Every year around this time the topic of tight ends surfaces. It’s always the year the tight end becomes a big part of the offense. That never exactly works out. Richard Dickson did some good things a few years back, but the DeAngelo Peterson experiment largely failed. Last season tight ends combined for 16 catches in 13 games. For the most part the guys were all glorified tackles in there to set the edge. And they did a good job of that. It’s just not all that sexy. As usual, the addition of Cam Cameron to the staff has the buzz back about the tight ends. I do know all of them got looks in the spring game. I don’t know if that transfers to the fall.
The Departed: Chase Clement- Graduation; Nic Jacobs- Transfer; Tyler Edwards- Graduation
They’re Back: Travis Dickson (6’3”, 230, Jr.); Dillon Gordon (6’5”, 280, Soph.);
Who’s New: Logan Stokes (6’5”, 253, Jr.); DeSean Smith (6’4”, 226, Fr.)
What We Know: With Chase Clement, Nic Jacobs and obviously Tyler Edwards gone, Travis Dickson returns as the veteran presence at the tight end spot. Dickson had been somewhat buried on the depth chart behind the other guys, but he did emerge during the Ole Miss game to haul in five receptions. He only made one catch in the other 12 games. Dickson has added weight since arriving in Baton Rouge, and he’s now a very capable blocker. That wasn’t really the case two years ago. Being that blocking is the primary objective of an LSU tight end, he’s now capable of getting most of the snaps. Dickson has good hands and will catch most of the balls in the catching zone. He’s got more speed than two of the three other guys, DeSean Smith being the exception. While he’s not quite his brother, Dickson is a versatile, complete tight end.
I think Dillon Gordon has a great skill set. He’s a massive human being, and he’s a really good athlete. Gordon was a good high school basketball player on a state championship team. He showed some bounce and body control of the court. He also had a fastball that was clocked in the high 80s. He’s just a talented kid. Last year there were too many players ahead of him for him to get on the field much, but he played in all 13 games and earned a letter. Gordon can obviously push people around behind that 280 lb. frame. He did a bunch of that at John Curtis in high school. He’s got soft hands which he put on display in the spring game catching a seam route for a 15 touchdown. With a season behind him, Gordon now has some experience to go with his raw talent.
Logan Stokes showed up in the spring and immediately looked the part. He fills out the pads. His reputation upon arrival was a bruising blocker. Much more Mitch Joseph than Richard Dickson, too put it in LSU terms. He showed he could be that guy in the spring, but he also caught some footballs. Sure, there were drops in practice, but if the throw is on target, Stokes can haul it in. He caught three balls for 13 yards in the spring game. That doesn’t exactly say ‘game changer’, but it says he’s got to at least be accounted for. Stokes was brought in as a third tackle, but he showed he can be more than that.
DeSean Smith is the opposite of Stokes. This guy is essentially a wide receiver who puts his hand on the ground at times. Smith was rated as the best pass catching tight end in high school last year, and he showed that at the US Army All-America Game where he was voted as “best hands”. I saw those for myself in the state championship game when he made a spectacular leaping catch in the back of the end zone. Smith spent a lot of time split out wide in high school, and he didn’t block a ton. That’s a skill he’ll have to learn, but as athletic as he is, it can happen. He’s also got some filling out to do, but there’s plenty of time for that.
What To Expect: Dickson will become the man at tight end this year. Every one of these guys will play, but I think Dickson will play the most. I think you will see him working the middle of the field, and he’ll move the chains with some regularity. I’m not totally falling into the trap, but I think the tight ends will get a few more looks this year. They have to. Last year it was a virtually invisible position. With two years under his belt and a pair of guys out the door from last year, Dickson will get a bigger work load this year. He’s ready for that.
Gordon is an interesting case. I can see him making some catches, but I think his main role will be in the goalline and short yardage situations when LSU goes big. He’ll do a bunch more blocking than pass catching. As big and strong as he is, he can move a defensive end or outside linebacker a couple of yards. But teams can’t ignore him because he’s capable of releasing and making a play. I don ‘t expect more than three or four catches from Gordon, but he’ll play in every game and makes some blocks.
Stokes will join Gordon in those short yardage spots. He’s not afraid to put his facemask on someone and mix it up. I think you’ll also see a drop or two from him. His hands hasn’t quite convinced me after just a couple of months. Maybe I’m wrong. Look for five to seven catches from Stokes and a bunch of playing time in blocking situations. I see lots of similarities to the way Stokes and Gordon play.
Smith is a wild card at this point. In a group that features three balanced players who don’t really have a specialty, Smith has one. He’s a matchup problem for college linebackers right now. His speed and leaping ability make him a game changer. Word is that Smith will play this year. It’s tough for me to see him making a big impact in the first month, but as time goes on and he gets more comfortable, they may try to work him in there. He can change the scoreboard. LSU was not good in the red zone last year. This position can help change that, and Smith can be a part. Expect him to catch some balls this year, often from a split end position. How early he grasps the offense and gets into the game will dictate just how large his impact is. I personally don’t expect Smith to catch 18 passes for three scores. He will down the line, but maybe not this year. He’s going to have to get in the weight room and improve as an edge blocker so that when he checks in LSU is not predictable by personnel. That’s going to happen, and when it does Smith will be a serious issue for opposing defenses. He’s just a rare talent.