BATON ROUGE, La. — Training camp is approaching, which means it is time to start thinking LSU football. SEC Country is counting down the days until camp with a position-by-position preview of how the Tigers stack up.
We start this week with the offense. Next week, the defense. And the week after that, the Tigers will be starting camp.
Yep, football season is around the corner.
The face: D.J. Chark
LSU isn’t returning too much as far as pass catchers go in 2017. Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, Colin Jeter, Desean Smith and Leonard Fournette accounted for 60 percent of LSU’s receptions and receiving yards a year ago. All are gone in 2017.
But the Tigers are returning D.J. Chark. LSU’s second-leading receiver and leading touchdown scorer in 2016, Chark accounted for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns last year while averaging 17.9 yards per reception, the best mark in the SEC West.
Known primarily for his skills as a deep threat, it has yet to be seen if Chark will be able to translate his talents from the slot to the sideline. Early reports out of spring camp indicated Chark is a great fit in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s spread scheme thanks to his speed and ability to work as a ball carrier.
Chark ran 12 times for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. In Canada’s offense, which relies heavily on wide receiver motions and jet sweeps, expect that number to increase. And expect Chark to be second only to Derrius Guice in touches in 2017.
The supporting cast
Behind Chark, LSU’s wide receivers are a mystery to the outside world. The Tigers are returning a total of 10 catches and 1 touchdown from wide receivers not named Chark.
But what the group lacks in production, it makes up for in potential. Very few teams boast the size and athleticism the LSU football team has on the edge. In Chark, Drake Davis, Dee Anderson and Stephen Sullivan, the Tigers have four wideouts who are 6-foot-3 or taller, a significant size advantage over most defensive backs.
But LSU isn’t all size. Senior Russell Gage is expected to figure into LSU’s starting group as a slot option who, like Chark, should be able to run jet sweeps. The same can be said of 5-foot-11 sophomore Derrick Dillon, a shiftier player who takes advantage of space well.
The new faces
LSU brought in two wide receivers in the Class of 2017, both of whom adhere to the theme of the Tigers’ receivers. Mannie Netherly, an early enrollee from Crosby, Texas, and Racey McMath from Edna Karr High School in New Orleans are both 6-foot-3 options with noticeable speed.
Netherly was a high school quarterback who threw for 19 touchdowns and rushed for 9 more as a senior, while McMath was a two-sport star at Karr, excelling in both football and track.
Given Canada’s reputation for motioning wideouts and running a fast-paced offense, there should be plenty of substitutions at wide receiver in 2017. If these two players have a chance of seeing the field as true freshmen, it’ll be in those substitution packages.
For years, LSU football fans have clamored that Les Miles and the old regime didn’t properly use tight ends in the passing game. That shouldn’t be a problem this season.
Canada’s offense doesn’t use a traditional fullback as LSU did under Cam Cameron and Steve Ensminger. Rather, fullback and tight end are being wrapped into one hybrid position, an H-back. H-backs are expected to line up in the backfield and block, split out wide and catch passes and put their hands in the dirt on the line.
With that expectation, tight end Foster Moreau and fullback J.D. Moore will split the role. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Moreau fits the traditional tight end mold. As a sophomore last year, Moreau caught 6 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Moore thrived as an in-line lead blocker for Fournette and Guice a year ago, but the former walk-on caught 10 passes and rushed 7 times.
Beyond Moreau and Moore, the Tigers’ tight end and fullback groups aren’t deep. Junior fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton has two years of on-field experience, but his 6-1, 265-pound build isn’t conducive to an H-back’s responsibilities. And the rest of LSU’s tight ends behind Moreau have a combined zero career catches.
Those men – junior Jacory Washington, sophomore Caleb Roddy, freshman Jamal Pettigrew – are massive, 6-foot-5 or taller pass-catching options who will fit into LSU’s red zone and short-yardage packages if they see the field.
How much confidence do you have in LSU's receivers this season? https://t.co/OCWT4TSia0
— SEC Country LSU (@SECCountryLSU) July 20, 2017
LSU position previews
Tuesday: Running backs