As LSU progresses through preseason camp it’s hoping to duplicate the development of young wide receivers that it managed last season.
If sophomore receivers Kadron Boone and James Wright want examples of what wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales is looking for from them, they need look no further than the two receivers at the top of the depth chart — juniors Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard. In fact, that’s exactly who they’re looking at.
“We look at the work ethic, and that’s one thing that coach G always preaches to us,” Boone said. “Rueben’s work ethic and Russell’s work ethic are just passed down to us. Going into our second year we’ve just developed it as a habit — come in and be hungry.”
Randle and Shepard both went from bit players as freshmen to key contributors as sophomores.
In his first season two years ago, Randle — who was a quarterback at Bastrop High School — caught 11 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns. As a sophomore, he tripled his catches and became a big-play receiver, averaging a team-best 16.5 yards per catch. Randle is the top returning receiver after Terrence Toliver (team-highs of 41 catches and five touchdown receptions) exhausted his eligibility.
Shepard, who was also a high-school quarterback, played quarterback, running back and receiver as a freshman, catching five passes for 34 yards and no touchdowns. He continued to be a multi-faceted player as a sophomore but focused more on being a receiver and matched Randle’s 33 catches, finishing with 254 yards and one touchdown catch.
Now that Randle and Shepard have established themselves as the top receivers, it’s time for players such as Boone (four catches, 62 yards), Wright (2-21-0), and other youngsters to do what the top two did last season — seize a prominent role in the receiver rotation.
“Everybody’s fighting to get on the field,” said Wright, who’s from Belle Chasse. “I feel like I have an equal opportunity to play. Just like everybody else I’ve got to do my best out there. Everybody’s doing their best. Rueben’s a great receiver and he does a lot of good things. I’m trying to see his experience and mimic a couple of things he does and follow in his steps.”
Randle’s emergence last season can serve as a blueprint for the younger receivers. Coach Les Miles said Saturday that Randle has continued to develop heading into his third season by demonstrating a more consistent work ethic.
“(Randle) is probably going to be the go-to guy right now,” Boone said, “but we’re all just going to go out there and make plays.”
Boone said he can relate to the transition Randall and Shepard have had to make as wide receivers. Boone was switched from running back to receiver as a high-school freshman in Ocala, Fla. He was still making the adjustment when he tore an ACL and missed his sophomore season.
“It’s a development because I remember my transition from running back in high school,” Boone said. “It took until my junior year to develop into the receiver that I wanted to be. My junior year was when I started fully understanding the receiver position — body position, hand placement.”
Though they were bit players as receivers, Boone (6-foot), 195 pounds) and Wright (6-2, 201) saw more action last season than their statistics might suggest, playing in 13 and 12 games, respectively.
“(Gonzales) preaches a lot about blocking,” Wright said. “It’s a real key for him. Me and Kadron just tried to do everything coach asked us to do to the best of our ability. I’m trying to focus on little things day by day and try to get better every day, never take a day for granted, working on routes, speed, catching the ball, making guys miss, small, little things.”
Boone said he’s been focused on expanding his knowledge of the offense, “so I know that when I go to the line I have an understanding of every situation.”
“One thing coach G told us is he wants us to compete,” Boone said. “We understand the situation we’re in. We understand that some young guys are going to have to step up. It’s like last year when we needed two young guys to step up. Me and James are just looking to compete for a spot. It doesn’t matter what classification you’re in.”
Redshirt freshman Armand Williams, of Slidell, has a chance to be in the mix as well, but he’s slowed by a minor hamstring injury. Another injured receiver is true freshman Jarvis Landry, a Lutcher standout who’s expected to miss the first two weeks of camp because of a foot injury. Another true freshmen — Odell Beckham Jr. of New Orleans — is also competing.
“I like the next four guys,” Miles said Saturday. “The two veterans — Boone and Wright — looked real good today. I also like the two freshmen of note. They’re both extremely talented guys.”
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson wouldn’t single out the receiver most likely to have a breakout season this year.
“Everybody’s doing the best they can to contribute to this team for this year,” Jefferson said. “We’ve got a strong receiving corps that wants to be the best receiving corps in the nation. I’m glad I have that type of receiving corps with me. We’ve just got this chemistry together and we’re going to have a good year.”