Last Modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 10:38 AM
BATON ROUGE — LSU threw open the ceremonial doors on its 2014 football season Sunday and, frankly, I was expecting to find a day care center inside.
There were no practices Sunday, just the controlled frivolity and cell phone photo bombs of the annual Media Day, but several of us veterans worried that we might catch the Tiger varsity involved in designated nap time after cookies and milk and a quick bedtime story.
The media had already talked to Les Miles and both coordinators, so I was looking for the equipment manager and the designated diaper changer, or maybe the Kool Aid czar would have the real scoop on these newest Tigers.
That’s what we’d been led to believe.
Ravaged and ransacked by the NFL for two years running — you probably heard many of the innocents were kidnapped by the lure or pro money — this is the year Miles’ “next up” theory will really be put to the test.
At the least it’s going to have to show some I.D. In the last two years, 16 juniors have departed early for the NFL.
“We’ve played 29 freshmen in the last two years,” Miles said with typical preseason bravado.
True, but most of them were luxuries rather than the necessities that this year’s edition will employ. They could generally ease their way into the lineup, wrestle somebody’s job away from them a few games in — not get thrown into the fire.
But that would be the easy thing to do.
Miles said from the day this freshman class signed on in February that many, if not most, would have to be quick learners, preferably in time to contribute in a tough season opener against Wisconsin.
Even quarterback, of course, where in the preseason’s biggest drama a true freshman. Brandon Harris, is battling a sophomore with asterisk — Anthony Jennings didn’t really play until the final drive of last year’s regular season and appeared to have been told try to stay out of the way in the Outback Bowl victory over Iowa.
Nobody from LSU uttered even a hint of how that top-secret competition is proceeding.
But if you can talk your way into the starting huddle against Wisconsin, this duel is over.
Harris is your quarterback.
The youngster, who as a true freshman is subject to being muffled for the season from this day forward, is pleasantly chatty and certainly seems bright enough to make the transition from Bossier’s Parkway High School to the SEC, even at the game’s most demanding position.
He seemed comfortable enough, mature beyond his years and almost ready to start shaving.
Of course, talk is easy, especially in August.
Everything seemed rosy Sunday, even some startling news about Quentin Thomas, a projected starter in the thin defensive line who suddenly went from “out for the season” to, according to Miles, “We hope to get him back soon.”
Either LSU has discovered an amazing cure for a torn biceps or Thomas’ injury last week was greatly over-stated by Twitter.
It was that kind of day.
It didn’t seem to bother Miles at all that he may have interrupted the afternoon showing of “The Muppets” to gather the team together to meet the media.
They’re all talking the talk, seemingly taken aback that they’re ranked No. 13 nationally in preseason despite the damage done by the NFL raiding parties.
“There’s no room for that here,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “This is not one of those schools. LSU is not a program where you develop a quarterback in the first year and then you kind of get him going in the second year and then really get him going in the third year.
“That is not that place. Our guys know that. Our quarterbacks’ job is to win today — whether he’s 18 to 19 or 20. That’s the bottom line.”
So where are these toddlers who will carry the torch?
I expected the projected starting wide receivers to be over in the sand box, the defensive line playing on the Lego board, the defensive backs to be busy with coloring books or hop-scotch.
But that can’t be Leonard Fournette over there. The young lad has a believable beard and looks like a full-grown man — really, REALLY full grown, bordering on beasthood at 6-1, 224 chiselled pounds.
According to teammates, he’s already the most recognized guy on campus, with the paparazzi and autograph seekers already becoming more of a burden than defensive lines.
And these specimens were everywhere — wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, safeties Jamal Adams and John Battle, on and on and on.
“Some were all we thought they would be and then some,” said Cameron, who added that’s it’s no accident even with a freak of nature like Fournette.
Miles’ mandate, he said, is a ready-made class that doesn’t require much seasoning.
“We as recruiters know that we need to go out there and recruit guys that can play as freshman,” Cameron said. “In the old days, we used to go, ‘Oh, that kid is going to be a heckuva a player, we’ll redshirt him a year, sit him a year and ....’
“I see them all the time. But that’s not the LSU recruit. The LSU recruit wants to play, he wants to play early, he wants to carve out a role.
“Those body types are out there. You just have to keep digging until you find them. You know them when you see them — oh, that guy’s got the body to play as a freshman.
“That may not fit other schools, but Les sets that tone here. With the number of guys we lose as juniors we have to have that approach.”
By the “looks” of things, at least, perhaps it’s working.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org