Steady improvement has Harris optimistic

Brandon Harris views his upcoming sophomore season as a fresh start. The talented quarterback details this spring's open competition and describes a steady climb to becoming a better player.

Frustration was the name of the game for Brandon Harris, LSU’s passing attack and supporters of the purple and gold in 2014.

The Tigers, en route to losing five of 13 games for the first time since 2008, were as close to a one-dimensional offense as any non-option team gets, riding out sophomore Anthony Jennings under center while Harris, a precocious freshman, threw only one pass over the season’s final seven contests.

Now, in the midst of a spring Harris hopes is more revival than reprisal, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has preached a simple message to the Bossier City native.

“Improving,” Harris said flatly on Thursday. “I’ve taken it [my first year] with a grain of salt. I just know what I need to work on to continue to grow as a quarterback. I think it’s just been such a beneficial spring. Love the dude to death. He’s really taken me under his wing like he has since I got here and is teaching me steadily how to become a great quarterback. I’m taking all the knowledge I can from him.”

High-school accolades for the former blue-chip recruit – and, frankly, a dire need at the position for LSU – caused expectations to spiral out of control for Harris’ first fall on campus.

All of those external factors made his production seem pedestrian or subpar by comparison. In reality, through the first six ballgames, Harris completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 452 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback also rushed for 6.1 yards per carry, totaling 159 yards and three more scores on the ground.

For any other true freshman signal caller, that’d be a desirable debut. Given the Tigers’ struggles through the air, while he toiled on the bench down the stretch, it never felt that way for Harris.

The feeling this spring has been different and more upbeat.

Will Harris join Fournette in LSU's backfield?
“Everything I think is going well this spring. We’ve drastically improved offensively,” explained Harris. “I can remember last year in the spring it took us until the ninth or tenth spring day just to get a touchdown. Now we’ve been able to go out and execute the offense and score.”

Where LSU’s offense is noticeably better, per Harris, is getting balls in the hands of receivers, something the Bayou Bengals managed on only 50 percent of pass attempts in 2014.

“Probably just executing, getting more completions,” Harris continued, detailing quarterback improvement this spring. “I don’t know offensively what the completion percentage was last year as a group, but I know it wasn’t very good. So I think (it’s been) getting completions and just continuing to build our receivers and our entire offense to where we can go out on Saturdays, combine everything we’ve been doing and not be a below-average offense.”

As for Harris individually from last spring to this spring: “It’s not even close. For everybody that has the opinion of trying to see how much I’ve improved, they just need to come to the spring game Saturday and they’ll see.”

Many outside the LSU football bubble – which has shrunk severely the last five weeks, presumably to keep the growing passing game more in the lab than on YouTube – have wondered just how open quarterback competition truly is.

With nightmares of Jordan Jefferson continuing to play over Jarrett Lee dangling through their heads, the fear is Harris’ fate is already sealed with Jennings the anointed one at the position. According to Harris, that has not been the case this spring.

“I don’t know what the reps have been, but I’ve probably taken more reps. I don’t know. I’m in there a lot, and we just continue to get better and improve,” Harris said. “Like I said I don’t know the reps off the top of my head, but I think it’s been an open quarterback battle.

“Obviously you guys will make your opinions on what you think it is after the spring game or whatever, but I think it’s been an open quarterback battle and I think it’s really went well. Him [Jennings] pushing me and all of our quarterbacks pushing each other has really brought out the best in us.”

Another facet of the offense that’s enabling the passing game in Harris’ mind is development at wide receiver, which was also plagued by youth and inexperience a season ago.

“They’ve always been great. Obviously we had a young group last year,” mused Harris. “Travin (Dural) went from being the number three or four receiver to being the number one last year . . . Travin became the number one as a redshirt sophomore and we had two freshmen around him and another redshirt freshman. We’ve drastically improved (this spring). I’ve always felt like they were really, really good. It’s just, like me and every other player on this team that’s young, when you hit that maturation stage where you can improve. When you see this group grow, that’s the most important thing and it’s exciting.”

Harris heads into Saturday’s spring game optimistic about his growth and that of LSU’s offense as a whole. He readily admits the game plan will showcase “a limited system,” but the rising sophomore believes fans will still be able to notice a better product.

“I just want to focus on getting better, improving, working on my craft,” he leveled.

The building of Brandon Harris into a formidable SEC quarterback is taking longer than many locals would like. But, as he makes a steady climb, don’t rule out his reaching that summit.

After all, what Baton Rouge construction project has ever been completed on time?

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