LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has work to do.
In his first season, Cameron led the Tigers to one of their best passing years under Les Miles. Now, the offensive guru must replace the production left behind by receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The duo became the first in LSU history to each go for more than 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.
The post-Beckham Jr. and Landry era has started roughly.
Spring practices are closed to the public. The media is only allowed 15 minutes at the beginning of each practice, so information is limited. Yet Cameron decided to voice his frustration about their performance with reporters present last Thursday.
"We are going to run 1950s football," Cameron said. "We will run one route the whole year." Geaux247 has video.
While what Cameron said is far from egregious, it does show his concern. He had to stop the drill to prove his point. The LSU receivers have a long way to go before the start of next season, but Les Miles says he is far from worried.
Miles says struggling with the new WRs isn't anything to worry about. Says it happens to any position. #LSU— Mike Gegenheimer (@Gegs_TDR) March 20, 2014
LSU wide receivers coach Adam Henry, like Cameron, brings plenty of NFL experience to the table. They understand the importance of fundamentals and route-running. Henry and Cameron are technicians and probably went through the same growing pains with all the receivers last year.
But is there a playmaker as talented as Beckham Jr. or Landry in this current crop?
The spring receivers
The injury bug has bitten the receiving corps. John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears have all been sidelined at different times during the spring, according to David Ching of ESPN.com.
Injuries are certainly holding back their development. But maybe the LSU receivers currently in spring are not that good.
Travin Dural is LSU's leading receiving returnee. Dural caught seven passes and was never a major threat for defenses. He rarely created separation from defensive backs. Most of his catches were a byproduct of accurate Zach Mettenberger passes and the respect given of Landry and Beckham Jr.
The only other receiver returning with game experience is Quantavius Leslie. The junior college transfer only caught one pass in four games. He has elite speed, but is still developing the strength and polish to be a productive player.
Diarse told Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana that Cameron wanted him to be the third receiver last season. But Diarse sprained his ankle in practice before the season began.
Nevertheless, Diarse is not a burner. He is a less-elusive version of Landry with great physicality and ball skills. Peterson fits the same mold, yet is a tad more explosive.
Drops have been a plague so far this spring, according to Ching. That is not a good sign, yet offenses are known to start slow in the offseason.
The group is good, but not great.
Help is on the way
WBRZ sports director Michael Cauble said, after witnessing practice, two promising freshmen, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, will certainly play next season. Dupre and Quinn won't suit up until the fall.
Cauble is right. Dupre and Quinn will certainly be in the mix. The two Louisiana prep stars were heavily recruited by prestigious schools across the country, but immediate playing time and staying home certainly appealed to them.
Dupre, Quinn and fellow freshmen D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch will, at the very least, challenge LSU's receiver returnees in practice. Of the four, Dupre is most likely to play a high volume of snaps or start.
Dupre visited LSU spring practice in early March. According to Guilbeau, Miles said he wishes he could have thrown him "a ball or two." The last three 5-star receiving prospects under Miles—Rueben Randle, Terrence Toliver and Landry—all finished among the all-time LSU greats.
What happens next?
Cameron is trying to find and mold his new starting quarterback. As Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris and Hayden Rettig duke it out for the starter's role, the trio's chemistry and rhythm are hindered by having potential playmakers on the sidelines.
The receivers themselves need as many reps as possible. Outside of Dural, none of them are proven. Diarse and Peterson have talent, yet both have dealt with nagging injuries since being in Baton Rouge. The LSU coaching staff will be cautious with them.
The first time the public will see the receivers is for the spring game on April 5. If Diarse, Peterson and Spears are not healthy, look for walk-on Chris LaBorde to get snaps. Miles does not want to take any chances in a meaningless game.
The one thing the coaching staff will look for is a deep threat. Every aspect of an offense opens up when safeties have to respect a dangerous playmaker on the outside. LSU struggled to complete deep passes in 2012, which partially explains its offensive issues that season.
In 2013, Beckham Jr. developed into the big play receiver that scared safeties. Landry did not have blazing speed but still made plays downfield. The Tigers led the SEC in yards per attempt after finishing ninth the year before.
Dupre is the best bet to be the dangerous playmaker LSU desperately needs, with Peterson coming in at a close second. Dural will mature into a better player and Diarse can be a move-the-chains grinder like Landry. Leslie and former quarterback Rob Bolden are the wild cards.
Miles also said he wants to utilize tight ends DeSean Smith and incoming freshman Jacory Washington in the passing attack, according to The Daily Reveille. The Tigers have lacked production there since Richard Dickson left in 2009.
There is plenty of time from now until the season opener against Wisconsin in late August. The receivers could all become better players. But as of right now, things are looking bleak until the arrival of Dupre and Quinn.
Cameron worked magic with the LSU offense last season. In 2014, he will need do his best Houdini impersonation to keep the aerial attack among the SEC's best.
**Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.
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