For one, they all understand the offensive system more having enjoyed a full year of experience in it. Secondly, they've had another session of spring practice — which, according to Hixon, is the most important time for a wide receiver. Finally, they're a whole lot deeper.
"To our advantage as a team, all the receivers are coming back," Hixon said. "Last year, everybody was new in learning the offense. But at the same time, you can't take anything for granted. We're trying to bring along some young players."
In the spring, Hixon gave head coach Nick Saban a list of players and specifics each player needed to work on. From the list, he specified some goals and objectives for those players to accomplish during spring practice.
"It might be like Jerel Myers catching the deep ball, or Josh Reed getting more yards after the catch, running a certain route," Hixon said. "Jack Hunt is trying to learn the offense more and learn two positions."
Reed, now a junior, is obviously the star of the LSU receiving unit, surprising nearly the entire conference with his banner season last fall. As a third-year sophomore, playing his first full season as a receiver, Reed accounted for 42 percent of the Tigers' total receiving yards.
"Josh plays all four receiving positions," Hixon said. "He knows it all. He knows the offense a lot and knows all the positions. Normally, when a player knows he's going to get the ball, it's easy to learn the offense. But it's based on what the defense gives us."
Reed had a less-than-stunning April, dropping several passes in his breadbasket during practice, but he bounced back with a standard Spring Game performance. His four catches for 77 yards led all players.
"For Josh, his biggest thing right now is to get better than he was last year," Hixon said. "He did a lot of things OK last year. Hopefully, he can do a lot of things really good. It could be from downfield blocking to catching a certain route or making a certain cut."
Meanwhile, Jerel Myers will look to continue his steady progress at split end. On the surface, Myers' sophomore performance seemed like a decline from his rookie season, when he set an SEC freshman record with 64 catches (Florida flanker Jabar Gaffney broke the record in 2000).
The quality of his play increased, says Hixon, even if Myers' numbers decreased (he made 29 receptions.
"He (Myers) has good speed," Hixon said. "He got better and better last year. He had a better release as opposed to when he was a true freshman. This past season, he didn't catch as many balls, but he was a much better receiver."
Reggie Robinson occasionally battled bouts with the drops last season but still finished second on the team with 31 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns. His leadership presence will be missed in 2001 since he will miss the season recovering from disc surgery in his neck. He will receive a redshirt and have the chance to play again in 2002.
Another senior, Ed Dangerfield, is also out for the season but has probably played in his last football game. He is still recuperating from a knee injury suffered in April 2000 and was not cleared by team doctors to play this season.
The emerging star in LSU's receiving corps will likely be Jack Hunt. Now a sophomore, he became the Tigers' No. 4 receiver last season when Abram Booty left the team and Dangerfield carried on his knee rehab.
Hunt generated plenty of buzz in spring practice with his sure hands. In addition to several dazzling diving catches, he fell down while running routes, then got up and made the catch, at least twice during individual drills.
"He has gotten better now," Hixon said. "You should see a lot of Jack this fall. With everybody coming up and doubling Josh, some other guys have got to come up and make plays."
Another player who isn't technically a wide receiver still expects to catch plenty of passes this season. Devery Henderson, a tailback, split time in spring and fall practice working with the receivers and running backs. Speed, of course, is Henderson's greatest asset.
"We think Devery's the fastest player that's ever been around," Hixon said. "We're going to try and play him at running back, try to play him at receiver, and once he's learned the position, put him in the slot. Then we'll put him in motion to receiver — especially there because they'll put a middle linebacker on him. He can run past DBs, so running past linebackers should not be a problem at all."
Unlike last season — when Robinson, Myers and Reed were LSU's only reliable receivers — plenty of other players should be able to contribute this year.
Corey Webster, a partial qualifier who showed flashes of brilliance with the scout team, also enjoyed a productive spring.
"Webster was one that had a good fall on the scout team," Hixon said. "Now he's just learning the offense. We don't want to give him too much; just learn a little bit as we go."
LaVar Johnson, the Tigers' third senior receiver, has become a good route runner since his '99 move from tailback. His greatest contribution, however — aside from leadership — will probably come again from his role as a gunner on special teams.
Donriel Louis and Drew Hixon, both redshirt freshmen, bring different attributes to the squad. Louis is a tall, slender leaper who plays at flanker. Drew Hixon (yes, he's the son of Stan) is shorter and more versatile.
"Drew is trying to learn the offense, too," Stan Hixon said. "He's trying to learn two positions, the slot and outside."
Drew Hixon and Louis may not be simple afterthoughts in the LSU receiving corps. Not unlike Georgia coach Mark Richt, the former coordinator of Florida State's "fast break" offense, Stan Hixon would like to have eight receivers ready for Southeastern Conference play in 2001.
If necessary, or advantageous, any four of the Tigers' incoming freshmen receivers — track star Bennie Brazell, Florida native Travis Daniels, Shreveport athlete Ronnie Prude, or high school All-American Michael Clayton — can figure into that eight-man rotation this fall. Clayton has been the strongest of the bunch in fall camp.
"This year, we're going to have six to eight guys that will hopefully play," Stan Hixon said. "With our multiple offense and multiple formations, hopefully we can shuttle them in and out.
"We were fortunate last year that Josh, Reggie and Jerel didn't get hurt. But I think this year, if anybody goes down, we have somebody who can fill in. The a guy like Clayton, or whoever it might be, will be ready to play."
IN 2000: LSU receivers caught 130 passes and scored 15 touchdowns. Ten of those touchdowns came from Reed, placing him one behind record-holder Wendell Davis. Reed also accounted for 1,127 of the Tiger receivers' 1,962 yards.
IN 2001: Most pre-season publications rate LSU's group of receivers among the top three in the SEC, behind Florida, Georgia and possibly Tennessee. Given the added depth the Tigers should have this year, they can move up a few spots by season's end.
ON THE SPOT: Jerel Myers. LSU has established an unwelcome pattern of having a Freshman All-SEC receiver who disappears from radar in successive seasons. Although Hixon touts the junior from Houston (see above), Tiger fans will be looking for more from Myers in the absence of Robinson.
THE X-FACTOR: Jack Hunt. As the fourth receiver last season, he didn't do much but serve as a decoy. After a very productive spring, Hunt could sneak up on defenses that aren't looking for him.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Of the seven regular Tigers who averaged more than 10 yards per catch last season, four of them — Robert Royal, Domanick Davis, Eric Edwards and Tommy Banks — were not wide receivers.
PRE-SEASON GRADE: B+
QUOTABLE: "We're just going to fit what we have based upon the players. We're still going to have a game plan for Devery Henderson plays, Josh Reed plays. As coaches, what we do is not think plays, but players. And that's where Devery comes in and Josh comes in and obviously Toefield comes in. Those guys have got to get the ball X-amount of times." — Stan Hixon