Occasionally during Malachi Dupre’s high school career, he’d break the huddle, jog to the line of scrimmage and set up closer to the tight end than the sideline.
Those tricky John Curtis Patriots had a 6-foot-3 slot receiver. The defense’s response to this often made Kyle Gilbert, an assistant at Curtis, smile.
“Most of the time they’d line a linebacker up on that slot because they’d figure we’d run the ball,” Gilbert said.
Moments later, Dupre might haul in a 30-yard pass on a streaking play down the middle of the field, splitting the safeties and beating out that poor linebacker.
“He’s a guy we could make mismatches with,” Gilbert said.
LSU is trying to do the same.
Dupre has, at times, moved into the role of a slot receiver, the inside spot where John Diarse and Trey Quinn played last season. When LSU is in a three-receiver set, the Tigers are expected to have D.J. Chark and Travin Dural on the outside and Dupre in the slot.
It gives LSU three speedy, athletic and talented players in different locations on the field at one time. It gives the defense trouble, especially with Dupre aligned toward the center of the field.
He caught both of his touchdowns in LSU’s spring game while lined up in the slot.
“Personally, it will open up their offense a bit,” Gilbert said. “He can both be a possession receiver and stretch the field.”
“We want him to be out in the middle of the field going up and getting it,” coach Les Miles said.
Dupre’s new part-time position strengthens an already strong, deep and talented position group. The Tigers return all four receivers who caught a pass last season in Dural, Diarse, Quinn and Dupre. And they’ve added the blossoming Chark, a sophomore, and the state’s top-ranked 2015 recruit, Tyron Johnson.
For an LSU fan, there’s a lot to like about a position group that has a new leader in Tony Ball who’s pushing Dupre mentally, said Gilbert.
“He picks his brain, and it forces Dupre to learn everything he needs to learn,” Gilbert said.
Dupre has learned all four of LSU’s receiver positions: the X, Z, Y and F. Last year, the true freshman was comfortable with only one of those positions: the Y, which he played more than any other.
Dupre expects to play at all four spots this year. In fact, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said in the spring that Dupre, Diarse and Dural can play all four positions.
What’s that mean?
“You can’t really focus on one person or one player because you don’t know where they’re going to line up,” quarterback Anthony Jennings told ESPN.com following the spring game. “It’s an advantage for the offense to get our best guys on their worst.”
Any linebacker, even those in the Southeastern Conference, would likely be hard pressed to cover the tall, lanky and speedy Dupre, Gilbert said. It would be like LSU linebacker Deion Jones covering Dupre. It’s a mismatch, he said.
“They’re great athletes and run well, but they’re linebackers,” he said. “That gives him a tremendous advantage.”
But what if defenses become wise to the move and shift a nickelback or dimeback to cover a slotted Dupre?
“It’s still a mismatch,” Gilbert said.
A defense’s next move may be to slide one of their starting cornerbacks into the slot. That leaves Dural and Chark – fast, go-route runners – heading down the sidelines against a secondary cornerback, clear of a safety that might have to focus on Dupre.
LSU flashed some hurry-up at times last season and again in the spring game. Miles said recently that he’d expect the Tigers to show more spread this season.
“If they’re playing fast with tempo, it’s hard for guys to adjust (on defense),” Gilbert said. “(Dupre) may be at the X one play and then on the Z another.”
Dupre’s time in the slot isn’t the only thing that’s change with the wideout from last season. He’s gained about 10 pounds, adding muscle for strength after experiencing an “awakening” from physical SEC cornerbacks last season, Gilbert said.
Dupre dove into the playbook to learn all of those receiver positions, and he’s developing the next goal, Gilbert said: being a leader.
“His thing is, ‘I don’t want to come off of the field,’ ” the coach said.
He’s getting to that point, it appears. On Friday, Miles noticed.
“He looked way young as a freshman,” Miles said. “He looked way improved today.”