LSU Tigers: Dillon Gordon
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A year ago at this time, not only was Logan Stokes preparing for his rookie season in SEC football, he was also a virtual rookie at his position, tight end.
And yet the junior college transfer played in every game and even started three in LSU’s tight end-heavy offense last fall.
Stokes had other options when he picked the Tigers more than a year ago, but he knew he’d have a chance to play immediately despite his relative youth at the position. There were only a couple of tight ends on campus when he arrived last January, and all of them -- plus freshman DeSean Smith -- played once the season rolled around.
Stokes played a role as a blocker but never dented the stat sheet with a reception. He made improving as a receiver one of his priorities during spring practice. In fact, Stokes said all of the tight ends worked to diversify their games so they could fill all of the roles required of a well-rounded tight end.
“Obviously DeSean’s more of a deep threat than I am. I’ll just face the facts there,” Stokes joked of Smith, who is enough like a receiver that the Tigers might flex him out into a slot receiver position at times. “I mean, I can get out on the routes and I can do what they ask me to do in the route game and DeSean is getting to where he can do what they want him to do in the blocking. Now when we play teams and we’re in the game, they can’t be like, ‘Oh, they’re running the ball’ or ‘Oh, they’re throwing the ball.’
“Now we can kind of mix it up on people and they won’t know what’s going on. I feel like this year we’ve all been catching balls in the scrimmages and we’ve all been active in all aspects of the game.”
All of them were active in the passing attack during the Tigers’ spring game. Smith caught three passes for 45 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown from Brandon Harris. Dillon Gordon caught two balls for 32 yards and Travis Dickson one for 8. Stokes hardly looked like a guy with limited receiving skills when he went over the middle to make a pretty, 26-yard grab from Anthony Jennings in the second quarter.
“The tight ends you saw involved more [in the spring game] than you’ve seen. I thought our tight ends did an outstanding job,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said after the game. “I thought Dillon Gordon did a good job, DeSean Smith really an outstanding spring, Logan Stokes, Travis Dickson, that group. So they’re doing some things today that we enjoyed and I thought our guys did well.”
The Tigers’ tight ends echo Cameron’s optimism and expect their increased involvement to be a trend that lasts beyond the spring, thanks in no small part to the progress they made during the 15 spring workouts.
“I think we’ve had a great spring,” Stokes said. “Everyone’s gotten better at their weaknesses. DeSean’s improved a lot on his blocking, I’ve improved a lot on my receiving game – me and Dillon both. Me and Dillon are both still strong blockers. Travis is good at both. So right now, we’re all working on our weaknesses and we’ve all made improvements.”
As Les Miles’ club wraps up its 15 spring workouts, here are five things we took away from the last month on the practice field:
Whichever quarterback wins the starting job, it’s a certainty that his playing style will differ wildly from predecessor Zach Mettenberger, who stood like a stone in the pocket. With either Jennings or Harris under center, defenses will have to respect that he can take off and make big plays with his legs.
“Oh boy, isn’t that fun to see?” Miles asked, referring to a 41-yard run that Harris made in the second quarter. “You go back in there and the defense makes a mistake and let me tell you what happened: One of those linebackers went over there to the other side with one of those backs and did not stay home. And so that quarterback came out the back side and suddenly 41 yards later, he’s run out of bounds.
“That’s something you can’t do, either, so when you line up against a quarterback with that kind of ability -- and both of our guys have it -- you’d better keep that linebacker home.”
Jennings still seems to have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long while looking to pass. Iowa sacked him four times in the Outback Bowl, and his defensive teammates got to him four times in the spring game. Harris seemed to have a better idea when to tuck it and run, which doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea for either of them, as they can both be dynamic runners when they leave the pocket.
2. Linebackers will be strong: Saturday was a great day for LSU’s linebackers. Not only did Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones both intercept Jennings' passes and take them to the house for touchdowns, but Ronnie Feist (14 tackles) and Lamar Louis (seven tackles, 0.5 tackle for a loss) were their respective teams’ leading tacklers.
Feist seemed to be everywhere, continuing what Miles said was an impressive spring from a physicality standpoint.
