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Unproven LSU receiver group aiming to validate new coach's compliment

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s wide receivers aren’t deaf. They’ve no doubt heard the suggestions that they rank among the Tigers’ most unproven position groups.

They aren’t blind, either. They can look at a stat sheet and see that 48.5 percent of LSU’s receiving production over the past three seasons left with Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural at the end of last year.

However, they understandably prefer new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s analysis that they are actually the nation’s top receiving corps -- a claim that Canada hollered at his quarterbacks when they were not connecting consistently enough with their wideouts at a recent practice.

“It’s a true statement,” senior receiver Russell Gage said. “We’ve got guys like Drake [Davis], Dee Anderson, D.J. [Chark] -- everyone’s seen D.J. -- myself. We are a very talented group with speed, strength, power. We have all the accolades and so what he’s trying to get everyone to understand, if we’re able to put all that together, there’s no limit to what we can do for this season.

“It’s going to be interesting. You’ll see.”

Maybe we will, but even the most optimistic LSU fan would be acting solely on blind faith to believe it at this point.

The painful fact is that only senior Chark has proven himself as an SEC-caliber receiver after posting 466 yards and averaging 17.9 yards per catch last year. Everyone else has accomplished little or nothing in an actual college game thus far.

“I’m pretty sure they know what’s being said, but it’s finally their shot. You wait until it’s your turn and once you get your shot, you make the most of it,” said Chark, who did not catch a single pass in his first two seasons at LSU. “When I was finally able to get my shot, I made the most of it, and I feel like we’ve got a room full of guys like that. So now it’s their shot and they’re going to make the most of it.”

By the sounds of Coach Ed Orgeron’s post-practice comments, sophomore Davis is one player who has done that this spring. He was one of LSU’s three ESPN 300 wideout signees last year -- joined by Anderson and Stephen Sullivan -- but accounted for just a single reception as a freshman.

He has already made some noise at the midway point of spring drills.

“He’s taking coaching really well,” said quarterback Danny Etling, who called Davis one of LSU’s most improved players this spring. “I think Coach Canada has really done a good job of telling the receivers what he expects from them, what he wants, and Drake is doing a great job of applying that to the field and working hard and trying to learn the offense. You can see his technique has gotten a lot better as far as what Coach Canada wants and him applying that to the field.”

Gage is another wideout making “most improved” lists, with the former cornerback looking to build off his lone productive game on offense. He had never caught a pass before he started in Dural’s place in last year’s regular-season finale against Texas A&M. But in that win over the Aggies, Gage caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.

“Travin was out and I remember him giving me a talk that week before the game started, letting me know that ‘This is going to be your game’ and this is going to be me all next season,” Gage said. “So he gave me a talk and I went into the game with it on my mind. So yeah, I always knew that I prepared for it and I was capable of doing so.”

That seems to be the attitude LSU’s receivers are carrying into next season, but the passing game remains a work in progress as they adjust to Canada’s scheme and develop rapport with their quarterback.

The passing stats Orgeron offered up after this past Saturday’s scrimmage -- Etling, Justin McMillan and Lindsey Scott were a combined 11-for-19 for 235 yards and two touchdowns -- indicate as much, as do Etling’s comments before Tuesday’s practice.

“Maybe we haven’t been quite as efficient in the passing game as we want in the first seven practices, but that’s because we’re coming along,” Etling said. “We lost a ton of production from last year, getting timing as well as learning an all-new system, and I think we’ve gotten a lot better the last couple practices as far as feeling each other and throwing on time and all those things. I think it’s going to keep getting better, especially with a whole offseason of work and seven more practices to go.”

Good enough for LSU to boast the nation’s top receiving corps as their new coach predicted? That might be a tall order, but if this inexperienced group is going to set a goal, it might as well be a lofty one.