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 July 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
Be sure to check the bottom of this post for links to our previous 20 stories.
TODAY'S SESSION: TIGHT END OVERLOAD
In my time spent around LSU and college football, I'm not sure I've ever seen a roster with six scholarship tight ends. Ready or not, the Tigers are going there in 2014.
Here's how personnel at the position is shaping up for this fall.Travis Dickson (6-3, 230, Sr.)
Logan Stokes (6-5, 251, Sr.)
Dillon Gordon (6-5, 286, Jr.)
Desean Smith (6-4, 241, So.)
Colin Jeter (6-6, 240, So.)
Jacory Washington (6-5, 215, Fr.)
Harking back to a season ago, LSU did more or less what it usually does with tight ends since Richard Dickson left campus – play many of them, often in blocking roles, and throw to them sparingly. All four scholarship tight ends in 2013 played in every game in which they were healthy (a combined 51 of 52 possible games), with Gordon making 12 starts, Stokes three (obviously two-tight sets) and Dickson one.
In terms of production Dickson was the leader in the clubhouse with five catches for 109 yards. Gordon wasn't far behind, reeling in six passes for 88 yards. Smith added one grab for 14 yards, giving the position crew a total of 12 catches – none for a touchdown – on the season.
The main questions posed in today's session: Will that change in ‘14? And how will position coach Steve Ensminger shuffle between his overabundance of options?
It's probably most useful at this juncture to separate the herd by skill sets, dividing Ensminger's options into run blockers and pass catchers. (The truth is none of the six would be considered elite in both departments, although Washington probably has the best chance to get there by the time he's done at LSU.)
Run Blockers: Gordon, Jeter, Stokes
- Gordon, a former high school basketball standout, does have a nice pair of hands, but at nearly 290 pounds he's better suited for the play-in, play-out grind of blocking in the trenches. He was the preferred option in single-tight sets in '13, and I'm not sure that changes this season. Stokes also factored in heavily in the run game last year, filling in for Gordon and also lining up opposite him in heavy sets. Jeter comes in from the junior college ranks and could be the only one of the six that redshirts. Should he see the field, Jeter definitely fits the bill as a blocking tight end.
Pass Catchers: Dickson, Smith, Washington
- Dickson and Smith belong on the opposite end of the spectrum, with the former in his final of five seasons in the purple and gold and the latter entering his second. Dickson has caught at least one pass in each of the last three seasons, but he's more of a possession receiver. Smith has the ability to stretch the field from his tight end spot and can also flex out into the slot. Washington figures to be a versatile player for LSU, but he definitely has route-running and receiving chops. His listed weight of 215 pounds seems on the light side to me.
Taking a look at their deployment this campaign, I expect Ensminger will trot out Gordon first and Stokes second in obvious in-line blocking situations. Smith has a chance to really break out as a pass-catcher, providing a middle-of-the-field option for a young starting quarterback, but I look for both him and Dickson to play in some capacity. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith lined up in the slot and Dickson near the quarterback in shotgun sets, but both will be able to put a hand on the ground as well.
Overall it stands to reason that LSU will play its tight ends even more in 2014 given the lack of proven options at wide receiver. In lieu of the three- and four-receiver sets we saw a season ago, the Tigers can go two-tight with two completely different types of players – one that can stay in and block and the other a matchup headache for linebackers.
It's because of that added flexibility at the position, along with the fact the QBs are targeting a lot of non-WRs these days (only seven of 21 catches in spring game were made by receivers), that I believe this will be the year LSU gets back to finding its tight ends in the passing game. The four tight ends that played in the spring game combined for seven grabs for 111 yards and a touchdown (by Smith).
The leap in numbers will probably lean more toward incremental than exponential, but I project this to be one (welcomed) change within the LSU offense this fall.