LSU: Kayshon Boutte

LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte runs a route during practice on Aug. 31, 2020.

The answer to the long-asked question of the offseason — What will this year's offense look like? — is reaching its final form.

Through graduations and drafts, through coach departures and pandemic opt-outs, LSU coach Ed Orgeron and his staff have had an unprecedented roster rebuild on their hands.

Now, just more than two weeks before LSU's season-opener against Mississippi State, the Tigers starting offensive lineup seems to be finalized.

Orgeron told reporters Tuesday morning that true freshman Kayshon Boutte is all but officially the team's third receiver.

"I think that's locked in," Orgeron said.

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It was the last true position battle on offense.

Myles Brennan has long been the projected quarterback; Orgeron is once again committed to a running-back-by-committee until someone emerges; the offensive line rotation has not wavered since Harvard grad transfer Liam Shanahan moved to center in the summer; and no one was expected to challenge five-star tight end Arik Gilbert, last year's high school Gatorade National Player of the Year.

The depth chart seemed stable at the start of August.

Then, star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase announced he was opting out of the 2020 season last week, and, suddenly, Boutte and a group of about five other receivers were pushing for a starting spot.

In LSU's first practice without Chase, Orgeron said Boutte had his best performance. The day after, Orgeron mentioned unprovoked in his opening remarks that Boutte "had a great day."

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Speed, versatility and a history of explosive plays appear to have given Boutte the edge. He was a five-star prospect out of Westgate High, a 6-foot, 185-pound track sprinter who was the nation's No. 2 wide receiver of the 2020 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

An Under Armour All-American as a senior, Boutte caught 47 passes for 1,005 and 15 touchdowns. He doubled as a running back — a speed sweeper who had 71 rushes for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had a five-touchdown, 300 all-purpose-yard performance against Teurlings Catholic that included a 97-yard kickoff return.

"He was a touchdown machine," Westgate coach Ryan Antoine told The Advocate in the offseason.

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Orgeron often spoke of Boutte as someone who would see playing time in his first year.

In the days since Chase left the team, Boutte has provoked even higher expectations.

"I don't want to put too much on him," Orgeron told WNXX-FM, 104.5 on Tuesday morning. "But it looks like he's going to be the next one, the next great one at LSU."

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That would've been large enough praise before Chase's record-breaking season in 2019, when he won the Biletnikoff Award for nation's top receiver while setting single-season Southeastern Conference records with 1,780 yards receiving and 20 touchdown catches.

Such a season set afire years of frustration that LSU wasn't getting the most out of talented receivers like DJ Chark, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. — former Tigers who are all now starters in the NFL.

Orgeron had to sell in-state talent like former five-star Terrace Marshall on the idea that, yes, LSU had indeed changed its offense, and the entire Tigers coaching staff visited Chase at his family's New Orleans home to keep him from leaving Louisiana for Auburn

LSU's offense, and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, were at the center of the team's national championship run in 2019, and the only doubts that remain are whether the success is sustainable.

Orgeron and his staff locked down on Louisiana's pass-catching talent again in the 2020 recruiting cycle, including Boutte and Rummel High four-star Koy Moore.

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Out of state, LSU signed three-star Mississippi receiver Alex Adams and Gilbert, the highest-rated tight end in 247Sports history; but it's fair to say that Gilbert signed with LSU in December, before former passing coordinator Joe Brady left to be the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator.

LSU missed on national talent like five-star receiver Rakim Jarrett (Maryland) and four-star receiver Jermaine Burton (Georgia), who together would have signaled a major recruiting shift for the Tigers.

The play at quarterback appeared to be enough to lure in out-of-state signal callers: four-star Georgia quarterback Max Johnson signed in 2020, and four-star Texas prospect Garrett Nussmeier is committed for 2021.

The talented tandem of Chase and Marshall were in a position to prove LSU's success was not a one-year wonder. Now, without Chase, Boutte steps into an important role in his first year on campus.

The LSU players who caught 78% of the team's total passes last season are no longer on the roster. If the Tigers intend to throw the ball 426 times again in 2020, that means there are 332 passes that must be caught.

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This year, Marshall is truly the receiver who must fill in for Chase. The 6-3, 200-pound junior recorded 46 catches for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 while missing three games with a foot injury.

Orgeron said Marshall "has to be our go-to guy." He and Racey McMath, a 6-3, 224-pound senior who caught 17 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role in 2019, are LSU's two main starting receivers. 

The Chris Curry-Tyrion Price-John Emery running back trio will account for catches out of the backfield, and Orgeron said Gilbert can be used like former All-Pro Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Boutte's skill set matches much of what Justin Jefferson did in 2019. A first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings, Jefferson set a school record with 111 receptions as LSU's slot receiver, and his 18 touchdowns ranked second nationally only to Chase.

Jefferson's production in the middle of the field forced defenses to account for him, freeing up one-on-one opportunities on the outside for Chase and Marshall. The diverse attack is part of what made the Tigers receiving corps so dangerous last year.

Can Boutte produce enough to make LSU lethal again?

"Nobody can beat Ja'Marr Chase," Orgeron said. "Ja'Marr was a great player for us. Those guys have got their own style. There's a lot of balls to be thrown out there. So we need to find some young receivers that can come and catch some balls for us."

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.