Just over one week ago, LSU’s star receiver – the lone senior of the group – suffered a broken hand during an off-campus fight.
The story is one heard time and again across the country, so having an LSU player involved likely does not surprise. What caught most off guard, including head coach Les Miles, was Terrance Toliver’s role in the incident – a player known typically for his reserved demeanor.
Stuck now with a broken left hand that must be casted through the month, Toliver’s punishment didn’t result in suspension, but instead his continued stay on the practice fields this spring – with the cast in tow.
During last week’s practice, it was evident that the task of fine-tuning his game with injury would be near impossible. In reps that reached double-digits, Toliver caught only a few passes. After Saturday’s 130-play scrimmage, Miles said that Toliver was nonexistent.
Back at work on Tuesday afternoon, Toliver – in a green non-contact jersey with a white cast that serves as his personal scarlet letter – spent most of the media session doing sit ups, punishment for dropped balls in the opening position drills.
While Toliver will surely be back to his expected pace by September, the coming months will force the unit to work on with or without him.
Add Jhyryn Taylor’s hamstring injury to the mix, and a receiver group that is already inexperienced becomes even thinner.
The current leading body, Rueben Randle, has less than 200 career receiving yards. While the expectations from Russell Shepard are grand, the current reality is that he has never worked through an offseason at wide receiver, and he only grabbed five passes for 34 yards last fall.
Of the rest of the scholarship names - Taylor, Chris Tolliver and John Williams - only Williams has recorded a collegiate catch, a 17-yard grab last season in a 42-0 win over Tulane.
The statistics aren’t there, but the talent is. And while Toliver will continue to teach the group this offseason, having his physical presence slowed, as well as Taylor’s, is a bad situation that the receivers are trying to make the best out of.
“It forces us to continue to develop, and it puts the pressure on us to get better,” Shepard said. “This is twice as many reps as the receivers got last year.”
With the circumstances, Tolliver is trying to make the most out of the opportunity to impress his new position coach. After his redshirt season led to a year spent on the bench last fall, the chance to crack into the top four wideouts is now.
“I am approaching the spring really hard,” Tolliver said. “They moved Russell [Shepard] to wide receiver, and we have competed since. For us, it is about getting mismatches the best way we can.
“With my speed, talent, agility and aggressiveness, guys are going to have a tough time tackling me,” he added. “We all bring something different.”
The man that could become the cornerstone of the offseason operation is the brain behind the unit, new wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales.
Minus a pair of healthy bodies, the former Florida Gator staff member has the chance to instill his philosophy and teachings into his wide outs with even more of a one-on-one approach.
From all accounts, the intensity level is much higher than offseason workouts in the past.
“[Gonzales] is very strict, and he want it just like he wants it,” said Tolliver.
Shepard, who hopes to be used in the same role that Gonzales coached Percy Harvin at, is a major player in the new assistant’s strategy for the Tiger offensive attack, which finished among the worst in the country in 2009. After half of a spring together, the sophomore receiver is feeling the wheels underneath the air attack begin to move.
“He has won National Championships and SEC title games,” Shepard said. “I have never won a championship, whether in middle school, high school or college. [Gonzales] can take us to the next level.”