Augustus Stark/LSU Athletics
JaCoby Stevens (3) is unexpectedly facing former running mates at defensive back like Xavier Lewis (17) in training camp.

JaCoby Stevens’ switch to receiver was a surprise to LSU wideouts, too

Alex Hickey

BATON ROUGE, La. — When LSU freshman JaCoby Stevens switched from safety to wide receiver before the start of August camp, D.J. Chark was as surprised as you were.

“One day he came to me and said he would probably be switching over,” Chark said. “I was laughing because I thought he was joking. And then he was like ‘Naw, I’m serious.’”

That wasn’t good enough for Chark. Surely the freshman was pulling his leg. This was the top-ranked safety in the 2017 recruiting class talking. In the entire country, mind you.

“I asked one of the strength coaches and he was like, ‘Yeah.'”

That settled that. Chark, who saw the other side of Stevens’ athleticism during spring practice, is embracing LSU’s most unexpected wideout.

“I’ve been working with him every day since then,” Chark said of the moment that took place during the Tigers’ voluntary summer workouts. “He was working both sides, offense and defense, but we convinced him to just stick with strictly receiver because he’ll be able to learn it faster and get the jump on other guys.”

It is early in the process — the Tigers don’t hold their first scrimmage until Saturday — and as a result the transition is about where one would expect it to be.

“Right now he’s still a little rusty because it’s been awhile,” Chark said.

On top of that, Stevens isn’t jumping into a playbook that is Offense For Dummies. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme is built around heavy shifting, so his receivers have to know how to play in the slot and outside on both sides of the line.

“The way his offense is, formations change throughout the play,” Chark said. “So you can’t just learn one specific position. You have to know the concept of the plays.

“For the most part, everybody plays outside and inside. JaCoby’s been a lot in the slot, because that’s one of the easiest places to learn, but he’s been outside a lot as well.”

Players like Chark and Russell Gage — who switched from defensive back to wide receiver in 2015 — are more than happy to help with the transition. If nothing else, they love the idea of seeing a former DB school his old friends.

“The whole receiving room is taking him under their wing,” Chark said. “We always have a personal battle with the DBs, so the fact that we got a DB over here, we want him to be able to make plays so he can talk smack against them. It’s a personal thing.”

Those aforementioned defensive backs are fired up to go against the player they were grooming this spring.

“I always mess with him saying, ‘You’re on the other side of the ball now. You’re the enemy,’” said junior safety John Battle. “It’s all fun and love. He’s still my guy.”

The question is how long it will take for Stevens to be LSU’s guy on offense. Chark sees a chance for that to happen as soon as this season.

“We have a complicated offense, but his mistakes have been very small. He’s taking the coaching. When he gets the chance, he’s been performing,” Chark said. “I say he’ll be a physical receiver. Strong, fast. I saw him with the ball in his hand a few times, he’s able to move around with it. I say he’s a big, physical guy.”