Tyron Johnson’s road to LSU was far from smooth.
With a last-minute change of heart, the state’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015 chose to spend his college career in Baton Rouge over programs like Georgia, Texas Tech or Oklahoma State, who appeared to be in the lead before National Signing Day.
Once Johnson signed the papers, then-LSU receivers coach Adam Henry — a major part of Johnson’s recruitment — left the program just days later.
Now, even though LSU has a young receiving corps that includes only one junior and no seniors, Johnson has to fight his way onto the field if he wants to see significant playing time as a freshman.
“So many times a freshman in a system can become overloaded. ... Tyron is a freshman,” LSU coach Les Miles said Sunday. “Sometimes it takes some time for a freshman to understand exactly what he’s doing.”
Johnson said he doesn’t regret his decision to come to LSU. He’s enjoying the process of learning the system and getting to know his teammates. He said he’s currently lining up at the “X” receiver position while spending time with the punt return unit.
Johnson was one of the state’s most explosive return men last year, helping Warren Easton High School reach the 4A state championship. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Johnson said he understands it won’t be easy for him to crack the starting the lineup, but he sees players like junior Travin Dural and sophomore Malachi Dupre and the early success they had. So he knows it’s possible.
“A lot of these guys — Travin Dural played as a freshman, Malachi Dupre played as a freshman — those guys are telling me what I need to do and how I need to make my game better to play as a freshman. ... (Having a young receiving corps) changes the dynamic,” Johnson said. “It gives you a shot to play early because everybody is still learning.”
Dural said it’s possible for Johnson to see the field this season, given the way LSU tends to reach deep into the roster during the season. Of the 12 receivers listed on last year’s roster, only two did not see any action in at least one game — including Tony Upchurch, who ultimately redshirted before switching to fullback this season.
Only four receivers caught a pass, though. Three of them were freshmen. Trey Quinn led all first-year players with 193 yards on 17 receptions.
“(Johnson) has grown a lot,” Dural said. “He’s a guy that’s really raw, but he’s a guy that came in and was ready to roll. He’s a guy who can make people miss after he gets the ball. He can do a lot of things once he gets the ball in his hands.”
LSU receivers coach Tony Ball also said it’s typically difficult for freshmen to make an immediate impact. But it’s not unheard of.
“It’s difficult (to play as a freshman) because of having to learn the system — but because of what we do offensively, we need the depth. ... With his ability, he obviously brings the skill set that we need to the offense,” Ball said. “He benefits from the system that we run.”