By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
LSU finally has the personnel to incorporate the tight end back into the passing game this season.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system is set up to feed the ball to the tight ends this season.
With the Tigers breaking in a new quarterback, the tight ends will emerge as receiving threats and serve as a safety valve this season.
Three different rationales for the past three seasons — none of which came to fruition. The tight end has been MIA from the LSU passing attack for so long that its long-awaited return has become something of a running joke for fans and Baton Rouge media alike.
Look back at a copy of Tiger Rag from around this time last year, chances are there will be a story on why 2013 would be the year the tight ends finally broke out — I did, and there was.
But like the end of the Mayan calendar and Y2K before it, time came and went and nothing happened.
No LSU tight end has caught 20 passes in a season since Richard Dickson and his 90 career receptions graduated in 2009. Since then, the thought of a Tiger tight end hauling in 30-plus grabs in one campaign feels like a surefire sign of the apocalypse.
I’m well aware all of this makes it quite difficult to buy into what I’m about to say, but here goes nothing.
On a team with ultra-hyped freshmen Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Brandon Harris, a tight end will be the breakout star for the LSU offense in 2014.
Before calling up the men in white coats, hear me out. The rationale behind this bold prediction in not a scheme nor a circumstance, but instead a football player — sophomore DeSean Smith.
A freakish athlete and matchup nightmare, the Barbe product is a star in the making. The combination of his playmaking ability with all the factors listed above are why the tight end position will make its long-awaited return to the LSU passing game this season.
Many believed Smith would emerge as a receiving threat the day he arrived on campus last season, but he finished the campaign with just one catch in sporadic playing time.
Smith is a bright kid, but he admitted he struggled to learn and comprehend all the details of playing tight end in Cameron’s complex system. Throw in his inexperience and relative weakness as a blocker, and it’s no longer a mystery why Smith spent most of 2013 watching from the sidelines.
To set himself up to make an impact in 2014, he knew that had to change. With the help of veteran tight ends Dillon Gordon, Travis Dickson and Logan Stokes, Smith dedicated himself to doing the dirty work that comes with playing the position.
"I did more blocking than catching this summer,” Smith said. "The tight ends would get together as a group, and we’d just spend 30 minutes hitting the bags and working on our steps. I’ve definitely made a huge jump, and I’ve definitely improved since last summer.”
With his blocking now up to par — a prerequisite for playing any substantial role in a Les Miles-coached offense — Smith is primed to do what he does best, which is catch the football.
Standing at 6-foot-5, Smith is the combination of size, speed and strong hands that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. He’s too quick for most linebackers to stay with and is larger than almost any defensive back who draws the unenviable task of trying to get him on the ground.
After watching him run through passing drills early in fall camp, he looks much more like a receiver than a tight end once he tucks the ball away and turns up field. He’s got an explosiveness with the ball that makes it easy to picture him taking short completions for big gains on Saturdays.
And with the Tigers breaking in two young quarterbacks and a brand-new receiving corps, Smith knows he can become an invaluable safety valve that most inexperienced quarterbacks so desperately need.
"I can play a big role on this team,” Smith said. "The quarterbacks need to take their time with things, and they’re learning, but I definitely think they’re going to come through and we will all click together and come together as one.”
Smith even went so far as to say he won’t be the only tight end catching balls, and that he can see two or three of the Tigers’ previously-forgotten men getting involved in the passing game this fall.
Nothing is impossible, but it’s never a bad idea to walk before trying to run. After all, it’s been four long seasons since an LSU tight end reached the 20-catch plateau.
Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.