DESTIN, Fla. — Once Joe Burrow decided to transfer to LSU from Ohio State, the common assumption across Louisiana was that the Tigers will definitely become the “Coach O and Joe Show” this fall.
It certainly may turn out that way. But Ed Orgeron on Tuesday insisted that the starting quarterback job was not promised to Burrow, only opportunity.
“What we told him is there’s an opportunity here,” Orgeron said on the first day of the Southeastern Conference spring meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. “We don’t have a starting quarterback. We’re going to give you the opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job. I told him that we started five true freshmen last year. Everybody has an opportunity to play here. Nothing is going to be given. I think the bottom line with him is, he chose to compete at the highest level.”
Burrow, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior from The Plains, Ohio, a former prep Mr. Football in his home state, opted out of the quarterback competition at Ohio State following the Buckeyes’ spring game in April.
Burrow broke the thumb on his throwing hand last fall, putting him at a deficit to Dwayne Haskins. Burrow was never able to overcome that deficit in his bid to replace J.T. Barrett, who recently signed a post-draft free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Barrett has spoken highly of Burrow’s talents, but Orgeron clearly wanted to tamp down any assumptions about Burrow taking LSU’s first snap of the season Sept. 2 against Miami. It’s been much in the same way Orgeron tamped down assumptions someone, namely Myles Brennan, would take charge of the job during spring practice, which turned out to be correct.
“There’s no starting quarterback at LSU right now,” Orgeron said. “None’s been named. (Burrow is) going to just jump into the race. He’s going to have the opportunity to earn it just like everybody else.”
LSU had to earn it when it came to landing Burrow, who picked the Tigers over Cincinnati, about 2½ hours from his hometown.
“When he came here, he was thinking about Cincinnati pretty hard,” Orgeron said. “When he came and saw the opportunity he had, met some of our players and met coach (Steve) Ensminger — we had about a 3-4 hour meeting with him — He liked it, liked what we presented to him. I think that turned the tide a little.”
Orgeron gave new safeties coach Bill Busch, a friend of Burrow’s father, Jimmy, who is defensive coordinator at Ohio, much credit for helping landing Joe.
“He was the lead recruiter on this,” Orgeron said. “Did a tremendous job. Bill knew Jimmy (Burrow). Steve (Ensminger) knew Jimmy. His brother Dan was here and really, really was instrumental in convincing him to come to LSU throughout the week.”
Now the conversation turns to convincing the Tigers’ three incumbent scholarship quarterbacks — junior Justin McMillan, sophomore Brennan and redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse — to stay. The Tigers’ quarterback depth chart could suddenly be stretching at the seams as LSU on Tuesday got a commitment from Ponchatoula’s T.J. Finley for the class of 2020.
“We’ve has some great talks with all of our quarterbacks,” Orgeron said. “They didn’t blink. I told them not to blink. Nothing’s changed with them, and they’re going to compete to win the starting job.
“Right now, none of them have talked to me about transferring. I don’t expect that to happen. I expect them to embrace the competition and make them better.”
The subject of graduate transfers and whether they should be allowed a more free rein to change schools — especially among SEC members — is one of the biggest topics of discussion at this year’s spring meetings.
Of the eight or nine football coaches who spoke with reporters here Tuesday, only Orgeron and Alabama coach Nick Saban came down on the side of sticking with the transfer rule the way it is. At the moment, a player wanting to transfer within the SEC must sit out a year unless he receives a special waiver from the commissioner.
That said, Orgeron has hardly been shy about seeking high-profile transfers from outside the SEC. In addition to Burrow, Orgeron has landed wide receiver Jonathan Giles and defensive end Breiden Fehoko from Texas Tech, tight end Thaddeus Moss (son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss) and cornerback Terrence Alexander, a John Curtis graduate heading from Stanford to LSU for one season as an out-of-conference graduate transfer.
“Our team has embraced all transfers, all junior college guys,” Orgeron said. “They understand there’s an opportunity and competition makes us all better.”
Orgeron said he can see big roles for Giles, Fehoko and Moss after watching them in practice. Alexander hasn’t yet made it to Baton Rouge.
“They’re both going to be in the starting rotation for sure,” Orgeron said of Giles and Fehoko. “We’re going to use a rotating defensive line. Right now, Breiden is a starting left end. Right now Giles is wearing No. 7. He’s our starting slot receiver. I think both are going to have tremendous years, and so is Moss.”
But Burrow the starter? Orgeron stopped well short of that. Clearly, LSU’s coach is, as he should, is still hoping to keep as many quarterbacks as he can as the season approaches.