"Skyler Green's always had it," Clayton said of Green's speed, route-running ability and soft hands. "He has all the intangibles to be one of the top receivers in the SEC."
No sooner had Clayton said those words than an injury to Shyrone Carey forced Green to take over the Tigers' punt-returning chores. Not only did Green prove himself to be the top returner in the Southeastern Conference, he earned All-America honors for having averaged a national-best 18.5 yards per return while scoring twice.
Beyond refining those skills in spring practice, Green has been learning what it means to walk in Clayton's shoes. For that matter, Green has had to deal with wearing Devery Henderson's footwear, or at least walking the same path that Clayton and Henderson blazed during Green's first two years.
By now it's become evident that Green has immense ability. That was evident from the manner in which he raced for a 62-yard touchdown against Arizona the first time he fielded a punt in college. Further proof game against Georgia when he ran the wrong route, improvised and caught the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass after having several drops earlier in the game.
He caught at least two passes in every game last season and ran for a 24-yard touchdown to open the scoring against Oklahoma in the Tigers' 21-14 Sugar Bowl victory that earned them the Bowl Championship Series national title.
Green's five touchdown passes ranked third on the team, as he finished with 48 receptions for 519 yards. Those ahead of him are gone now, though, and Green realizes he must step up and become "the go-to guy." Green no longer can rely on Clayton, who skipped his senior year to enter the NFL draft, or Henderson, who completed his eligibility with feats often overshadowed by the record-setting Clayton.
Green knows it's time for him to take charge, much as he did as a running quarterback at Higgins High School, where he established himself as one of the best players in the New Orleans area.
"That was different," he said. "It wasn't as big."
This spring has been important to Green, then, in learning more about his role and where it is he fits in on a team that lost its two leading receivers and its quarterback in Matt Mauck.
The Tigers seem to be in a similar situation to two years ago when the record-setting throw-and-catch tandem of Rohan Davey and Josh Reed had moved onto the NFL. The Tigers evolved into more of a running team with the then-inexperienced Mauck at the controls.
Something similar is likely to happen this coming season, particularly with a bevy of talented tailbacks led by sophomores Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard. That still doesn't detract from the critical position Green must play in setting an example for others and ensuring that everyone performs with the pride and precision that has come to characterize the Tigers under fifth-year coach Nick Saban.
"I looked up to Michael and Devery a lot last year," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Green. "I'm going to go out and try to do the same things they did and be a leader."
At the same time, Green has to be himself. No one can be an effective leader in changing his personality, or changing himself. Like Green, what they have to do is learn how to channel their energy for the common good of the group.
Green still sports the dreadlocks that characterize his free and easy spirit. He enjoys what he does and is comfortable with himself, which is as it should be. "Football's always been fun," he said, a claim that other gifted athletes can't always make.
Green has never placed undo pressure on himself, but, rather, acted instinctively, which has served him well. Now he's going to have to temper that attitude somewhat in helping to get others to direct their focus in the proper direction. At the same time, he must retain his creativity.
"Sure I can do it," he said with the voice of maturity that comes with age and wisdom. "I just have to be more serious. I'm not mean, or anything, I just have to make sure everybody does the right thing."
It's easier to get people to listen when you've done it yourself, and Green has plenty to show for his two years at LSU.
He led the Tigers in all-purpose yards last season with 1,259 and averaged 20.9 yards on nine kickoff. As a freshman, all seven of his catches came in the last two games, when he also rushed three times for 28 yards.
There seems to be little he can't do. He's been practicing as the backup place-holder and the third gunner on the punt-return team this spring. He's doing whatever it takes to redefine himself in the image of those who set a high standard that must be followed.