30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.
TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through June 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
TODAY'S SESSION: RETURN MEN
To say one man carried the load in the Tigers' return game in 2013 would be a serious understatement. Odell Beckham, now with the New York Giants, amassed 1,005 yards in punt and kick returns combined a season ago, accounting for 92.3% of LSU's 1,089 total return yards.
OBJ was most lethal – and consistent – returning kicks. The former Newman star brought back 32 kicks for 845 yards (26.4-yard average) and a long of 82 yards. His contributions helped change the field position game for Zach Mettenberger and the offense all year long.
With a new campaign on the horizon, and a new special teams coordinator in Bradley Dale Peveto (replacing Thomas McGaughey), LSU has plenty of options, though none terribly proven, to replace Beckham in both return roles.
The easiest to pinpoint may be one of the kick returners. One of Beckham's primary cohorts back there last year was running back Terrence Magee, who returned two kicks for 45 yards in '13. His plate will be a little fuller in the backfield in 2014, but I'm not sure that will stop Peveto from sending one of his most elusive runners back deep.
Assuming Magee is one of the KRs, who all is in contention to join him? By my estimation, alphabetically: John Diarse, Travin Dural, Leonard Fournette, Edward Paris, Avery Peterson and Tre'Davious White.
All but Fournette, who wasn't on campus at the time, took turns returning balls in the spring game. I would imagine White is at or near the top of the list, though. The Shreveport native and starting cornerback would fit pretty naturally into the role his cousin, Mo Claiborne, once occupied for LSU. White himself showed great skill returning kicks in the 2013 U.S. Army All-America Bowl, so it's not anything new to the speedster.
Fournette is an interesting candidate, however, given his tremendous combination of speed, size and athleticism. It's my guess he'll return a number of kicks, rotating into Magee's spot depending on which of the two is more worn down from running the ball in a given game.
After Magee/Fournette and White, I'd rank the remaining crew's chances of returning kicks in this order: Dural, Diarse, Paris and Peterson.
Moving on to punt returner the same names pop up, but I expect the receivers to get a longer look at this former Beckham job. It should be noted that in '13 only three players returned punts for the Tigers, all wide receivers – Beckham (18 returns for 160 yards), Dural (four returns for 12 yards) and Jarvis Landry (one fair catch).
Peveto may ultimately handle things differently than McGaughey, but it's never bad practice to have sure-handed wide-outs fielding punts. Bearing that in mind I project Dural as the starting punt returner versus Wisconsin. The staff loves his freakish athleticism, even considering him as a starting returner in Fall Camp 2012 as a true freshman before Dural sustained a season-ending knee injury that August.
Behind Dural here's how I rank ‘em at PR: Diarse, White, Peterson and Paris. I also believe Jalen Mills would be considered at punt returner, but with his status currently up in the air I'll leave him on the sidelines of this conversation for the time being.
LSU will have a much tougher time replacing Beckham at receiver, but as you can see, there are a lot of options to comb through to backfill OBJ's return roles, too. It's no surprise the Tigers will turn to three of the most athletic positions on the field – running back, receiver and cornerback – to get it done.