Orgeron: 'With four guys, nobody knew what was going on or who was going to start'
BATON ROUGE — The first act of the virtually annual "LSU Quarterback Circus" is over.
Two scholarship players have exited stage left, leaving two quarterbacks with the off-Broadway season opener set for just more than two weeks away on Sunday, Sept. 2, in Arlington, Texas, between the No. 24 Tigers and No. 8 Miami at AT&T Stadium.
Two scholarship players with more credits remain in junior graduate transfer Joe Burrow, who just arrived in June, and sophomore Myles Brennan. And now it remains to be seen if the performance will be a trilogy or have a Hollywood happy ending.
Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse and junior graduate Justin McMillan transferred from LSU after receiving their grades following the first scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday.
"We gave them some grades, and there was a pecking order," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday night at a press conference. "But there was no decision made. And those guys decided that they wanted to go. I support them, talked to them and wish them the best. Just like every other scrimmage, we have grades. We give them out, talk to them."
The "pecking order" did not have Narcisse nor McMillan in the top two, so they made Orgeron and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Steve Ensminger's "decision" for them in a way. And now Orgeron and Ensminger can focus on just two, and Burrow and Brennan can get all or most of the quarterback repetitions in practice — if they have not already.
In other words, part of the circus has left town.
"Obviously, with four guys, nobody knew what was going on," Orgeron said. "Or who was going to be the starter. Now with two of them, obviously, one of those two guys is going to start. We're going to let it play out with those two guys. Now, they're getting the majority of the reps (repetitions at practice) — getting all the reps. We're still going to let it play out until there's a clear winner."
Orgeron expects to see the newly streamlined quarterback position have an immediate impact during a scrimmage Saturday after the offense struggled in its first scrimmage last Saturday.
"We had way too many penalties," he said. "I think having just these two quarterbacks will help us with execution."
The new No. 3 and No. 4 quarterbacks who will not get the snaps Narcisse and McMillan may have been getting are a pair of walk-ons — sophomore transfer Andre Sale of Tennessee Tech via Catholic High in Little Rock, Arkansas, and true freshman Jordan Loving of Riverside Academy in Reserve.
"Those guys are going to have to start to get backup reps in case an emergency would happen," Orgeron said. "Now we only have two scholarship quarterbacks on our roster, but we feel good. We feel good about the two quarterbacks that we have. And we're happy that we have them."
Orgeron said having just two quarterbacks on scholarship is uncharted waters in his career.
"Obviously, we have to keep those guys healthy," he said. "But there is a concern. I don't remember only two on scholarship. But I do believe that Andre and Jordan will be capable backups. We can train them."
Another walk-on quarterback may be added, Orgeron said.
LSU's offensive coaches will now have more time with Burrow and Brennan and will not have to devote much time — if any, at the moment — to the special third-down and Wildcat running quarterback plays that were put in for Narcisse in particular. Burrow has some running and scrambling ability but is mainly a drop-back quarterback as is Brennan, who has very little running ability.
"We would have had a package for Lowell," Orgeron said. "We had a Wildcat package for him. We were going to use him on short yardage and goal line. Those things we were going to use because I think he's a fantastic quarterback. Obviously, he just needs to get better at a couple of things. That package may be used with another tailback or someone else on our football team. We haven't discussed that yet."
Sophomore cornerback Jontre Kirklin was a star quarterback at Lutcher High as he threw for 7,500 yards and rushed for 3,000 in his career.
One of the reasons Narcisse left LSU was because he was seen as a specialty quarterback and because he feels he needs to play as much as he can as soon as possible. Because of two anterior cruciate ligament knee injuries at St. James High, he has not played a full season since he was a sophomore in 2014.
"A lot of people try to look at me as just a situational guy — a guy who changes pace or a 'Wildcat' guy," Narcisse said on WWL Radio in New Orleans on Wednesday. "And I don't see myself as that. I see myself as a quarterback. And I felt that the position I was in, I wasn't going to be able to be looked at as a quarterback. So I just felt I needed that fresh start somewhere where I could be evaluated as a quarterback."
Orgeron said he does not blame Narcisse and McMillan for leaving.
"Those are two Tigers that gave it all while they were here," he said. "We know that they're going to have success wherever they go.
"I had two great talks with both of those guys. It was a very positive talk on both sides. Those guys were gracious to LSU, and I was gracious to them. And I wish them luck. I don't blame them. If they see that they're not going to be the starting quarterback, they want to leave."
In the end, LSU has gained a graduate transfer quarterback in Burrow, lost one in McMillan, and lost a young red-shirt freshman it wanted to develop — but not right now other than by situation.
"We're glad that we have a graduate transfer in Joe, so I think it's only fair that they have the opportunity to leave if they wanted to leave," Orgeron said. "Those things are going to happen. College football is very transient nowadays. You need to be ready."
Ready for anything when it comes to quarterbacks at LSU, that is.