Note: This is the fourth installment of a 10-day series where we take a look at each position as the LSU Tigers prepare for spring practice which is tentatively scheduled to kick off on Feb. 23.
A Look Back
The tight end corps took a big hit last year when starter Keith Zinger went out with an unknown stomach disease.
In Zinger's absence, true freshman Richard Dickson moved into the starting role and played well despite being a little undersized. He got better as the year went along with his blocking but finished the year with only six receptions for 96 yards. The Tigers did not throw to the tight end much and a lot of that was due to the talented trio of wide receivers that Jamarcus Russell had at his disposal in Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet.
When the Tigers went to two tight ends, Mit Cole was called upon and he grabbed a couple of passes for 28 yards on the year. His primary role in the offense was to block in short yardage situations and the same went for former Catholic of Baton Rouge product Doug Planchard.
A Look Ahead
The Tigers' running game sorely missed Keith Zinger last season and his ability to seal off the edge but the good news is that the senior tight end was granted a medical hardship for the 2006 season and will have an extra year of eligibility. There are mixed reports on his current health status but if he rebounds from the six month layoff then that will be a big boost to the run game.
Richard Dickson has a bright future at LSU and once he adds some weight and strength he will be a complete player. He has the ability to get downfield and create some mismatches with linebackers. The off-season strength and conditioning program will be critical to his development and he should be a completely different player from a physical standpoint when he reports for fall camp in August.
Mit Cole saw his most extensive action in 2006 and gives the Tigers a solid third tight end but he also needs to hit the weights hard in the off-season to add a little more bulk to his frame.
Redshirt freshman J.D. Lott was not in the mix his first year because physically he was not ready to contribute but reports indicate that he is in the 225-pound range and may be in the mix from here on out.
What to Look for This Spring
With spring practice starting so soon after the end of the 2006 season, some players do not get the benefit of a normal off-season in the weight room and Richard Dickson is one who comes to mind. He needs to carry another 20 pounds on his frame to give him the weight and muscle to take on defenders and five weeks is not a lot of time when you factor in the layoff after the Sugar Bowl.
Gary Crowton has a history for
utilizing tight ends in his passing game and that could really highlight
Dickson's skills. In 2006 at
If Crowton uses Dickson in that same capacity then he is capable of posting those same types of numbers. With the inexperience at the wide receiver position the tight ends could play a larger role in the passing game than they have since the Gerry Dinardo days.
Zinger's status is a big question mark due to the nature of his illness and there are some reports that he dropped over 35 pounds last season. A lot of that weight has been gained back but the muscle he lost needs to be rebuilt and replenished and that will take some time in the weight room. How much Zinger will be able to do in camp will be an item of interest in watching the tight ends but I would suspect it will be fall camp before we get a true gauge of what to expect from the fifth-year senior.
The amount of action that Zinger gets this spring will have a bearing on how many reps Mit Cole gets. He enters his senior year with three career catches as his role has been primarily as a backup and a run blocker. Cole is one of those players that could have really benefited from taking a redshirt his freshman year but the team needed him to play right away and he put the team ahead of himself for the sake of the program.
There were rumors circulating around that J.D. Lott would be seeking a transfer to Vanderbilt but he will be at LSU this spring. With the high-profile tight ends that LSU recently signed I would be surprised if Lott is still at tight end come August if he is still with the Tigers. He has made some progress in getting bigger and stronger but he could get lost in the shuffle if he remains at his current position.
Help Is On the Way
There were some who questioned why LSU would sign three tight ends in the 2007 class but no one should question the quality of the three guys Les Miles signed.
Miles secured a signed letter-of-intent from a trio of Scout.com 4-star players and landed the best crop of tight ends of any school in the country.
At the top of the list was Mitch Joseph, who was ranked No. 5 in the country at his position. He was a dominant run blocker at Catholic of New Iberia but he also provides a big target and can make plays as a receiver. I think all three of the tight ends LSU signed are unique in their own way and Joseph is the one who will make his mark sealing the edge.
Jordan Corbin, formally known as Jordan Hammond, is bouncing back from a torn ACL that sidelined him his entire senior season but the latest report I got from his father was that he is bigger, stronger and faster than ever. He is supposed to be 100 percent by the time he reports for summer school in June and he will be the one to give the Tigers some speed at his position. Corbin is equally adept at run blocking but his 4.6 speed is a nice asset that can cause some serious problems for opposing defensive coordinators.
Most of the talk throughout the
recruiting process centered on Joseph and Corbin but Alex Russian will also be a
huge factor in the equation. He is sort of in the same mold as Richard Dickson
was when he came out of high school but maybe a little more physical than
Dickson at the point of attack. Russian was not used much in the passing game at
The future looks very bright for LSU at the tight end position and it will be interesting to see how they are incorporated into the offense from here on out.
If Gary Crowton's past is any indication then look for Richard Dickson and one or two of the true freshman tight ends to make some noise next year and to give LSU one of the top groups of tight ends in the SEC for years to come.