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Countdown to Camp: Clement catching on?

GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

Chase Clement moved from defensive end to tight end for LSU after his freshman season in 2009 and, in short order, made an impact as a blocker.

As a sophomore in 2008, he started eight of LSU's 13 games but only caught two passes. A season ago, he upped that total to seven passes, including his first career touchdown.

A pass catcher Clement is not. At least not historically. In the past two seasons, that distinction has gone to Deangelo Peterson, a converted wide receiver who caught 34 passes in two seasons as LSU's "hybrid" receiving tight end. Peterson's gone now to try his hand at a pro career and for the first time since 2006, LSU faces a season in which tight ends might not be a significant part of the passing game.

Unless, that is, Clement and a cast of no-name backups can surprise people.

Clement and primary backup Tyler Edwards will certainly have a role -- both were mainstays in short-yardage situations last season along with departed senior Mitch Joseph -- but the spring game might have been a preview of how they will be used in the fall. Despite a 272-yard passing day from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Clement had one catch for four yards. Edwards had one catchable pass go off his hands and into the arms of linebacker Lamar Louis, who returned it for a touchdown.

Blockers? Looked like it that day.

Even if that proves to be the case, it doesn't mean it will necessarily be bad for the passing game. The last time the Tigers lacked a legitimate tight end target (each of the last five years, there's been a tight end with at least 16 catches) was in 2006 when freshman Richard Dickson -- who went on to have three fairly productive receiving seasons from 2007-09 -- led the Tigers tight ends with a mere six catches.

That team went 11-2 as quarterback JaMarcus Russell passed for over 3,000 yards spreading the ball around to future NFL players Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet, Craig Davis, all wide receivers, and Jacob Hester, a running back.

So it's proven that it's not necessary for the Tigers to have a prolific pass-catching tight end to have passing success. And Mettenberger, perhaps the most physically gifted Tigers quarterback since Russell, seems to have built good chemistry with a group of wide receivers that has dubbed itself "The Fab Five."

So if a pass-catching tight end were to emerge from August camp, think of it as a bonus, a pleasant surprise in what's already an offense with plenty of potential weapons. Edwards, who enters his senior season with one career catch, is also an unlikely candidate. Sophomores Nic Jacobs and Travis Dickson, Richard's younger brother, have yet to manage significant playing time. And, even in the recruiting class, true freshman Dillon Gordon was noted as a blocker.

Truthfully, LSU probably won't have a significant pass-receiving weapon at tight end until the arrival DeSean Smith, a prolific prep hybrid tight end who's committed to sign with the class of 2013.

Until then, fans will likely have to appreciate the tight ends for what they do best -- block.