“When he hits you, you’re hit,” Miles said of Feist. “There’s no pretend to it.”
Senior middle linebacker D.J. Welter apparently left a major impression on his coaches this spring as well. Not only was he among the defense’s honorees in awards for leadership and for outstanding performance, but he was the lone winner of the Jimmy Taylor Award, the team’s comprehensive spring award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance.
3. Offensive playmakers still must emerge: It seemed like a foregone conclusion even before spring practice started that some of the team’s top offensive players for 2014 weren’t on campus yet. Spring didn’t do much to change that perception.
Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee -- who dealt with a sprained ankle for much of the spring -- were adequate at tailback, but freshman Leonard Fournette will inject some star power to the position once he arrives on campus. Likewise, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and the new receivers will add explosiveness at a position that was riddled with injuries throughout the spring. The receivers were nearly nonexistent in the spring game.
LSU wide receivers totaled seven catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Sounds pretty good, right? But five of the catches, 130 yards and both touchdowns came from one player: Travin Dural.
Otherwise, the group frequently dropped passes and misplayed catchable balls, proving that they need every bit of the available practice time this summer to develop chemistry with their quarterbacks. Dural looks like a star in the making, but the others have a lot to prove from a consistency standpoint.
4. Tight end talk seems legit: DeSean Smith and the Tigers’ other tight ends expressed hope this spring that they would get more opportunities to catch passes in 2014 than they did last season, when wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham got most of the looks from Mettenberger.
They said that’s how things had been going in practice, and Saturday looked to continue that trend. Smith led the way with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, but Dillon Gordon (2-32), Logan Stokes (1-26), John David Moore (1-20) and Travis Dickson (1-8) also made receptions. In all, the tight ends accounted for eight of the Tigers’ 21 catches in the final spring scrimmage, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems pleased with the weapons he has at his disposal at the position.
“Every year, with different personnel, creates a whole new set of opportunities, and I think the opportunities for our tight ends are going to be critical,” Cameron said. “I was thrilled -- for the most part -- I thought they made the most of it.”
5. Defense is on the comeback: Judging by the way the White team (which featured the starters) throttled the Purple team’s offense on Saturday, it looks like LSU’s first-team defense has the potential to rank among the SEC’s best this fall.
The Purple team accounted for 179 yards of offense on 46 plays -- 53 rushing on 27 carries and 126 passing on 6-for-19 attempts. The Purple converted for a first down just once out of 11 third downs.
After saying earlier in the week that he overthought things in his first season as a starter, defensive end Danielle Hunter seems to have cut loose now. He recorded two sacks on Saturday and was a regular presence in the Purple team’s backfield.
He was only one member of a sizable group of defensive players on both teams who flashed major potential in the scrimmage. Things seem to be looking up for defensive coordinator John Chavis’ bunch.
“I envision of course all of us playing, all of us rotating,” Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “I see our tight ends with probably seven or eight catches a game -- at least -- just to make that big step now that we’re improving in practice and showing them we can catch and be their go-to targets. We have a great receiving corps, too, so I plan on a lot of people getting a lot of balls, but much more [at tight end] than we got last year.”
For those who expected LSU’s tight ends to receive heavy attention last fall in Year 1 under Cam Cameron -- a noted tight end enthusiast during his decade as an NFL offensive coordinator -- Smith’s projection probably seems comical.
It wasn’t that the tight end didn’t play an active part in the offense, however, it’s that senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger had two of the nation’s most productive wide receivers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and made full use of their abilities. With Beckham and Landry -- who combined for 136 catches and 2,345 yards last fall -- now chasing NFL dreams, the tight ends believe they will garner more attention from their quarterbacks.
“We had the two best receivers in the country -- that’s what I say, anyway -- and obviously we’re going to push the ball to those guys in game situations,” Stokes said. “But this year, we’re young across the board and we’re looking for playmakers. This spring, we’re starting to find them and some of those playmakers happen to be us.
“When they need us to make a play, DeSean’s made some great plays downfield and me and Dillon have made some nice plays, 10, 15 yards. We’ve had a couple of deep balls this year, too, so we’re definitely going to get more involved this year, I feel like.”
