After Randle, LSU receivers balanced

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A season ago, when the LSU wide receivers met, there were several players in the room, but there was an understanding of who was "the man" in the room.

Rueben Randle, who had almost twice as many yards as the next most prolific Tigers receiver, was the main focus for quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.

"Who knew that Rueben was going to be the go-to guy?" said Kadron Boone, a little-used sophomore last season. "We just wished we were a little more involved in it. So we just looked at it as, when Rueben's not in (the game), we just have to make those plays, because if not, we know who the ball is going to."

Randle caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns before leaving after his junior season to become a second-round draft pick of the New York Giants. In his place, LSU appears to have a more balanced group of receivers for new quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Through two games, five Tigers receivers have combined on 25 of the 31 completed passes by Mettenberger, led by nine from Jarvis Landry. Odell Beckham Jr., the leading returning receiver, is off to a sluggish start with five catches after struggling with drops last week, but both James Wright (seven receptions) and Boone (two touchdown receptions) have stepped up.

The fifth receiver is Russell Shepard, the senior who has one catch but who also has had some tough breaks. He had a touchdown catch called back by a penalty in LSU's season-opening 41-14 win over North Texas, then had a ball slip out of his hands in the end zone as he dove to the ground in the 41-3 win over Washington.

It adds up to a more balanced receiving room, one with more options for Mettenberger to pick from.

"We've got five guys here who, at any point in the game, can be a big playmaker for us," Mettenberger said.

The question is, does LSU need one to emerge as a "go-to" guy?

So far, LSU's receivers have taken developmental steps with few in-game chances in an offense that has been run-heavy both by philosophy and because of score. Two games have yielded 44 Mettenberger pass attempts, six of which have been dropped. But there also have been solid moments.

Beckham, who had 41 receptions a season ago, seemed like the heir apparent and had a good debut, but he struggled with three drops against Washington. Landry was another candidate to emerge as a star after a much-decorated prep career at nearby Lutcher High school and a promising freshman campaign for the Tigers, when he made a name for himself as a special teams star.

But the two sophomores have had their production matched by three older receivers. Wright, who at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, is the Tigers' biggest receiver, broke out with a five-catch, 75-yard day against Washington. He and Boone are juniors, and Shepard is the lone senior of the group.

LSU coach Les Miles said not to sleep on the older players because of the stability to bring to the unit.

"Consistency in the passing game is generally based on guys that have some age and understand what you're trying to do with the throw and when the ball's going to come to them," Miles said. "I think our veterans understand that, and I think it's a reason that James Wright gets the number of catches that he does. I think it's also the idea that Kadron Boone is catching touchdown receptions two weeks in a row.

"It just lets you know that these guys are in the spots they need to be so the quarterback can get them the ball."

It adds up to a wide receiver room that's still crowded, but not so much by one figure who swallows up the rest.

"I think it's about five guys, it's about us all," Landry said. "I feel like if we all come into the game to do the things we can do, we are all role players. We have no one true, dominant receiver, no matter what statistics might have shown in the past. We are all role players, and we get the job done.

"Rueben Randle? We'd love to have another one. But we don't. So we are playing the hand we are dealt, and we have five guys who can take it to the house."