some the ability to make people miss. Check the :51 mark of the first video. Jennings really explodes through the hole up the middle on a zone-read keeper. He really shows some nice burst on that play. Also see the 1:42 mark of the second video. Jennings rolls to his left looking to pass but then tucks the ball and runs. He looks like a running back after committing to run, making several people miss en route to a big gain.
Jennings is in contention for LSU's #2 quarterback spot, competing with sophomore Stephen Rivers. By the end of spring, Jennings was sharing second team reps, and he earned the nod over Rivers to start for the purple team in the spring game. If he wins that job, he could be just a play away from seeing significant minutes as LSU's quarterback. Some speculate that LSU may install a "package" of plays to take advantage of Jennings' skill set as a runner/passer a la Ryan Perriloux in 2007. I doubt we see that, personally. But we could see more of a variety of plays like that (zone-reads, options, roll outs, etc) when Jennings does see the field.
If all goes according to plan (i.e. no injuries), I feel like Jennings is going to play this season, though it may only be in mop-up duty. If Mett were to go down to injury, I feel the staff will want to lean on Rivers' experience, but that's when we could see some kind of two quarterback system. Regardless, I think the staff will want him to get his feet wet this fall so that he can better compete for the starting job in 2014, where we'll see full blown competition at the position.
In the long term, you've got to love the ceiling for Jennings. He's a heady guy with strong character and tremendous work ethic who is an accurate passer with a quick release and a dangerous runner.
High End: Jennings wins the starting job in 2014 and is a multi-year starter for LSU, reaching All-SEC status as an upperclassman.
Low End: Jennings gets lost on the depth chart. Remember that Hayden Rettig is no slouch and despite Jennings' emergence this spring, it's certainly conceivable that Rettig improves and surges past Jennings on the depth chart. This likely would not come to fruition for at least a couple of years, but if things happened that way, I'm sure Jennings would consider a transfer out.
Realistic: Give it a 50/50 shot that Jennings wins the job in 2014 and if he does, expect some growing pains for a true sophomore starter. He'd then gradually improve to become, at worst, a very capable and serviceable quarterback. If Rivers wins the job in 2014, then Jennings may not get his chance until 2016.
Note: My apologies for linking anything to do with the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Bonus Video - Elite 11