It doesn’t hurt their confidence in making such claims that Cameron has a proven track record of using the tight end. In 10 seasons as an NFL coordinator, his offenses frequently targeted players like Dennis Pitta, Todd Heap and Antonio Gates, who helped usher in a new era of athletic, pass-catching tight ends. Over that 10-year period, Cameron’s top tight end averaged 55 catches for 668 yards and six touchdowns per season.
Obviously it was exciting news to the group, then, that Cameron joined Les Miles’ coaching staff last February.
“First thing, my dad called and told me,” Smith recalled. “Right then, everybody in my family was talking about how he’s a tight end guy. That was pretty neat.”
Now it’s a matter of proving that the group deserves more of an opportunity. That has been a goal this spring, as blocking-oriented players like Stokes work on their pass-catching skills and receiving-oriented tight ends like Smith attempt to become better blockers.
If each member of the group proves he can excel in both areas, LSU’s offense becomes less predictable and more difficult to defend.
“Now when we play teams and we’re in the game, they can’t be like, ‘Oh they’re running the ball’ or ‘Oh they’re throwing the ball.’ Now we can kind of mix it up on people and they won’t know what’s going on,” Stokes said. “I feel like this year we’ve all been catching balls in the scrimmages and we’ve all been active in all aspects of the game.”
They’ll add another member to the group over the summer when signee Jacory Washington on campus. He’ll add another player in the hybrid, pass-catching role of a Smith, as Miles mentioned after a recent spring practice.
“We’ve used them in the past and I think that any time that you have a position that is used to block and he can also receive the ball, it makes a tremendous difference in your attack. And it’s another quality receiver,” Miles said. “I think both DeSean Smith and Jacory Washington will be guys that we’ll use in the fall.”
Since the tight end is involved in essentially every formation the Tigers utilize, expect to see plenty of them on the field this fall -- often two at a time. Whether the group’s reception total rises remains to be seen, but spring is always a time for optimism, and LSU’s tight ends fully believe that their time is coming.
“This year a lot of people have got big shoes to fill, so hopefully we’ll be able to see the tight ends step into that position of being the old tight ends you see in the Cam Cameron offense,” said Dickson, who led LSU’s tight ends with 109 yards on five catches last season. “There’s definitely more opportunities, as much as we use tight ends in our offense. As the season goes on and as a lot of us develop into our key roles, we’ll see what happens.”
We begin today with the first installment in a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. Today's first group is the tight ends.
Battling for No. 1: Based on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's history, many expected LSU to make better use of the tight end as a receiving option in Cameron's first season with the Tigers. That was not to be, as the Tigers used the tight ends almost exclusively as blockers -- same as they had for the last few seasons -- while wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham contributed the vast majority of the catches and receiving yards. Rising senior tight end Travis Dickson ranked sixth on the team with 109 receiving yards, while rising junior Dillon Gordon (six catches, 88 yards) started 12 of 13 games. With Beckham, Landry and quarterback Zach Mettenberger departed for the NFL, it wouldn't be a big surprise to see the tight ends -- either Dickson, Gordon or one of the younger players on the roster -- play bigger roles as receivers in Year 2 under Cameron.
Strength in numbers: Then-freshman DeSean Smith (one catch, 14 yards) arrived at LSU with plenty of acclaim last year -- he was ESPN's No. 5 tight end and No. 141 overall prospect -- but was not ready to be a starter. He and junior college transfer Logan Stokes appeared in all 13 games, but Smith seems like the candidate to watch for extended playing time as he matures.
New on the scene: New signee Jacory Washington -- who is ranked No. 169 in the ESPN 300 and No. 5 tight end -- seems to have comparable upside to Smith. He could emerge as a receiving weapon in time but needs to add size and become a consistent blocker in order to earn playing time. With all of the key players back from last season, Washington will have to put together a great August to become an immediate contributor. But the athleticism that he and Smith bring to the position group might help the tight end become a more visible element in the passing game over the next couple of seasons.
