It wasn't until this last week that center Liam Shanahan got to actually work with freshmen quarterbacks TJ Finley and Max Johnson for the first time. The two true freshmen quarterbacks have primarily worked with the second and third team throughout the offseason but are now in a position where both could see significant playing time on Saturday.
There is still no update on junior quarterback Myles Brennan, who is nursing a lower body injury that was later reported by the Athletic as a torn abdomen. Ed Orgeron said Monday the team does expect the injury to heal but it's taking longer than expected and Brennan is "questionable" for the South Carolina game.
For Shanahan and the LSU veterans, watching the two freshmen handle the possibility of starting this week has been "impressive."
"It's been good working with them, they're both really talented, young, motivated players and they've been impressive," Shanahan said. "Throughout the whole summer when I first got here, they were always working, throwing extra routes. They have both proven to me they're ready to step up and embrace the challenge and if Myles can't go, I'll be excited to see what they can do."
As the team's starting center, Shanahan has been up close and personal with both quarterbacks for well over the last week. He's seen subtle differences in the play styles of both Johnson and Finley despite their similar physical statures.
"They are a little bit different, Max I would say runs the ball a little bit better, he's more of a dual threat guy. TJ's really good in the pocket and has a really impressive arm. They both have a ton of upside and it's going to be a good battle this week and just see what happens."
Because Finley and Johnson are still young and inexperienced college quarterbacks, Shanahan made it a point of emphasis to meet with both quarterbacks on Monday and will continue to do so throughout the rest of the week. The goal is to go over presnap protections and make sure all three are on the same page.
The extra week to get both players up to speed has been a "blessing in disguise" should it ultimately be decided that Brennan can't suit up. It gives Brennan that extra time to heal but it also provides LSU a good opportunity to get an earlier than expected look at both of its young quarterbacks.
"Having that extra week last week could be a blessing in disguise, giving them that extra time to prepare and be a part of the first unit,” Shanahan said. “They don't seem like they're afraid of the challenge or stepping on the big stage. They're both impressive leaders and their work ethic is really impressive.
"I need to do everything I can to help out the other quarterbacks so they can really focus on making plays and just making their life easier."
Guard Ed Ingram agrees with Shanahan that the team has complete faith in both Johnson and Finley. Ingram is set to make his return to the LSU lineup after a one game absence for the Missouri game.
The junior guard is one of if not the best offensive lineman in the run game, an area LSU will want to get going should one of Johnson or Finley be thrust into a starting role.
"They're both great quarterbacks, Max is left handed quarterback which is kind of a new thing around here. Max and TJ have strong arms. It's kind of hard to choose between both of them, they are both pretty good guys."
Linebacker Jabril Cox has been presented the unique opportnity to see the two freshmen in action from the perspective of a defensive player. Cox has worked out with Johnson and believes that his athleticism and Finley's big arm give LSU an opportunity to have success against the Gamecocks.
"Working out with Max, he's really athletic, TJ has a really big arm. They are two very well developed freshmen quarterbacks that I think if Myles is not able to play, can go in and help us get wins," Cox said. "Regardless of the QB situation I think Max and TJ are ready."
Photo courtesy of LSUsports