- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: We broke down LSU's need to improve at quarterback as part of our SEC blog's positional series two weeks ago. This week on the LSU blog, we continue our position-by-position look at the 2015 Tigers.
LSU's growing pains at quarterback made for the biggest storyline in the Tigers' 2014 season, causing similar issues at wide receiver to fly under the radar somewhat.
But if the Tigers are to improve upon their underwhelming passing numbers, it will take more than development from Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris under center. The young receiving corps will have to make big strides as well.
"I see a lot of guys who can help us produce next year," said Travin Dural, the Tigers' only consistent weapon in the passing game last fall. "We're going to be a little deep receiving corps next year and we're going to be more mature than we were this year. Everyone's going to have that game experience, so we can't really say no one knows what it feels like to play in this game or play in that game. That's going to be something we've done before and we're going to know how to handle these situations."
Perhaps that was the biggest issue for the Tigers from a receiving standpoint. Star freshman signees Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn were playing big roles in their first SEC season. Same for redshirt freshman John Diarse, who was in line to play in 2013 before a season-ending injury.
Even Dural was playing a much bigger role, taking over as the Tigers' go-to target once Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry jumped to the NFL after standout junior seasons in 2013. But Dural largely delivered, leading the team with 37 catches for 758 yards and seven touchdowns.
Considering that the Tigers passed for just 2,118 yards all season, Dural needs assistance from his fellow receivers -- and stronger play from his quarterback -- if the passing game is to improve in 2015.
The good news is that Jennings said he witnessed signs of growth throughout the season from some of the others.
"John Diarse is getting better, Trey Quinn is getting better," Jennings said. "All those guys that we're going to need in the offense are getting better each and every day. I think those guys are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Same for Dupre, ESPN's No. 1 wideout prospect in 2014, who was second on the team with 318 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He will be a key figure if the Tigers' passing production increases, as his 6-foot-3 frame makes Dupre a potential target for downfield throws and jump balls at the goal line.
However, fans should also keep an eye on another 2014 freshman, Dural said. D.J. Chark did not record a reception in six games, but Dural said he was impressive in practice and could be next in line to claim a bigger role in the position rotation.
"He's a guy who can help us stretch the defense out because he's a guy who runs 4.4., 4.3. He runs real fast and is long and athletic and can really jump," Dural said. "So coming into spring, if he has a good spring, he can be a guy who can really help us out next year."
The Tigers could use the help. If Jennings or Harris don't get it together between now and September, the receivers' improvement might not matter much. But assuming the Tigers put the ball in the air more than they did last fall -- and they almost certainly will after only 11 FBS programs averaged fewer passing yards per game than LSU in 2014 -- those still-developing quarterbacks need a more consistent effort from their receivers this fall.
After learning on the job last season, the group could be in for a season of major growth.
Returning players: Travin Dural (37 catches, 758 yards, 7 TDs), Trey Quinn (17-193), John Diarse (15-275, 3 TDs), Malachi Dupre (14-318, 5 TDs), D.J. Chark (no catches), Avery Peterson (no catches), Kevin Spears (no catches), Tony Upchurch (redshirted).
Departed players: Quantavius Leslie (no catches).
Committed prospects: Tyron Johnson (No. 3 WR, No. 30 overall on ESPN 300, four stars), Jazz Ferguson (No. 52 WR, four stars). ESPN lists verbal commit Lanard Fournette as a running back (No. 100 RB, three stars), but he could play receiver in college.
Outlook: The Tigers return every significant contributor from a year ago, plus they will add Johnson, who has the ability to play immediately. Dural is the veteran of the bunch after a breakthrough redshirt sophomore season, but Diarse, Dupre and Quinn all got valuable experience as freshmen in 2014. It will be interesting during spring practice to see whether any of the youngsters who didn't play much last fall will begin to make a move.
549dSam Khan Jr.