1. Mettenberger adjusts: Quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 12 of 19 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half, after he evidently adjusted his own game plan.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came up with the idea of allowing the quarterbacks to call their own plays in the spring game, so Mettenberger had some adjustments to make to his own calls.
"It was tough out there," the quarterback said. "Coach Cameron allowed us to call our own plays and it was the first time I've ever done that. It was kind of a slow start to get going, but we turned it around and had a pretty good day."
LSU coach Les Miles said the idea was to allow coaches to get a better feel for each quarterback's preference in certain situations and to allow the quarterbacks to gain a respect, and some insight, in the play-calling process.
"It allows you to see how the quarterback thinks," Miles said. "It allows you to see how he views the game plan, what he would call. I think it was a tremendous exercise."
It didn't get off to a rip-roaring start. Playing against a depleted second-team defense, the White offense managed a single field goal in its first three possessions before threw touchdown passes of 15 and 79 yards from Mettenberger to tight end Dillon Gordon and receiver Odell Beckham on consecutive possessions.
"We turned it around and had a pretty good day," Mettenberger said.
That goes especially for Beckham, who had two touchdown and 202 receiving yards on six catches, and Jarvis Landry, who added 132 yards on six catches.
2. Left out: LSU was without six injured first team players, as the secondary was depleted by injuries that kept out Jalen Collins, Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin. Offensive linemen Elliott Porter and Vadal Alexander also missed the game, as did defensive end Jermauria Rasco.
On the other hand, it looks like the six freshmen who entered college early might already be reaping some rewards from their early entry.
Here is a look at how LSU's eight new players have done after three weeks of spring.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- When LSU hired Cam Cameron as its new offensive coordinator, tight end Travis Dickson had reason to be excited.
Cameron's reputation for using tight ends in the passing offense preceded him.
"I heard, then I looked into it myself," Dickson said. "And once I saw (the offense) my mind was blown. I couldn't wait to start spring (practice)."
Cameron's offense did, indeed, employ tight ends more in the passing game, not so much because Cameron has a particular infinity for the position where he has enjoyed coaching talent like Antonio Gates and Dennis Pitta, Dickson said. He said it's because Cameron is position agnostic and will cater the offense to its strengths.
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Practice dates: March 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 23 (scrimmage), 25, 26 and 28. After spring break, resumes April 9, 11, 13 (scrimmage), 16, 18 and 20 (spring game).
What's new: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will install his new offense, and four new starters will man the defensive line.
What's old: The Tigers have eight returning starters on offense, led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Starters returning (8): QB Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, FB J.C. Copeland, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, LT La'el Collins (moved from left guard), LG Josh Williford (moved from right guard), RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander.
New starters: TE Dillon Gordon or Logan Stokes, C Elliott Porter. Key reserves -- QB Stephen Rivers, RBs Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrance Magee, FB Connor Neighbors, LT Jerald Hawkins, RG Fehoko Fanaika, RT Ethan Pocic, WR James Wright, Kadron Boone, John Diarse and Travin Dural, TE Travis Dickson.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU begins springs football practice Thursday with plenty of question marks, from adjusting to a new offensive coordinator to replacing the entire defensive line.
Here are the big story lines as practice gets set to start Thursday and continue until the spring game April 20:
1. What's the Cam Cameron effect? It's really going to be hard to pinpoint the Cameron influence on the offense until the Tigers start taking snaps in games next fall.
But if we start seeing Jeremy Hill taking swing passes from Zach Mettenberger and tight ends getting targeted repeatedly in passing drills, we'll know where that came from.
Similarly, with a veteran stable of running backs returning, few saw true freshman Jeremy Hill emerging as a primary running back for LSU this year. Yet, it took only one injury -- to original starter Alfred Blue -- to get Hill the break he needed to start getting carries and eventually become the starter and the Tigers' leading rusher.
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"In my first game in junior college, I made catches but I had to learn how to block," said the sophomore at Northeast Mississippi Community College, who will sign with the Tigers on Wednesday morning before having an informal evening ceremony with teammate Nick Thomason. Stokes said Thomason will sign with Louisiana Tech.
