LSU Spring Football Five Questions: Receivers & Tight Ends

No other area of the team may be quite as affected by departure.

Roster/Depth Chart

Wide Receivers

Player

Ht/Wt

2012 (raw stats)

Advanced Stats

1 Rob Bolden (Sr.)

6-4, 209

Fourth string quarterback.

N/A

2 Avery Peterson (RS-Fr.)

6-1, 189

Redshirted.

N/A

15 Quantavious Leslie (Sr.)

6-4, 175

1 catch for 11 yards in 4 game appearances.

100% catch rate.

83 Travin Dural (Soph.)

6-2, 182

7 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.

15 targets, 9.7 yards per target, 46.7% catch rate. 4.8% of LSU's total targets.

87 Kevin Spears (RS-Fr.)

6-3, 189

Redshirted.

N/A

9 John Diarse (RS-Fr.)

6-1, 205

Redshirted.

N/A

Tight Ends

41 Travis Dickson (Jr.)

6-3, 230

5 catches for 109 yards.

13 targets, 8.4 yards per target, 38.5% catch rate. 4.1% of total targets.

84 Logan Stokes (Jr.)

6-5, 253

No catches in 13 game appearances with 3 starts.

N/A

85 Dillon Gordon (So.)

6-5, 280

7 catches for 92 yards.

11 targets, 8.0 yards per target, 54.5% catch rate. 3.5% of total targets.

89 DeSean Smith (Fr.)

6-4, 241

1 catch for 14 yards.

N/A

What's Good?

We'll start with what we know. There's some good size here, with every receiver 6-1 or taller and some very big tight ends. And we know that receivers like Travin Dural, Avery Peterson and Quantavius Leslie can run.

Likewise, despite very little use, LSU's tight ends were relatively effective in the passing game when called to be, averaging a very nice 16 yards per catch as a unit. Granted, it was on all of 13 catches, but with Zach Mettenberger being so locked in on Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., there just weren't a lot of balls to go around.

What's Bad?

If it seems like there isn't a lot known about this group, well, there isn't. Aside from quarterback, no other position has been hit harder by graduation or early departure. LSU is replacing well over 80 percent of 2013's receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. What's more, Beckham and Landry also accounted for 61.8 percent of the receiving targets from last year -- meaning that not only did they hog the production, but the opportunities as well.

Does that mean that LSU is completely up a creek at this position? Not necessarily. Dural in particular has the tools to be a pretty dangerous target. Big-time speed and the leaping ability (former state high-jump champ) to be a very difficult matchup (Fun Fact: Dural caught both the first and last passes of the 2013 regular season). And players like Peterson, John Diarse and Desean Smith were all very highly recruited. They just haven't really accomplished anything on the field yet.

Still, the fact remains that both ends of the Tiger passing game will have to grow together this season without a lot of in-game experience.

What's the Goal this Spring?

Mostly to stay healthy. Peterson and Kevin Spears have both missed practices with hamstring injuries, and Diarse has been sidelined with some unknown ailment as well.

This group has, more or less, a blank slate, and with two stud freshmen coming in with expectations to contribute quickly the veterans need to put their best foot forward and start their push for playing time now.

It would be nice to see some roles develop. Dural seems to have the inside track on the No. 1 job, with Diarse likely the starter opposite him. He offers a stockier, more physical presence to with Dural's speed. The next group of wideouts are all kind of similar -- Lanky deep-threat types like Peterson, Leslie and Spears.

Former quarterback and notable Penn State transfer Rob Bolden is a slightly intriguing X-factor due to his size and athleticism, but it'd be a pretty big surprise if he can contribute in any meaningful way. Would be one hell of a story though.

One big question is going to be who replaces Landry's role as the true chain-mover. The player that can find room underneath and pick up first downs.

Which brings us to one of many interesting positional questions about these practices...

What am I Watching For?

Could this finally be the year of the tight end at LSU?

I can hear the dismissive psssssts from here, and I don't blame you. No tight end has caught more than 20 passes since Richard Dickson from 2007-09. But I don't, as many do, believe that it's a result of some sort of systemic aversion to throwing to the position. It's just the way things have worked out. Since Dickson, by and large, the tight ends on this team have been bigger blocking types. And the quarterbacks have...well...sucked. And with all due respect to guys like Mitch Joseph, Chase Clement and Deangelo Peterson, when a team is struggling to get the ball down the field to its best receivers, it doesn't need to be wasting targets on them.

That began to change last year with Mettenberger using the entire field. Yeah, that wasn't reflected in many looks for the tight ends, but that was much more due to the quarterback's fixation on his top two targets (and could you really blame him?). Just do the math -- if two players are taking up 61.8 percent of your receiving targets then there's just 39.3 percent that has to be spread around the rest of the whole team. Backs, other receivers and yes, tight ends.

But as I said, they found ways to take advantage of their limited opportunities. The top two guys are back in the big & burly category, and Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes are both damn good blockers. Still Gordon managed to make a handful of big plays, including a huge catch on Anthony Jennings' 98-yard, game-winning drive versus Arkansas. He's got big, soft hands, and while there's not much speed, that 280-pound body can still create mismatches in its own way.

And there are even some legit receiving threats in Travis Dickson and Desean Smith. Dickson could be the perfect H-back type. He's not huge, but he's quick enough to get open and has some reliable hands, and his 20-plus yards per catch last year showed that he can be pretty damn effective if the defense forgets about him.

Smith presents an interesting-as-hell potential matchup. And it's pretty clear that the staff felt the same way last year, as he got on the field on LSU's first redzone possession against TCU and even got the first pass attempt, only to let it get through his hands. But as things got more Landry/Beckham-centric, Smith's role was relegated to mostly special teams. This spring offers a much better chance to break in. He's got the size, the speed and a lot of experience in the passing game for a tight end, catching 815 yards worth of passes his senior year at Barbe High School. Smith has the potential to be one hell of a weapon. The question, as of now, seems to be developing the rest of his game. At Barbe, Smith was essentially just a big receiver and spent little time playing inside as a true in-line tight end. Learning to use that big body, both as a blocker and to screen bigger linebackers and defensive linemen in the pass game is a transition he's still making. His constant appearances in the Big Cat Drill could indicate a prodding on the staff's part to try and push him into being more physical.

LSU hasn't used a tight end in a long time, but the ingredients are there. Young quarterbacks in need of a security blanket, a need for a bigger, more physical receiver, a coordinator that has a history of using the position in some different roles and a group of players that offer some different skillsets. There's no guarantee that it happens in 2014, but there's a good chance to develop it this spring.

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