Fall Camp Preview: Receivers

TigerSportsDigest.com is taking a look at each position as LSU prepares for the start of fall camp and we're going to start with a wide receiver corps that is deep and talented, but young.

LSU junior receiver Brandon LaFell was faced with a dilemma back in January.


When he announced that he was declaring for the draft on Jan. 15, it appeared that LaFell was headed to greener pastures in the form of collecting a paycheck from the NFL . However, the Houston, Texas native had not yet hired an agent - which left a 72-hour window open for him to change his mind.


Most felt that LaFell would take his game to the next level after he emerged as one of the top receivers in the Southeastern Conference in 2008.


The 6-foot-3, 209-pounder caught 63 passes for 929 yards and eight touchdowns. His 63 receptions led the SEC – two better than Arkansas’ D.J. Williams – and his 929 yards were good for second in the league behind Georgia’s A.J. Green (963). 


Numbers of that proportion contributed to LaFell’s late first to early to mid-second round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. That would have been enough for most young men in his shoes to bolt to the NFL, but not LaFell.


“It wasn’t shocking to me because I knew Brandon wanted to be a top ten pick and he has the ability to be a top ten pick,” said LSU receivers coach D.J. McCarthy. “When he got his report back from the NFL saying that he would be late first or early second, well that wasn’t what he was looking for.”


LaFell is expected to be the leader of LSU’s receiving corps in 2009, and he assumed that role immediately upon announcing his intentions.


“He took that leadership on his shoulders the minute he declared that he was coming back,” said McCarthy. "He’s the one that sets up the 7-on-7’s and he’s the one that leads everyone in the running and stuff during the offseason. Not only is he a leader by example, but now he’s a vocal leader. He talks it and he walks it.”


Last season, LSU’s passing game went through some growing pains as the Tigers did not have a quarterback on the roster who had taken a significant snap from under center at the college level.


This year not only will the Tigers have one veteran signal caller, but two guys who played on the big stage in Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. That alone should help LaFell prosper, whose 118 career receptions is only 65 short of the school record held by Wendell Davis (183).


Something else that LSU’s leading wideout will need is for someone else to emerge as a viable threat, because opposing defensive coordinators will do everything they can to take LaFell out of the offense.


Enter Terrance Toliver.

LSU needs Terrance Toliver to step up in 2009

Toliver, a 6-foot-5, 194-pound junior, came on towards the latter half of last season. He registered 16 of his 22 receptions, 156 of his 227 yards, and his lone touchdown over the last five games.


After coming to LSU as the No. 1 receiver in the country, most would characterize Toliver’s first two years as inconsistent at best. McCarthy, however, doesn’t fall into that category.


“He came to LSU [as a true freshman] and he had Early Doucet, who was projected as a first round pick, then he had Brandon LaFell, who spent his time on the bench early in his career, then he had Demetrius Byrd who was a JC transfer,” explained McCarthy. “The next year he had LaFell and Byrd, along with Chris and Jared Mitchell.


“I liken it to this scenario. When J.J. Stokes was drafted to the [San Francisco] 49ers, he was a first round draft pick. But the 49ers already had Jerry Rice and John Taylor. So did J.J. have a down year when he had only 20 catches or did he play a role as that third receiver? The point is when you have guys who are already established, kids can come in and learn from those guys and continue to grow.”


Toliver proved that he learned as the year went along, and after starting the season as the fifth receiver the Hempstead, Texas product worked his way up the ladder and gave the Tigers another threat on the outside, while putting himself in the position that he is in one year later.


“He’ll have more opportunities this year because of the position he put himself in last year,” said McCarthy. “The mental preparation has been the toughest because in high school he lined up in an offense that was basically run deep. Here, it’s a lot more complicated and a lot for guys to learn. Now that the mental capacity has caught up with the physical capacity, he can show that he has the full package, and we’ll see the total package this year.”


There doesn’t seem to be much question as to who the No. 2 guy will be in LSU’s offense that goes three and four-wide on many sets. Finding out who the third and fourth receivers are, however, will be a priority in the coming weeks.


“We do a lot of three and four wide sets, so to find that third and fourth option is going to be huge because people are going to roll coverage to Terrance and then try to double team LaFell,” McCarthy said. “So that third guy is going to have an opportunity to make plays based on what the defense does to take out the other two guys.”


Several returning players will battle for those spots such as R.J. Jackson, Chris Mitchell, Chris Tolliver and Jhyryn Taylor. All of those guys were highly regarded coming out of high school, but if you take Mitchell’s 14 career grabs for 174 yards and two scores out of the equation then you’re left with one catch by Jackson that resulted in a one yard loss.


Redshirt freshman Tim Molton was expected to contend for the No. 3 spot but a torn ACL will sideline him for the 2009 season.

Tiger fans have been anxiously waiting to see Rueben Randle in Tiger Stadium

Rueben Randle is another player who will be thrown into the mix, and just like Toliver, he will be under the microscope and expectations from the fans will be lofty. McCarthy cautions that fans must understand that Randle will take his lumps and bruises as he learns the offense and goes through the same maturation process that Toliver and LaFell went through as true freshmen.


But he knows that the former five-star receiver out of Bastrop, La. has the potential to contribute early and often in his career.


“He’s got big play potential,” McCarthy said of Randle. “He will not be in awe of anything. He’s played on the big stage with the ESPN game of the week in high school and people have been talking about him for years. He’s had to handle a lot of stuff as a young kid and that has helped him with knowing what to expect and being able to handle it.”


LSU is long on numbers when it comes to the receivers who have a chance to contribute in 2009. The Tigers are also short on production minus LaFell.


That would leave some to be a little pessimistic heading into the season but once again McCarthy doesn’t fit into that group.


“I guarantee that there is no one in America that has the depth that we have at receiver,” he said. “We can go five-wide and there’s not a team in the SEC that wouldn’t take all five guys and they could probably start for many of those schools. I wouldn’t trade my five guys with anyone in the SEC or in the country for that matter.”

Wide Receivers

1   Brandon LaFell   6-3, 209, Sr.  

80 Terrance Toliver   6-4, 194, Jr.

86 Chris Mitchell   6-0, 179, Sr.

2   Rueben Randle   6-3, 195, Fr.

28 R.J. Jackson   6-0, 204, Sr.

21 Chris Tolliver   6-1, 179, Fr.

16 Jhyryn Taylor   5-11, 174, Fr.

17 Morris Claiborne   6-0, 180, Fr.

31 John Williams   5-11, 180, So.

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