Position Preview: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

TSD.com continues its review of the 2008 LSU Tigers by finishing up the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball with this year's wide receivers and tight ends.

A Look Back


On paper it seems that LSU’s receiving corps is, from top to bottom, one of the best in the SEC West. This squad had some growing pains with the departure of Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis in 2007, but it seems unlikely that the graduation of Early Doucet will affect the group’s production in 2008 if Terrance Tolliver comes of age.


Brandon LaFell returns as the Tigers’ leading receiver and should give the Tigers two go-to guys along with Demetrius Byrd. The junior was thrust into a prominent role early last fall following the injury that sidelined Doucet for several weeks.


Perhaps things could have gone better, as a bad case of the dropsy’s plagued LaFell for several weeks, including a dropped third down conversion at Kentucky, and a “Did he just…What did he…How did that happen?” moment against Auburn.


Still, you have to admire the then-sophomore’s determination, as he seemed to recover in the later leg of the season. He finished the year with 50 receptions for 656 yards (good enough to lead the team) and four touchdowns, one of which was a fabulous catch to put LSU ahead for good in the national championship game.


On a side note, due to the epic and dramatic nature of the 2007 season, perhaps LaFell’s best moment of 2007 was mostly forgotten as it occurred in the season opener. If you haven’t relived LaFell’s bone crushing lick on MSU DB Zach Smith any time recently, here is your reminder.


The Tigers also return Byrd, who emerged out of nowhere as LSU’s home run hitter in 2007 .


As a coveted JUCO transfer, Byrd started the season relatively unknown to all but the most diehard of LSU fans. Despite Doucet’s injury, Byrd tallied just seven receptions in LSU’s first five games, most of them in garbage time. However, in the epic clash with Florida, he began what was to become a trend of saving LSU’s season.


It started innocently enough with a fourth down touchdown grab to keep the Tigers within three of the Gators. Just two weeks later the Miami native grabbed a place in LSU history with a last-second touchdown to put away Auburn. Understandably, Byrd skyrocketed from contributor to fan favorite, and sent Tiger fans wild again when he hauled in a 61 yard touchdown against Alabama to cut the Tide’s lead to a field goal.


Add in his touchdown catch against Tennessee, LSU’s lone offensive touchdown in the SEC championship game, and you could argue that Byrd has more clutch catches on his resume in one season than what most LSU wide outs managed in their entire careers. On just 35 catches, he finished with 621 yards and led the team in touchdowns with seven. His average per reception was an impressive 17.7 ypc.


At tight end, LSU returns Richard Dickson, who quietly put up a very respectable 375 yards and five touchdowns last year. The sophomore truly endeared himself to the LSU faithful with his two-touchdown performance in the national championship game.


As non-starters, Tolliver, Jared Mitchell, and Chris Mitchell had their moments but were all inconsistent in 2007.


Tolliver’s signing in 2006 made Tiger fans salivate as they dreamed of the potential of a 6’5 deep threat receiver. He showed signs of that potential as he totaled 249 yards on just 10 receptions, a 24.9-yard average. His three touchdowns included a nice haul to end the scoring in the 48-7 thumping of Virginia Tech.


The Mitchells (no relation) combined for over 20 receptions and 199 yards. While neither reached the end zone, both are expected to contribute in the four and five-wide sets. Jared Mitchell gained a bit more notoriety as the baseball team’s starting left fielder, and helped the Tigers to the College World Series with an impressive hot streak.



Spring Camp


The receivers chugged right along all the way through the spring.


While Jared Mitchell did miss a good bit of camp for baseball, the rest of the corps was there in its entirety.  From what could be seen at practices, everyone was stepping into their new roles and looked a little more comfortable in Gary Crowton’s offense.


LaFell in particular seemed to have taken on the part of the silent, efficient leader. Despite being younger than Byrd, he worked through all of his drills and routes with calm precision, and just generally seemed to have that air of leadership that doesn’t need to be described.  His efforts were evident as he hauled in a touchdown pass in the spring game.


Byrd was equally impressive through the spring, though he lived up to his reputation as the team’s jester. The senior receiver could have a future in football or comedy, as he looked effortless in workouts and still found time to joke with players and coaches. And undoubtedly any questioning of his focus was put to rest in the spring game when he led all receivers with 132 yards and touchdown passes from Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch.


It’s going to be more of the same from Dickson, and that isn’t a bad thing as he looks to be one of the best tight ends in the SEC this season. His biggest news from the spring is his number change, going from 82 to 18. Anyone reading this article knows the amount of determination, talent, and leadership the Tigers’ last number 18 had. Perhaps Dickson made the change in an effort to take up a role as the offense’s leader in 2008? That certainly seems like a good guess, as Dickson won a spring award for leadership.


It seemed during the spring that Tolliver would be looked to as the number three receiver. The five-star recruit looked like he had filled out the 6’5 frame a little bit, and will certainly see an increased role in the 2008 offense. Despite splitting time between baseball and football, Jared Mitchell suited up for the spring game and grabbed a touchdown. The next-most viable options behind Tolliver and Mitchell were Ricky Dixon and Chris Mitchell. Dixon made just one catch for nine yards in 2007, but had a great spring and earned the praise of Les Miles for his performances in scrimmages.



Fall Camp


Having pass catchers definitely isn’t a question mark entering two-a-days but getting consistent production is paramount to the Tigers’ success. LSU enters fall camp with six receivers with game experience, and only two of them (Jared and Chris Mitchell) are shorter than 6’2.


Don’t forget that Rayville’s playmaker Chris Tolliver, and the 6’3 Deangelo Peterson will also be reporting on Sunday, along with Timothy Molton, and all three have the skills to impress immediately although Molton does need to get bigger and stronger.


On paper, this has to be considered one of the deepest and most talented receiving groups in the conference but games are won on the field. LaFell and Byrd are secure, and no one is taking Dickson’s job away from him. The big battle is going to be over the No. 3 and slot receiver spot, as the difference between the 3 and 4 spot could be 20 receptions during the season.


There will be another good battle going on between the two true freshmen right ends, Tyler Edwards and Matt Branch, for the No. 3 tight end spot behind Dickson and Mitch Joseph, and one will likely play this season in some capacity.



My Take


LSU certainly has a good reputation as the Tigers keep sending receivers to the first-day rounds of the NFL Draft, and the word is that Demetrius Byrd could be next if he plays his cards right.


LaFell, at 6’3 and about 210 pounds as a junior, is in the mold of a Dwayne Bowe-type of receiver. And don’t get me started on Tolliver, the kid is going to do wonders. With talent like this running the routes, it shouldn’t be too hard to make whoever’s throwing the passes look good.


The loss of Keith Zinger is probably going to hurt the running game a little as Mitch Joseph, Tyler Edwards and Matt Branch learn the ropes on sealing the edge. The short to intermediate passing game is in very good hands if the quarterback can put the ball anywhere near Richard Dickson.  The junior from Ocean Springs, Miss. is not going to win any national awards, as Wisconsin’s Travis Beckum and Missouri’s Chase Coffman enter the season far and away the best tight ends in the land, but he’ll certainly have fun knocking heads with Florida’s Cornelius Ingram for the honor of the SEC’s best tight end.


There shouldn’t be any drop off in ’08, as both LaFell and Byrd will be gunning for All-SEC, and who’s going to be this season’s surprise? Take your pick of about six talented guys but our money is on Terrance Tolliver.


The talent is certainly there but the questions still loom of how will the quarterbacks fare at getting them the ball and which young guys are going to step up to give the Tigers a solid No. 4 and 5 wide out?

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