Season preview: Wide receivers

Juniors Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard supply veteran leadership to a young and untested -- but very talented -- position group that could play a major role in LSU's offensive success this season.

In the span of a week, the LSU receiving corps has taken some serious body blows as the 2011 season arrives.

First, junior receiver Russell Shepard was ruled ineligible indefinitely for crossing a line the NCAA warned him not to cross.

Then quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended after he was arrested.

Just like that, the young receiving corps that needs every built-in advantage it can scrounge up will take the field at Cowboys Stadium without a key veteran and without the senior two-year starting quarterback who had worked hard to develop a better rapport with his receivers in the offseason.

So, you've got to figure there some panic seeping in with the receivers, right?

Not quite.

"We're still good," said junior Rueben Randle, the clear-cut leader of the group. "Ever since last spring and especially since the young guys got here, we've been working on them to make sure they were ready. That's very important because if one of us goes down, those guys have to be in position to take on different roles. We're pushing them at a faster pace so they can be ready for whatever they need to do."

What the young wave of receivers needs to do now is grow up quickly.


Shepard: Will he return soon enough to make an impact this season?
Besides Randle and Shepard, LSU doesn't have a receiver who has made a big impact in a college game yet.

Sophomores Kadron Boone and James Wright both saw spot duty last season, but played minor roles. Armand Williams and Jarrett Fobbs redshirted.

After that trio, the Tigers can also mix and match a talented freshmen crew of pass-catchers that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Paul Turner – three of the state's top players from last fall.

"We don't have a lot of guys who have played at this level yet, but I'm excited about the depth we have now," receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. "We're looking forward to finding ways to get these guys the ball and letting them make plays."

That looms even larger with Shepard out.

Randle figures to see plenty of extra attention, which should free up whoever steps into the starting role – likely a combination of Boone, Wright and Beckham for now.

If there's a silver lining to the latest shuffle on offense, new starting quarterback Jarrett Lee is a better passer than Jefferson and has shown more of willingness to take shots downfield.

Speed is a common thread among the receivers, with Boone and Wright the two biggest home-run threats after Randle.


Boone: Chance to shine with Shepard out
"I understand a lot more about how the defense is rotating and what I have to do," Boone said. "I'm going to line up with a lot more confidence than I used to."

While Boone and his fellow receivers who have been around for a year to build confidence, the new crop of freshmen came equipped with built-in swagger.

The two who figure to get the first cracks at playing time are Beckham and Landry.

Beckham drew rave reviews in pre-season camp and is on athletic even ground with Shepard as a potential lightning-in-a-bottle. As a prep star at Newman High in New Orleans, Beckham accounted for 28 touchdowns and has adapted quickly to the LSU offense.

"He's been looking really good," Boone said. "He is understanding the little things as a freshman. When he's called on, he'll do good. It's his elusiveness. He's just smooth. He reminds me of Rueben. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he really makes some things happen."


Beckham: Poised for immediate impact
Landry put up similarly impressive prep stats at Lutcher to earn a five-star national ranking from Scout.com.

The only things that have slowed Landry down was a stress fracture in his foot that slowed him for the first few weeks of pre-season drills and his alleged involvement in the bar fight outside a local bar.

Despite those two hurdles, Landry is working his way up the depth chart.

"We've got a lot of Division I DBs here, so you've always got to be ready to be doing something a little different every time you run a route at practice," Landry said. "I feel like if you can do your best against these corners and learn what to do, come day you should be good."

Turner could factor in a well.


Landry: Explosive potential to contribute
The former West Monroe quarterback was regarded as one of the state's top athletes the last two seasons, and is making the transition back to receiver. While he might not make an immediate splash, Turner's potential as a receiver has a high ceiling.

"I remember when he was just a sophomore at West Monroe, just a skinny little kid, but he went back on a kickoff and was pretty electric," said former Rebels teammate Barkevious Mingo. "He's going to be good at whatever he does once he gets comfortable."

Whoever fills in the gaps around Randle and – if and when he's reinstated – Shepard, those two figure to be the primary targets for Lee.

A big season from Randle would go a long way toward opening up an offense that will be run- and play-action pass-based.

"I think we're going to take more shots downfield than we have the last few years," Randle said. "If they call my number and give me a chance to make a play, I'm going to make the best of it."

Wide receivers at a glance

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