Six Questions on LSU Spring Practice: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

For two years now, it's been pretty tough to know much of what to say about LSU's wide receivers and tight ends. Of course, there's been plenty to say about the quarterback situation. That's why there hasn't been a lot you could say about the guys on the other end of the throws, good, bad or indifferent, and that's why we have six questions here instead of five. We'll have more (much, much more) about the quarterback situation at a later date, but for now, let's focus on the receiving end of this equation and not the giving one.

Thanks to the hard work of some other bloggers, we have a little bit of insight into the catch rates of some of them. For a quick explanation, a catch rate is the percentage of passes intended for a receiver (targets) that are actually caught. The numbers aren't quite as precise as what the guys at Football Outsiders might keep, but they keep track of things like drops, passes that get batted down and throws that are just off the mark.

Wide Receivers:

Roster Information

Height/Weight

2011 Target Data*

2011 Catch Data

No. 3 Sophomore Odell Beckham, Jr.

5'11, 185

Targeted 61 times, 8.3 yards per target, 21.9% of LSU's total passing targets

44 catches (72.1% catch rate) for 504 yards (11.5 yards per reception) and 2 touchdowns. 2011 SEC All-Freshman

10 Senior Russell Shepard

6'1, 185

Targeted 25 times, 7 ypt, 9% of LSU total

14 catches (56%) for 176 yards (13.5) and 4 touchdowns

86 Junior Kadron Boone

6'0, 195

Targeted 12 times, 8 ypt, 4.3% of LSU total

7 catches (58.3%) for 82 yards (11.7) and 2 touchdowns

80 Sophomore Jarvis Landry

6'0, 190

NA

4 catches for 43 yards (10.7)

82 Junior James Wright

6'2, 201

NA

5 catches for 41 yards (8.2)

5 Sophomore Jarrett Fobbs

5'11, 195

No targets

No appearances

81 Sophomore Armand Williams

6'3, 200

NA

2 appearances, no catches

21 Freshman Paul Turner

5'11, 186

No targets

Redshirted

Tight Ends:

Roster Information

Height/Weight

2011 Target Data*

2011 Catch Data

88 Senior Chase Clement

6'5, 251

Targeted 12 times, 8 ypt, 4.3% of LSU total

7 catches (58%) for 96 yards (13.7) and 1 touchdown

47 Senior Tyler Edwards

6'4, 235

NA

No catches in 13 games

84 Sophomore Nic Jacobs

6'5, 253

NA

No catches in 10 games

41 Sophomore Travis Dickson

6'3, 230

NA

1 catch for 10 yards

*Target Data not available for all WRs/TEs. HT: kleph/TSK

Should we be excited?

Well, like I said there are just a lot of unknowns here.

If there's one thing I've learned in the last couple of years, both from watching LSU and the Saints and Drew Brees, it's that a passing game rises and falls more on the strength of its quarterback than its receiving corps. A great quarterback can make an average group of targets look like stars, but a shitty passer is going to look shitty regardless of whom he's throwing to.

What does that say about LSU's receivers? It says that we don't really know much, good or bad.

So let's start with what we do know. The No. 1 target of 2011, Rueben Randle, is gone. Last year's No. 2, Odell Beckham Jr., leads a young group of returning targets, which have a new and very talented quarterback to work with. We know that there's speed, but not much size. We know that this is a fairly physical group that really excelled at blocking in 2011(seriously, watch the number of times a wideout motioned in to crack down on a linebacker or end). And we also know that they've spent a lot of time since Jan. 9 working together on timing and some of the other aspects that lead to a strong, cohesive passing attack.

We also know that the receivers have a new coach on hand in Adam Henry, who, by all accounts bring a professional, business-like approach to practice. Reporters have noted that he's not nearly as vocal as the departed Billy Gonzales, but that the receiving corps overall seems to show more discipline as they go through their drills. For a unit that is expected to take a big step forward, attention to detail is a good thing.

I feel comfortable saying there's potential here. How much of that potential is realized will depend on Zach Mettenberger and Co. If you're excited about the quarterbacks, then you can be excited about the receivers.

Who's No. 1?

Randle has taken his talents to the NFL, so who steps in as the go-to guy here?

That discussion starts with ODB. He managed to crack the starting lineup in week one, overcame a couple of drops early on and went on to have the SEC's third-best catch rate among receivers with more than 50 targets -- a better percentage than Randle finished with, actually. Factor that number and Beckham's 11.5 yards per catch in with Randle's target rate (he had 87 passes thrown his way) and ODB projects to catch 63 passes for 724 yards. Those aren't exactly great numbers but adjust the yards per catch figure in the equation slightly and the results spike quickly.

There's no question Beckham has the speed and elusiveness to be a big-play wide receiver. The question is, can he be the kind of player that makes a tough catch over the middle on a third and six. He's definitely not in the mold of LSU's last couple of No. 1 guys -- the 6-3, 200-plus type like a Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lafell or Randle. But as great of a luxury as size is in a receiver, everything is relative and a deficiency in one area can certainly be overcome. Granted, Beckham may not be running a lot of endzone fade routes, but LSU has other receivers that fit that mold.

Beckham gives you the speed to attack a defense down the field, the quickness and agility to make big plays on screens and shorter passes (which I believe may be the area where the new quarterbacks have the biggest impact) and the hands to keep the chains moving. His game still needs polishing (what sophomore receiver's doesn't?), but I think we're going to see a big step forward from him this season.

Who's No. 2?

LSU is going to use a lot of receivers in a lot of different positions, be it flanker, split end or slot, and while I think this year's passing game might be one of the more balanced in some time, chances are there will still be a pecking order. So if Beckham is No. 1, who is No. 2?

My guess is that it's going to come down to a battle between Jarvis Landry and James Wright.

