By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
- Three’s Company?
Any conversation about LSU’s receiving corps starts with the dynamic duo of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural.
The two wideouts accounted for 71 catches, 1,231 yards and nine touchdowns last season. And that’s with Dural missing the final stretch of the campaign after suffering a torn hamstring.
Nobody else on the current roster besides tailback Leonard Fournette (19) and tight end Colin Jeter (12) caught more than five passes in 2015.
That must mean a steep drop off before getting to a third receiver, right?
Wrong, at least not according to the man responsible for distributing the ball to the Tigers’ array of pass catchers. Quarterback Brandon Harris now says LSU’s duo has morphed into a trio as LSU wraps up Fall Camp and begins turning its full attention to the season opener against Wisconsin.
“Right now D.J. Chark is our guy,” Harris told reporters, asked who steps in after the transfers of Trey Quinn (SMU), John Diarse (TCU) and Tyron Johnson (Oklahoma State) since the end of last season. “He’s a starter. We have three receivers who are starter guys.”
Even Harris acknowledged that’s a popular refrain LSU fans have all heard before. The speedster from Alexandria has often been a standout in spring or fall camp, turning heads with his rare combination of size and over-the-top speed.
It all came to fruition, briefly, in LSU’s Texas Bowl rout of Texas Tech, when Chark took an end around — the first and only official touch of his collegiate career to this point — and raced 79 yards for a touchdown.
“I know you guys hear about him every year coming out of camp,” Harris began, “but D.J. is, I’m telling you right now, he’s one of the most impressive receivers I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s our leading receiver this year in terms of yardage because his speed is unnatural.”
He continued: “He’s got an uncanny ability to run routes and take the top off of a defense, and he happens to be 6-foor-3 and some change, and may be out fastest receiver.”
Even setting aside the fact Chark has never caught a collegiate pass, productive third receivers have been few and far between during the more recent stretch of the Les Miles Era. There’s been some fantastic duos — couple of guys named Odell and Jarvis; perhaps you’ve heard of ‘em? — but rarely has the run-first offense had enough targets to sustain a third threat.
Over the past five years, LSU’s third-leading receiver has averaged just 15 catches per season — little more than one catch per game played. Only Kadron Boone (26 in 2012) reached the 20-reception plateau.
That lack of production appears drastic when compared to the first six seasons of Miles’ tenure. From 2005-2010, LSU has at least three receivers catch at least 30 passes four times in six seasons. Third receivers averaged 31.5 catches per season over that stretch, with Craig Davis setting the high-water mark at 56 grabs during JaMarcus Russell’s prolific 2006 campaign.
Will that trend reverse course this season with Chark as the beneficiary? Only time will tell if talk translates to targets.
“I think D.J. Chark is going to be a heck of a player, just a really good one,” Miles said after Chark started in place of a ‘nicked’ Trvain Dural in Saturday’s scrimmage.
How fired up is Kendell Beckwith for the 2016 season to begin? Well, he spent part of last week gleefully believing LSU’s season-opener at Lambeau Field was this coming Saturday.
“I thought we played next week, but it’s actually the week after that,” Beckwith joked. “I’m kind of upset about that. I’m kind of ready to get up there.”
The reasons for Beckwith’s optimism have been well documented. The inside linebacker came back for his senior season partly thanks to the appeal of playing in Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense. Aranda made stars of less physically-gifted linebackers during his tenure in Madison, and the belief around the program is that Beckwith’s athleticism will translate into more playmaking in the new scheme.
The budding defensive guru is also an award-winning linebackers coach whose now working primarily with LSU’s four inside linebackers. Duke Riley and Donnie Alexander run alongside Beckwith while true freshman Devin White works behind him.
LSU’s relative thinness at the position, coupled with the importance Aranda’s defense places on good linebacker play, are the reasons many, including this columnist, would argue the senior is actually the single most irreplaceable Tiger this season.
As a general rule, when so much depends on any player, it’s the coach’s job to do anything in his power — within reason, of course — to facilitate success. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came down to the sideline from the box largely because Brandon Harris wanted him to.
Aranda has always coordinated from the sidelines, so Beckwith never had to ask, but the linebacker says it didn’t take him long to realize it’s exactly what he needs.
“I love that,” Beckwith began. “I like him being on the field because, when I have a question, I go straight to him. I won’t have to wait. Like other coordinators, they have to come down (from the coach’s box), I’ll only see them for halftime. By that time I may have forgotten exactly what I’ve seen. Now after that series is over, I go to him, ‘this is what I saw’ and we talk to over.”
It’s a new experience for Beckwith. Kevin Steele and John Chavis, his two previous coordinators, both called plays from upstairs. Beckwith said in years past he’d just wait until halftime to talk adjustments with Steele or Chavis.
The last LSU defensive coordinator to coach from the sideline was Bo Pelini. Miles noted earlier in camp that this would be the first time in his tenure that all of his coordinators worked from the sidelines.
- Kicker Update
As expected, senior Colby Delahoussaye is presently leading the competition to be LSU’s placekicker, but Miles said Saturday that true freshman Connor Culp is pushing the veteran.
“Yeah, at this point,” Miles said, asked if he expected Delahoussaye to be his starting kicker this season.
Miles has been high on Culp, a highly-touted prospect out of Arizona, since his National Signing Day presser back in the spring. He’s also competing with Cameron Gamble for kickoff duties. Miles left the door wide open to the possibility of the big-legged rookie winning either job.
“I don’t know that Connor Culp might not be that guy (at placekicker),” Miles said. “I don’t know that Culp might not be a field-goal guy. He’s going to step in there and compete. We’ll have to see how Cam Gamble does.”