Jazz Ferguson didn’t see any warning signs of Tyron Johnson's desire to transfer from LSU.
One day, during fall camp, Johnson suddenly sprang the news on his fellow sophomore wide receiver. Ferguson couldn’t help but be stunned by the former five-star prospect’s decision.
“I was because I roomed with him during camp,” Ferguson said. “And when he told me that, I was surprised.”
Johnson became the fourth receiver and the 10th of 11 players who have left the program since the 2015 season ended. Johnson leaving signaled an evolving role for Ferguson after a season with no receptions in two appearances.
“I wasn’t excited, but I knew that my time was coming since more guys were leaving,” Ferguson said. “I know the recruiting class did come in and stuff like that. But I know I have a much bigger role.”
It seems like D.J. Chark has had that feeling ever since he stepped on campus. For two straight offseasons, LSU coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and players sang the praises of the speedy junior wideout. He's still waiting on his first career reception.
“I don’t know that there’s a guy on our team that’s made as much advancement,” Miles said Tuesday. “I think he’ll play a lot of football in the opener, think he’ll play a lot of football in each and every game."
Is this really the year for Chark? And can Ferguson break through as a sophomore?
The two friends competed against one another during preseason camp, battling for LSU's No. 3 receiver position, behind Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. Their production might rest on how much LSU’s passing game truly expands.
In the past five years, Kadron Boone is the only No. 3 receiver at LSU to have caught at least 20 passes in a season. The No. 3 receiver averaged less than a catch per game in that same span.
Many thought Chark would develop into the Tigers' third receiver last season, but the departure of four wideouts this offseason — John Diarse, Trey Quinn, Johnson and Kevin Spears — might leave the sixth-ranked Tigers with no other choice. It's Chark or Ferguson, and potentially freshman Drake Davis.
One of those three has spent the past 18 months — two spring practices and two preseason camps — hearing the hype about himself.
At one point before last season, Miles indicated Chark was challenging for a starting spot, destined for his share of touches. It took the 12th game for that to happen.
It came in the form of an end-around play, which sent Chark scampering across the NRG Stadium turf for a 79-yard touchdown in the Texas Bowl. It was specifically designed for him. LSU ran through the play 5-10 times per practice leading up to the bowl game, Chark said, and the blocking was perfect. He was assured no one else was getting the ball when this play would be called.
“They said, ‘This is your play,’ ” Chark said. “So I was ready for it.”
As his teammates jumped wildly in excitement, running back Leonard Fournette was the first to embrace his former roommate after crossing the goal line. The message Fournette gave him: “It’s about time.”
Many LSU fans probably shared the running back’s sentiments. Up until then, Chark had touched the ball only one other time in a game. He recovered an onside kick versus Syracuse. Still, Chark has yet to catch pass in 11 games played for LSU, despite the well-publicized preseason hype from his teammates and coaches.
Even Chark didn’t imagine his first touchdown happening like it did.
“I would think (my first touchdown) was on a deep ball, just running by someone and catching it,” Chark said. “Because, honestly, I feel like that’s actually easier.”
Despite the lack of opportunities, Chark doesn’t take it personally. In fact, he’s noticeably humble about his collegiate career thus far, acknowledging inconsistency and a lack of confidence prevented more playing time in the past.
Yet Miles and players seem convinced this will be the year for Chark.
“D.J. Chark, man,” quarterback Brandon Harris said during preseason camp. “He’s so good; it’s unreal. He’s such a good player. He’s had a great offseason. My eyes light up every time I see him get out there. He’s so talented."
In a four-receiver formation, Chark and Ferguson will slide into the F and Y positions, respectively. Those are inside receiver spots, more commonly called "slot receivers."
Both Chark and Ferguson received time out wide opposite Dupre while Dural recovered from two injuries — a hamstring injury in the spring and a hand injury in preseason camp. The other would play in that slot position if LSU employed a three-receiver set.
As Chark explained, there are advantages to rotating from the slot to out wide.
“When I’m on the outside, I feel like it’s more one-on-one: me and the corner out there,” Chark said. “The routes are obviously different. I feel like outside is more of a talent-type thing. Inside is more of a thinking-type thing. When I’m on the inside, I’m able to go more into my thoughts and find ways to get open, because we have some smart safeties and smart (defensive backs).”
If one sees more playing time than the other, they say it won’t affect the bond built between Chark and Ferguson. Chark hosted Ferguson on his official visit two years ago, and the two have been with each other as they waited for their opportunity.
The waiting game might finally end this season.
“The receiving room — honestly, with coach (Dameyune) Craig being here, I don’t know how, but we’re like brothers," Chark said. "We’re real tight. A lot of times, you have people who have hate or animosity against others. It’s nothing like that. If someone goes in and makes a play, you want them to make that play. And I love seeing Jazz go in and make plays, and it’s vice versa.”