In their team’s last major scrimmage before the spring game in late March, LSU coaches caught a glimpse of what they wanted to see out of wide receiver Quantavius Leslie.
That day, Leslie had four receptions for 135 yards with a 65-yard touchdown catch from freshman Brandon Harris to highlight a performance he hoped would make a lasting impression on the staff heading into the summer.
Yet, with eight days to go before the season opener with Wisconsin, the jury is still out on the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Leslie, one of the nation’s most heavily recruited players coming out of Hinds (Miss.) Community College following the 2012 season.
Will LSU fans see more of what coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron saw in that scrimmage?
Or will Leslie again get swallowed up in a deep rotation as he did last fall when the four-star recruit got a late start on his career with the Tigers?
Last year, the soft-spoken Leslie found himself competing for snaps in a wide receiver corps that featured Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who combined for an astounding 136 receptions, 2,345 yards and 18 TDs.
While it was difficult getting into just four games and catching one pass for 11 yards in a 39-point blowout of UAB, Leslie, who has 4.4-second speed in the 40, knows he had no one to blame but himself for his inauspicious start.
“It was rough, but I realized I have to do well in practice in order to get on the field,” Leslie said. “Here, they’re not going to give anybody anything. You have to earn it.”
To be honest, Leslie probably wasn’t going to be a big factor in the passing game anyway with Beckham, a first-round NFL draft pick of the New York Giants, and Landry, who went in the second round to the Miami Dolphins, around.
Also, senior James Wright was drafted in the later rounds and Kadron Boone signed as an undrafted free agent, while redshirt freshman Travin Dural was in the mix as well.
“It was tough because I was looking forward to playing last season,” Leslie said. “At the same time, I didn’t perform how I wanted to in practice. I was a little slow catching on to the play book, but now I feel like I’m up to speed … I know the play book well and I’m playing pretty fast right now.”
Whether that translates into more playing time and more opportunities as they get into the season is in the hands of the coaching staff after three weeks of fall practice although Miles said Leslie has had a “very good” camp.
While Leslie got a chance to shine in the spring with he, Dural and redshirt freshman John Diarse getting a lot of balls thrown their way, there was much more competition in the fall with the arrival of heralded freshmen Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch.
“I’m just ready to get the opportunity,” a smiling Leslie said. “Whoever coach decides to put in, me or any other guy, I’m sure they’ll execute and do what they’re supposed to do as well.
“(Playing time) just depends on who the coaches think is doing well that day. But things have been pretty good so far because I’m playing a lot faster than I did last year.”
Dural, whose seven receptions last season makes him the top returning receiver with Beckham, Landry and running back Jeremy Hill all in the NFL now, said he can definitely see a difference this summer in Leslie.
“He got a lot stronger and he really knows the offense now as opposed to when he first got here,” Dural said. “He’s just flowing without thinking. He’s just playing and making plays.”
Dural said Leslie’s long frame makes him an inviting target for the Tigers quarterbacks — Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings — especially in the red zone.
“That’s an advantage for ‘Q’,” Dural said. “He’s a real fast guy and is really long, so he uses his height really well when he’s running his routes.”
Even though he had to take a back seat and watch Beckham and Landry make most of the catches last season, Leslie said he learned a lot from that extremely productive duo.
“I wasn’t playing much, but I was looking at them and seeing what they do,” he said. “Whatever they did, I’m looking to do the same because I know those are great players and great receivers. They did whatever it took to make the team win.”
Now, all he needs is an opportunity.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.