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Peter Parrish and LSU’s Evolved QB Recruiting

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Parrish took the road less traveled and that’s a good thing.

@peter_jelani

If I could identify one major flaw in the mostly peerless recruiting track record of Les Miles, it was, unequivocally, the quarterback position. Miles takes frequent flack of the poor QB performance in relation to the talent level in Baton Rouge, but realistically it all charts back to recruiting missteps.

Fundamentally, evaluation is purely a numbers game. Yes, there’s dedicated film study, interviews, and some good old fashioned luck peppered in there. But I truly believe most teams would be best served following the Patriots’ model of roster composition and simply seeking to have as much talent at every position as possible rather than a over-dependence on high performers. Accumulating talent allows you the freedom to make evaluation mistakes.

That, precisely, is where Miles failed with regards to quarterback at LSU: he failed to bring in enough talent at the position to overcome his sometimes failed evaluations. The result was rushing players onto the field before they reached maturation, or often clumsy depth chart issues where LSU suddenly experienced a wealth of QBs all at the same level. It came to a reckoning in his final two years when he couldn’t pull the trigger on benching his established starter for a transfer that probably would have saved his job by simply playing competently on Lambeau Field.

Alas, as the clock turns forward, the new staff can only hope to correct those wrongs. In year one, Orgeron delivered a pair of highly-touted QB recruits in Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse. Danny Etling returning for his senior season ensured neither would be prematurely rushed into duty, no matter how much some of us may have wanted it to happen. Narcisse took a redshirt, Brennan only lightly saw the field and LSU crept toward a 2018 with QB uncertainty but at least without knowing they had spoiled eggs. The path proved rockier. The staff struck out on 2018 QB targets turning their eyes instead to the graduate transfer market. The market looked thin until Ohio State back-up QB Joe Burrow announced his intention to leave Columbus. The LSU staff pounced. Unconventionally, LSU arrived at a nicely fleshed out QB depth chart with options for both the present and future.

The real work comes in carrying that momentum forward. The staff handed out select offers to a handful of elite 2019 QB prospects. Sights settled on Houston QB Grant Gunnell, a one-time Texas A&M commit who re-opened his process after the firing of Kevin Sumlin. Just a couple weeks ago, Gunnell gave his pledge to Sumlin at his new post, Arizona.

In years’ past this would have marked the conclusion of LSU’s pursuit of high-level QB talent as they wound up settling for an in-state player of lesser regard, as they did with a player like Lindsey Scott. But Orgeron and Ensminger kept their options open and today landed a four-star QB from Alabama. That pivot, that flexibility, is perhaps the key element missed in the Miles era of coddling and cozying up to isolated QB targets in hopes of winning the “you love me the most” recruiting battle. For O and Ensminger, there’s no dwelling, there’s no waiting around. It’s on to the next one. Next man up. And that man is Peter Parrish.

Peter Parrish sounds like a name I could have pulled out of one of Peter Finney’s detailed recounting of the ‘67 Tigers. It’s a name only outmatched in suitability for an LSU athlete by any name that ends in eau or ois.

He’s is a prospect with whom I was not familiar. Parrish could aptly be described as a late bloomer. He’s most certainly an athlete learning to play quarterback. Parrish preps at Phenix City, Alabama, by way of Miami, where he transferred from a couple of years ago. To read early analysis, he very much played the role of “best athlete on the field is our QB” throughout his junior season. He didn’t have mastery of even the basics of passing, much less the finer points. But, he could tuck the ball and run like an elite-tier athlete, making him an intriguing prospect. Parrish beat out three-star, Class of 2020, QB Tucker Melton for the starting job at Phenix City by improving enough as an underneath passer to aid his dynamic running.

But Parrish kept working. He got better. He cleaned up his throwing motion. He attended camps all Spring, each time showing strides of progress in his passing ability. Suddenly his arm looked less like a liability and more like a viability. Schools noticed. Florida. Mizzou. Mississippi State. Arizona State. Maryland. Georgia Tech. Georgia and Florida State brought him in for workouts but didn’t follow through with offers — both already had quarterbacks committed at the time. Parrish showed up for a 7-on-7 camp against teams QB’d by Bo Nix (Auburn commit) and Taulia Tagovailoa (Alabama commit) and outplayed them both. Parrish moved from poor to competent to accurate in the span of a single offseason.

This week, he showed up in Baton Rouge and flexed even further improvement. Parrish began to marry arm strength with his consistent fundamentals. He carved up defenses. He impressed Ensminger and Orgeron to the point of offering him and then made good on it by committing.

The tape means little to me. We’re watching a QB in a no pass rush situation make throws to players running practice routes. There’s a piece of evaluation which becomes a pure check the boxes game. It’s seeing whether the prospect can make throw X, Y, and Z in a controlled setting. What happens in an uncontrolled one we don’t know, but we at least want to know if player X can even do the thing. In a lot of ways, this offer says, “Peter Parrish can do the thing.”

But I like this offer specifically for the reason that Parrish had to earn it. Parrish isn’t a QB recruit that’s been touted since he was 14. He’s not a QB recruit that’s been exposed to elite football coaches across the country. He showed up in Alabama and won a starting QB job. Even up through this summer, he continues to share snaps in 7-on football. He’s continually being told he must prove himself and he is continually doing so. There’s no privilege and no promises. Peter Parrish wanted something and he took it. If that’s not a QB, then I don’t know what is.