Why Joe Burrow's most underrated skill must be at the root of everything Myles Brennan does
You could say a lot of things about Joe Burrow during his 2 years at LSU.
He competed a level like few we’ve ever seen at his position. He made us think we were watching a video game during the latter half of his time in Baton Rouge. He embraced an opportunity and became one of the most beloved athletes to ever step foot on an SEC campus.
There’s a common denominator in all of those things that Burrow, as crazy as it sounds, probably didn’t get enough credit for. It’s something he did when he called his own number 29 times against Texas A&M in the 7-overtime game in 2018, and it’s something he did when he stared down Georgia’s loaded front en route to an SEC championship in 2019.
The dude learned how to play without fear, and he did so while being incredibly durable.
If there’s 1 (mostly) mental characteristic that LSU fans should hope to see passed down from Burrow to Myles Brennan, it’s that. Having the ability to take on contact is one thing. Seeing a quarterback perfectly embody that level of toughness — not recklessness — is next-level stuff.
That’s an extremely tricky thing to master. For Burrow, that took time. He had plenty of moments during that 2018 season when it felt like it was more about staying upright in a thin quarterback room than playing with that extreme physical confidence. Part of that was the system, yes, but for most of 2018, LSU didn’t want to expose Burrow because Brennan had a nagging back injury that kept him on the sidelines (while active) until Week 11 against Rice.
Ed Orgeron said that Burrow played through a slightly separated shoulder against Alabama in 2018. Still, he never missed a start in the final 2 years. It didn’t matter that no Power 5 quarterback was sacked more than Burrow in 2018, or that he took an SEC-high 34 sacks in 2019. In fact, no FBS quarterback took more sacks than Burrow from 2018-19, yet still initiated contact (and famously had a strong “no sliding” policy).
Call it grit or whatever you wish, but that mindset allowed Burrow to keep his eyes downfield. He didn’t fear the hit. That might sound like an elementary skill, but for a first-time starter like Brennan who had a well-documented weight gain journey, that’s the key to LSU’s offense not reverting back to its pre-Burrow ways.
By virtue of keeping his eyes downfield and not just delivering a rushed throw to his first read, Burrow connected on countless plays that lesser quarterbacks wouldn’t have. Why? In case you haven’t heard, covering LSU’s receivers for an extended period of time isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when you have a quarterback who doesn’t panic at the first sign of pressure in his face:
Joe Burrow ➡️ Ja’Marr Chase
Picking up right where they left off. pic.twitter.com/2RvpORvKxG
— ESPN (@espn) November 17, 2019
Ja’Marr Chase will be at the top of every scouting report this year. There will be plenty of times when Brennan looks his way on his first read and sees bracket coverage. Getting the best receiver in America looks won’t always be “just force it between a double team and hope he makes a play.” It’ll be dependent on Brennan having the physical confidence (and awareness) to extend a play and hit Chase when it breaks down.
And that can still be evident when Brennan isn’t facing pressure. Sometimes just the ability to not get happy feet and hang in the pocket fueled highlight-reel touchdowns for Burrow:
UGA needs to switch out of this 3-man rush ASAP
Can’t give Burrow and this WR core, TEN SECONDS in the pocket pic.twitter.com/ljUjhzRtw8
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 7, 2019
Again, that’s still a product of Burrow’s physical confidence. That is, confidence that he can avoid the hit or take the unavoidable hit and live to fight another day.
Burrow developed more trust in his offensive line in 2019, which absolutely benefited from his willingness to keep plays alive, and he didn’t do so in a reckless fashion. A big question facing Brennan is how much trust he’ll put in an offensive line that has plenty of new pieces after 3 of the 5 starters get drafted.
This group is certainly younger, but it should still have plenty of potential All-SEC players.
The only full-time starter returning is Austin Deculus, who was vastly improved at the right tackle position last year. He’ll be the anchor for a group that added Harvard grad transfer Liam Shanahan, who was the Crimson’s top offensive lineman each of the last 2 seasons and should immediately step in as an interior lineman. Left tackle Dare Rosenthal might have the highest ceiling of any offensive lineman during the Ed Orgeron era and guard Eg Ingram allowed just 1 sack in 1,151 snaps the last 2 seasons (via Cody Worsham).
The 2020 offensive line, if it can stay healthy, should be at a better place than that 2018 group. But like that 2018 quarterback room, perhaps the bigger possible deterrent for Brennan’s toughness/durability balance is the lack of depth behind him.
Four-star redshirt freshman Peter Parrish was suspended indefinitely in March. True freshmen Max Johnson and T.J. Finley are enrolled, but I wouldn’t exactly call this an ideal offseason for a true freshman to develop into capable SEC starters for a team with Playoff aspirations. That’s it for the current quarterback room.
That’s a daunting thought when Brennan’s biggest question throughout his career has been whether he’ll be able to hold up for an entire SEC season. Even though he’s reportedly up to 210 pounds, that’s still an unknown. LSU doesn’t want to max-protect in this offense. It would probably prefer not to run the ball 40 times per game, too.
That’s going to be a tricky thing for Steve Ensminger and Co. to navigate. Obviously he’d prefer not to have quarterback depth ever factor into his play-calling. He saw how that held LSU’s offense back in 2018.
Maybe Brennan can’t afford to welcome contact like Burrow did at the end of 2018 or throughout 2019, and perhaps he should be willing to slide in the open field. If taking the safe play at times is needed, so be it. The risk-reward factor needs to become second-nature, at least to a certain extent.
But Brennan has to find just how close he can get without crossing that line. There’s a level of fearlessness that’ll be required of him or whoever runs this LSU offense moving forward. Welcome to the new age.
Replacing Burrow was never going to be easy, with or without that dominant Playoff performance. He did things that didn’t always show up in the box score, none more under-the-radar than how durable he was while learning how to take on contact. The next chapter of LSU football will depend largely on that underrated, endearing skill.
That seems like a strong remedy to power through any sort of championship hangover in Baton Rouge.