Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, we will break down each of LSU's position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. We move today to the tight ends.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- This much we know about LSU's tight ends: With Dillon Gordon leading the way, they will still play a valuable blocking role in the Tigers' power running game. This much we don't know: Will they catch any passes?
That has been the question for several seasons now, particularly since offensive coordinator Cam Cameron joined Les Miles' coaching staff in 2013. Cameron's NFL offenses regularly used the tight end as a weapon in the passing game, but that practice has not carried over yet in two seasons at LSU.
However, if it's going to happen under Cameron's watch in Baton Rouge, the skillsets within LSU's tight end group make it a legitimate possibility to happen this season.
Gordon is the Tigers' No. 1 option at the position, having started 25 of the 26 games over the last two seasons. Miles has called the senior a sixth offensive lineman because of his blocking prowess, but he's a competent receiver when given the opportunity.
If the Tigers are to truly utilize the tight ends as receivers, though, the production will probably come from elsewhere.
Junior DeSean Smith is one possibility. He was at the center of this storyline a year ago, but didn't record a single catch until grabbing four passes for 66 yards in LSU's bowl loss against Notre Dame. Junior Colin Jeter and redshirt freshman Jacory Washington are also strong options although Jeter didn't record a catch last season in 11 games and Washington redshirted because he had never been a blocker before.
Washington was making progress before an injury knocked him out of spring practice, and the former high school wide receiver could eventually become a true weapon for LSU passers. That is, if they bother to remember that tight ends are actually eligible to catch their passes.
The Tigers ran some plays in the spring game specifically designed to get the ball into the tight ends' hands, so maybe this will be the year. We've been fooled before, though. We'll have to see what happens once the Tigers take the field in the fall.
Keep your eye on: Smith. We expected a breakout season from Smith at this point last season, but he largely disappeared from the passing game after a drop in the season-opening win against Wisconsin. Thus it was a bit of a surprise when he gave easily the best performance of the season by an LSU tight end in the loss to Notre Dame. The Tigers have a couple of tight ends who are comfortable catching passes, but Smith feels like the safest bet to have more balls come his way if LSU starts making better use of the tight end in the passing game.
Confidence meter: High. Our confidence is high that LSU's tight ends will block and block well. That's their No. 1 function in LSU's offense, and with a dominant blocker like Gordon on the roster, they should have no problems in that department. Conversely, our confidence that this will be the season where the tight ends catch a bunch of passes? Not so high. They have the players to do it, but it just hasn't happened yet. The Tigers regularly play two tight ends at once, however, so maybe the group will get more opportunities for some touches this season.