Landry was one of the stars of the 2011 recruiting class, and while the numbers weren't anything to brag on last year, he certainly showed that he's much more physical than the average 6-foot, buck-90 wideout -- he dealt out the big hits on special teams and took a mean one himself on his first career reception. Landry is a smooth athlete that reminds me a lot of Early Doucet. He might not biggest or the fastest, but you won't see him get caught from behind or out-muscled too often. He was a natural receiver that took over games as much as any high school wideout I've ever seen, and his ability to make plays after the catch would be a natural complement to Beckham's deep speed.

Wright also gives you a physical presence on the field. He's obviously got the size, and he's probably the best blocking wide receiver on the team. Much like Landry, Wright was a ridiculously productive high school player, but the question is whether or not he has the speed to consistently separate from college cornerbacks. But with his frame and willingness to mix it up with the defense, Wright might be the kind of possession receiver this team needs.

Now, I'm sure you're thinking, what about the only returning senior among the wideouts, a player with 35 games of experience...

What about Russell Shepard?

On the upside, this is the last year we'll ever have to discuss this topic.

We all know the story by now. Top-rated dual threat quarterback with incredible speed comes to campus, moves to wide receiver, mix in a bubbly personality, a couple of foot-in-mouth moments and a few on- and off-field miscues and you get Mr. Shepard. He'll never match his recruiting hype, but can he still be an impact player?

Sure. Look, nobody doubts that this guy has the speed to go the distance with a little bit of room. The question is whether or not it can be taken advantage of on every down. To this point, the problems have been a little bit of everything; the obvious bad quarterbacking, particularly in the short-passing/screen game that a guy like Shepard would excel in; a rough transition to the wide receiver position, with some drops, concentration lapses and issues playing the ball in the air; reported work ethic and attitude issues (the foolish NCAA suspension and some twitter snafus including smack talk, a dalliance with the NFL and dust-ups with fans over the matter); and a coaching staff that has failed to realize that simply handing the ball to Shepard the last two seasons would have probably been more effective than trying to throw it to him.

So what do we know about Shepard? We know about the speed, and we've seen him make some pretty tough catches at times, though that's come with drops of easier passes. We know that he greatly improved his blocking in 2011 and became a much more aggressive player. And we know that he's fairly well-liked amongst his teammates.

Of course, we expect him to have much better quarterbacks feeding him the ball this season. Will that translate to a statistical explosion? Probably not. There are too many natural wideouts on the team and even if the team throws the ball much more effectively, there are only going to be so many balls to go around. But that doesn't mean he can't have a big impact. Speed still kills in this league, and there should be more chances for Shepard to use his on screens, swing passes and possibly even special teams.

What will the tight end situation look like?

If LSU's wide receivers have been wilting on the vine the last two seasons, the tight ends have rotted and been stuck in the compost pile. But, like their fellow pass-catchers outside, it's a unit that is looking for a new beginning.

Chase Clement looks to take over the starting job, marking a firm spot in the middle of the extremes of last season's top tight ends, Deangelo Peterson and Mitch Joseph. Whereas those two were almost completely one-dimensional players -- Peterson the "receiver" (and that's using the term loosely) and Joseph the designated blocker -- Clement could offer LSU its best two-way tight end since Eric Edwards. He has the size and the nasty disposition to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, and while he's not going to burn up the seams like an Orson Charles or Aaron Hernandez, he does have enough speed and athleticism to be a safety blanket-type receiver and a redzone threat. Given that there's not a lot of size at receiver, Clement could have a lot of value as a short- to medium-range target on third downs. Maybe, just maybe, passing over the middle of the field won't be a complete adventure this season!

Nic Jacobs will mostly likely replace Joseph as the pure blocking tight end. He saw little time last year, but he certainly looks the part and I remember some thought he might grow into an offensive tackle during his recruitment.

Tyler Edwards and Travis Dickson are the only backups until the freshmen arrive this summer. Both fit more in the receiving mold than as blockers, so if you see much of them this year it'll probably be as the flex tight end in goal-line set. Dickson in particular fits as more of an H-back type, similar to his older brother Richard Dickson. Don't be surprised if he sees a little time as a backup fullback.

Who/what is the X-Factor?

Honestly, the biggest determinant of the impact of LSU's receivers and tight ends this season will be quarterback play. If Mettenberger is the Big Damn Hero we all expect him to be, the receivers will rise to meet his level of play. Even if it winds up being different members of this group, somebody will be there to catch the ball.

Among the players themselves, keep an eye out for Armand Williams. If there is a guy here that could be the do-it-all type of receiver that Randle was last year, it could be the 6-3 sophomore from Lafayette Slidell. He was a project recruit brought in by Gonzales, but by all accounts the coaches love his athleticism. He's a long-strider that can get down field and a former all-state high jumper that can go get the ball in the air. The issue through the last two year has been hands in practice. But with a new receivers coach everybody has a clean slate, so Williams could have an opportunity to push for playing time.

Paul Turner is another unknown that could perhaps see some time as something of a backup to Shepard in the slot/sweep/screen player role. He's an ex-QB, like Shepard, and an elusive athlete that the staff hasn't quite found a role for yet. He could also see some time on special teams. Kadron Boone could also get in the act on special teams, and provides another body with some game experience. Whether he's any more than that, well...remember...somebody is going to catch the passes.

Something else that's got a lot of play has been the idea of moving a running back out to a wide receiver, but color me skeptical. Not to say that running backs won't be very involved in the passing game this year. They will, and it wouldn't shock me at all to see some of the backs that are better receivers motion or flex out wide -- but that isn't playing receiver, that's just lining up at a different spot. Backs like Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore do it often. Not that certain columnists from fictional towns really understand the difference.

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