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Injuries, transfers create opportunities for other LSU receivers

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With D.J. Chark essentially filling Travin Dural's role in LSU's bowl game last season, Chark figured he might as well do his best Dural impression.

On the first touch of his college career, Chark took a reverse handoff against Texas Tech and zig-zagged 79 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish.

"If Travin was there, that probably would have been Travin," Chark admitted last week.

Dural missed LSU's final two games after tearing his hamstring against Ole Miss last November, and he remains sidelined this spring while recovering from surgery. That leaves less experienced wide receivers such as Chark with another major opportunity to handle the senior's job for now.

"The spring is a time where you learn the plays and you get to show the coaches what you can do," Chark said. "With all the openings, you also have to show them that you've got leadership, too, and you can step into the roles when needed. That's what a lot of the guys have been doing."

If that is the case, it's great news for the Tigers. LSU's coaching staff desperately needs to identify new potential receiving targets because of injury and roster turnover.

Not only is Dural out this spring, but two of the Tigers' most experienced reserves -- John Diarse and Trey Quinn -- elected to transfer after the 2015 season. Beyond leading receivers Dural and Malachi Dupre, the Tigers' other wideouts combined for nine catches and 161 receiving yards last season.

Players such as Chark, sophomores Tyron Johnson and Jazz Ferguson, and possibly freshmen Stephen Sullivan, Dee Anderson and Drake Davis will have to pick up some of the slack this fall.

"I feel like I can contribute more than last year," said slot receiver Ferguson, who appeared in two games last season without a reception. "With a lot of older guys helping me out with install and stuff, it'll help out a lot."

One of those players is Dural himself.

"Since Travin's been here a long time, he knows all the installs, all the plays too, so with him being out, he's like another coach," Ferguson said. "He's helping me pick up the plays, as well."

Chark shares many of Dural's physical traits, and now he's trying to learn the finer points of his veteran teammate's game, as well. Chark has been playing Dural's "Z" outside receiver position after playing the "X" position last season, and has also been learning to play the other receiver spots, just like Dural.

"As a veteran with guys out, when we move fast, you have to be able to step in for a guy if he's not getting to that side of the field fast enough," Chark said. "You've got to really know your playbook."

As strange as it may seem -- he still hasn't caught a pass in college -- Chark actually is a veteran among this crop of LSU wideouts. Chark and Dupre are the only returning junior receivers, with Russell Gage joining the position group this spring after previously playing defensive back. Among the other options are third-year sophomore Tony Upchurch, back at receiver after trying fullback, and redshirt freshman Derrick Dillon.

Don't be surprised, however, if freshmen work their way into the lineup. Sullivan and Anderson are already on campus as early enrollees, and Ferguson said he is impressed by Sullivan's ability to get a clean release off the line and Anderson's route running. Davis -- ESPN's highest-rated prospect out of the trio, ranking 81st overall on the ESPN 300 -- will enter the competition this summer.

"Last year, Travin was the older guy and we had a lot of receivers that were older guys in that room and now Chi's the older guy and Travin, so they're teaching some of the young guys," quarterback Brandon Harris said. "And like I tell them, 'You've got to expect to play this year as a true freshman.' "

It also wouldn't hurt if a veteran like Chark delivers on the promise he has shown in flashes. Chark was many teammates' pick as a breakout candidate last season, only to appear in just five games.

Harris said last week that Chark "has had a great, great spring," but Chark knows he needs to practice with more consistency if he is to deliver on that offseason buzz. His hope is that his first taste of success in the bowl win will lead to bigger things this fall.

"It gives you game experience. It's different, being on the practice field and being under the lights," Chark said. "Having that under my belt, I know what to expect. I know the timing of the game, and I know I won't have the game jitters of getting in and wondering and being nervous. I'm used to it now."