Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Practice Preview: Wide Receivers

Quite a bit of intrigue will surround the wide receiver position this spring. A lot of new faces will be trying to step up and earn the way into the rotation for playing time.

The only certainty is that Brandon Lafell will be back as LSU's primary receiver. After enjoying an All-SEC season where he caught 61 passes for 903 yards and 8 touchdowns, Lafell strongly considered leaving for the NFL before ultimately deciding to return for his senior season. With another similar season, Lafell will be among LSU's all-time greats at the receiver position. In fact, with 67 receptions this year he'll be LSU's all time receptions leader. He has an amazing knack to consistently get open. He has struggled with drops in the past, but was much improved in 2008. I suspect he'll continue to improve. Lafell will be one of the leaders of this team and can make his biggest impact this spring by setting the example for the younger players and helping them develop. I wouldn't be surprised to see Lafell on some pre-season All-American lists.

We saw 6'5" Terrance Toliver really come on at the end of last season, and that's a pretty good indication that he has the inside track on being the starter opposite Lafell. Toliver really seemed to have a good rapport with Jordan Jefferson, which is also a good sign. I'd be very encouraged to see Toliver have a strong spring and put a strangle-hold on the #2 WR position. Most receivers really blossom in their third year with the program, and I'm hoping Toliver is no exception. Looking back, Early Doucet had 26 receptions in his second year, but then exploded for 59 receptions his third year. Brandon Lafell had just 5 receptions in his 2nd year, but followed that up with 50 receptions his third year. Toliver had 20 receptions in his 2nd year. Hopefully, he shows similar improvement in Year #3.

A lot of players will compete for the #3 receiver position. The player with the most experience is senior Chris Mitchell. Mitchell was the #3 receiver at times last year, though he didn't do a whole lot to convince the coaches to keep him there. Toliver replaced him late in the year and by the end of the year, Mitchell barely played. Mitchell caught just 8 passes for 115 yards, the biggest of which was the long TD catch against Auburn which jump-started LSU's second half rally. His play was otherwise pretty uninspiring, and a lot of fans remember his key drop against Alabama which would have given LSU a go-ahead touchdown late in the game. Mitchell does have outstanding speed, and he could develop into the deep threat role that Demetrius Byrd occupied the last 2 years.

Among the younger players, one name that keeps popping up is that of redshirt freshman Tim Molton. Les Miles mentioned Molton by name in his press conference a week ago as a player who shows the ability in practice to contribute a lot this season. Molton is a former high school teammate of quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He's 6'3" 173 pounds and reminds me a lot of a younger Brandon Lafell. At 173 pounds, he'll want to gain some weight before the fall. But the reports say that Molton runs great routes and explodes out of his cuts. Defensive players have mentioned him as a guy that stands out at practice. Molton also has great speed and could be a very good deep threat. He'll look to make a statement this spring, and I expect he'll see the field quite a bit in 2009.

Senior RJ Jackson will try to be in the mix. Jackson had a promising future if not for a bad knee injury a few years ago. He hasn't been the same since. But Jackson, an ultimate team guy, keeps plugging away. He's a mainstay on special teams units and he has seen spot duty as a receiver. He's one of LSU's best blockers as a receiver, and he's found a niche in that role. In fact, it's been a bit of a "tell" that when Jackson is in the game, it's either a run to his side or a quick receiver screen to his side. Jackson goes into his last spring practice trying to make his mark and earn his way into the regular playing rotation.

Deangelo Peterson is another guy who has a lot of promise. Peterson played as a true freshman last year while Tim Molton redshirted so that means at one point last year, the coaches thought Peterson could help the team win more. Peterson is more ready to play from a physical standpoint. While he doesn't have superb speed, he's a very well put together 6'3" 200 pounds. He also played some special teams last year. At fall camp last year, Peterson's name often got mentioned as one that really stood out. That talk subsided as the season went on, and now we're hearing more about Molton. I'm very interested to see if Peterson makes a move this spring. I've heard some talk about possibly putting some weight on Peterson and turning him into a receiving tight-end, but he's got about 30 pounds to go before that can even be possible. In fact, if the staff is really considering that, I'm not sure what that says about his prospects as a wide receiver.

Out of high school, the most heralded receiver of the 2008 class was Chris Tolliver, who redshirted last year. Tolliver has good size at 6'1" 180 pounds and he has elite speed. Throughout last year, the word on Tolliver was that his talent was evident, but that everything didn't click with him just yet. Once he learns the nuances of the receiver position, the potential is very high with him. He's another guy that would excel in the deep threat role if given the opportunity. I would also keep an eye on Tolliver for kickoff returns.

The forgotten man, at least so far, is redshirt freshman Jhyrn Taylor. Taylor, at 5'11" 174 pounds, is a smaller shiftier type of wideout. I haven't heard good or bad regarding Taylor since he arrived on campus. I just haven't heard anything at all. I'd be shocked if Taylor found himself in the mix in 2009. Right now, it seems that he's a guy that will have to work hard, be patient, and hope to make a difference later in his career.

Sophomore John Williams started his career as a defensive back. After failing to make an impact on defense, he moved to wide receiver and practiced there all last year. Now, the spring roster has him listed as a defensive back again. So I'm not sure what to think. Highly regarded out of high school, Williams hasn't panned out thus far. His biggest impact has been on the scout team, where he emulated the option QB of Georgia Tech leading up to the Peach Bowl. LSU's defenders said after the game that Williams was harder to stop in practice than the Yellow Jackets' QB in the game. Maybe Williams should work at QB this spring?

The only other things to watch this spring will be to see who else is practicing at wide receiver. I suspect we might see Richard Murphy practicing with the wideouts some. We may also see true freshman Drayton Calhoun work with the wideouts.

In the fall the nation's #1 receiver prospect from high school, Reuben Randle, enters the mix and many already have him penciled in as the #3 receiver. Randle will certainly see the field a lot this year, but I think it will be mid-season before he's entrenched as the #3 receiver in LSU's offense.


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