When fall camp got underway last Thursday, junior wide receiver Rueben Randle found himself in an unfamiliar spot.
For the first time since signing on with LSU in 2009, Randle stood at the front of the line during individual drills.
Moments before Randle took the practice field for the first time in pre-season camp, wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales pulled him aside.
“Coach Gonzales came to me and said that I needed to have a great year for them,” Randle said. “He said that I am the No. 1 guy. Really, Russell and I are the only two guys that Coach has his trust in so far. So I have to get out there and show the young guys how it gets done.”
So far, Randle has answered the call.
Through four days of camp the junior has set the tone for the rest of the receivers with relentless effort and vocal leadership – a change-of-pace from the laid-back approach Randle has become known for.
“I have been playing pretty conservative the past two years,” said Randle, who caught just 11 passes in 2009 before hauling in 33 passes last fall. “This year I have to step up and make more plays for the team, and I am coming out trying to be the best.”
Outside of the motivation that comes with being LSU’s top option at receiver, Randle said his renewed vigor stems in large part from the high hopes he has for Jordan Jefferson now that Steve Kragthorpe is in the booth on game day.
“This offense will be clicking,” Randle said. “In 7-on-7 work this summer Jordan looked way better. He looked a lot more comfortable.
“He used to be pretty conservative with where he would throw balls, but this summer he was putting them in there.”
While playing under former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton for three seasons, Jefferson was held back through conservative play calls, Randle said - a 180-degree turn from the direction that Kragthorpe has steered the offense this offseason.
“I feel like the leash is off of Jordan,” Randle said. “You can tell in games that he was being conservative. This summer he came out aggressive and started taking more shots than he usually takes.”
Randle pointed to the deep ball as a phase of the passing game that the offense struggled with under Crowton, but he expects that to change in a hurry this fall – with Randle being the first option down the field.
“Coach Kragthorpe calls plays more aggressively,” Randle said. “If he sees something in the defense, then he attacks it. This camp, coach Gonzales is really pushing to work the deep balls, and the first practice we went through that was all I worked on. It’s something we want to do a lot more. I don’t think we went deep but a couple games last year. Now coach Kragthorpe emphasizes that.
“He wants to take advantages of our matchups, so that’s what we are doing. He just wants to get the playmakers the ball.”
Randle knows he is one of those playmakers, and he’s made sure Jefferson feels comfortable with the idea of him being heavily involved in the passing game. From multiple meals together a day to nights spent hanging on the couch, Randle has purposely attached himself to Jefferson’s hip.
If the former Bastrop quarterback knows anything about football, it’s that a receiver and quarterback have to always be on the same page.
“We chill with each other every day,” Randle said. “We are kind of like brothers, and that’s really important. You want to be in a great relationship with your quarterback because he will trust you.
“Then when the game is on the line, he will put the ball in your hands.”