Stokes, a converted high school defensive end, is the only player expected to sign with LSU during the junior college signing period today. Quantavius Leslie, a wide receiver committed to LSU, did not graduate from Hinds Junior College and must return to junior college for the spring semester.
Stokes' comment about his natural receiving ability might come as a revelation to many who have looked at Stokes' modest statistics -- he had just 12 catches in his sophomore season -- and his large frame (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and assume he's in the mold of current LSU starter Chase Clement, a devastating blocker who rarely gets involved in the passing game.
Stokes said there are other reasons for his lack of production as juco receiver.
"We just could not throw the ball," Stokes said. "We had a weak offensive line that couldn't pass-block very well and our quarterbacks struggled some, too."
As for Stokes, he said he caught it just fine.
"Didn't have one drop," he said.
Indeed, that seems to be the book on Stokes from those who actually covered him. Scouts, including ESPN's own scouting report, noted that he had soft hands and looked comfortable catching the ball. He said he is athletic enough to "flex" out to a wide receiver spot.
"I actually caught a lot of my passes this year doing flexed out," he said.
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Not yet, at least.
He also announced that defensive end Jordan Allen was lost for the season because of ACL surgery.
While that may seem like a lot of attrition to be announced at once, the reality is, it's either been dealt with already or is only an issue for players deep on the depth chart.
Jones is the one player among the five who was a starter. But like Welter, Edwards and Washington, Jones has not dressed for a game this season and most have started working under the assumption that Luke Munice had taken his place as the starting strong-side linebacker for the season. Wednesday's announcement just confirmed that. The loss of Jones, a junior, and Welter, a sophomore, means all of LSU's backup linebackers now are true freshmen.
That would be more of the problem had the 2012 linebacker recruiting class, six players strong, not been considered by Miles to be the strongest linebacker class recruited by LSU in his tenure. So far, true freshmen Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones have played well in reserve roles. Where it could be a problem is if injuries hit the veteran starting trio of Kevin Minter, Lamin Barrow and Muncie, forcing the true freshmen to play bigger roles than they might be ready for.
It's a similar situation at tight end and defensive end. Edwards' role as a primarily blocking tight end behind starter Chase Clement has been replaced by sophomores Nic Jacobs and Travis Dickson and freshman Dillon Gordon. But Edwards is a senior, so his experience will be missed, especially if Clement, also a senior, goes down. Allen was far down the depth chart at defensive end, but his loss would be felt at the position only if the Tigers suffer attrition ahead of him at what is a deep position.
Allen was injured covering a kickoff, an area where the Tigers will have to find a replacement.
Washington, a reserve sophomore who has yet to play in a game, is the second offensive lineman lost for the season after Chris Faulk's knee injury sidelined him last week. With Josh Dworaczyk starting at left tackle, LSU is perhaps eight deep with game-ready offensive linemen. True freshman tackle Vadal Alexander was mentioned as a possible starter after Faulk's loss and coaches have been pleased with the progress of second-team center Elliott Porter.
In last week's win over Washington, Trai Turner got snaps at guard when starter La'el Collins went down with a minor injury.
The losses announced Wednesday pushed the total number of veterans from LSU's spring roster that have been lost for the season to 11. Previous to Wednesday's five, Faulk suffered his injury, Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team, offensive lineman Corey White did not return to the team for August camp and defensive backs Ronnie Vinson, Sam Gibson and David Jenkins all transferred to other schools after the spring.
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.
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The Patriots feature heavily in this week's FAB 50 Offseason Primer from ESPNHS writer Mark Tennis. It's hard to raise the expectations on a team that went 14-0 on the way to a Class 2A state title while racking up head coach J.T. Curtis' 500th career win, but the Patriots return a lot of talent. The program sends plenty of players to major college football - Joe McKnight, for one. Curtis tight end and 2012 prospect Dillon Gordon will join LSU's roster this fall.
I covered Curtis on multiple occasions in 2011, and regardless of the losses, the Patriots return essentially their entire devastating backfield.
Tennis has the full scoop here, where he also highlights Class 4A runner-up Edna Karr.
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