For the 2012 LSU football team, the weakest position groups on either side of the ball last season were the wide receivers.
One of the biggest things that slowed senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s progress during the first half of last year was the terrible play at the receiver position.
For new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s offense to succeed — and for Mettenberger to continue developing — the receiver play needs to improve this season. The Tigers will hope to get development from incumbent junior starters Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, as well as a few new faces.
The main problem from last season was drops. None of the receivers proved they could catch the ball on a consistent basis until Landry improved his play toward the end of the season.
He was the Tigers’ most consistent receiver on underneath routes during the 2012-2013 season. Landry only averaged 10.2 yards per catch, but he led the team in touchdowns and receptions. He did most of his damage during crucial third-down situations.
Landry piled up 180 yards with three touchdowns on third downs, but the numbers become even more impressive when broken down further. On third downs with seven to nine yards to go, Landry averaged 13 yards per reception with two touchdowns. He accounted for 28 first downs last season — the most on the team.
But the redzone was Landry’s most productive area on the field. Four of Landry’s five touchdowns came in the redzone, and he moved the chains 18 times. For a team that struggled with redzone efficiency last season — LSU was No. 11 in the Southeastern Conference for touchdown percentages in the redzone last season, only finishing above Auburn, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
Landry operates best from the slot position. This positioning gives him more room to operate with his route running, one of his best attributes. It also allows him to avoid press coverage, something he struggled to beat last season.
Beckham is the other returning starter, and is the most intriguing of the returning receivers. Beckham showed flashes of his potential last season, but they were followed with infuriating stretches of play that saw him make mistakes at crucial times.
After a 128-yard, two-touchdown performance against Towson, Beckham ripped off a 56-yard reception during the Florida game — only to fumble the ball in what proved to be the key play of the game.
Beckham was the premiere deep threat for the Tigers last season. He led the Tiger receivers in yards per reception, receptions of 15 or more yards and receptions of 25 or more yards. Beckham had receptions of 43, 53 and 56 yards last season, proving he can take the top off of defenses.
He showed signs of major improvement during the Spring Game in April when he caught six passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard bomb from Mettenberger.
Seniors James Wright and Kadron Boone both struggled last season with catching and running routes, but Boone has the better chance to break into the receiver rotation following fall practices if he’s able to improve his concentration.
With Landry operating primarily from the slot, the other outside receiver position will be manned by either Boone or one of the newcomers to the team.
Freshman Travin Dural has received the most hype going into the season, as head coach Les Miles has talked about Dural being a major contributor for the 2013 season. Dural missed last season after suffering a knee injury, but he’s a big receiver — 6 feet 2 inches, 180 pounds — with great speed to get down the field. Dural caught a 45-yard touchdown in the Spring Game from sophomore backup quarterback Stephen Rivers.
Freshmen Avery Peterson and John Diarse have been with the Tigers since the spring and impressed during practices. For bigger targets, the Tigers could look toward 6-foot-4-inch junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie or 6-foot-3-inch freshman Kevin Spears, but neither player was present for spring practices, so the coaching staff will only get a first look at them during the fall.
If Landry and Beckham can improve their consistency and if one of the new receivers can fill the void at the flanker position, the Tiger passing offense could improve from last year’s mediocre squad.