To look at this LSU football team, the preseason prognosticators have easily targeted the Tigers strengths – and with good reason. The defending national champions are loaded at running back, the offensive and defensive line and in the secondary.
The obvious X-factor for this team is quarterback. With the leadership of Matt Mauck gone on to the NFL, LSU’s biggest question mark is placed on the back of senior Marcus Randall.
While the defensive line did lose a pair of studs to the NFL in defensive end Marquise Hill and tackle Chad Lavalais, the Tigers return all-American Marcus Spears and blue-collar workhorse Kyle Williams.
Another unit that watched two stars move on to the NFL was the wide receiving corps. Devery Henderson and Michael both bid adieu to Tiger Town and left the Tigers “crippled” at wide receiver with only all-American Skyler Green coming back with any type of major game experience.
What the experts don’t realize, over the past two recruiting seasons, Nick Saban has inked six of the nation’s top high school wide receivers. In 2003, Saban grabbed Dwayne Bowe, Amp Hill and Craig Davis. A year later, Saban pulled off another coup luring Early Doucet, Xavier Carter and Lavelle Hawkins to LSU.
While the Tigers may be lacking on experience, LSU is as gifted at wide receiver as any team in America.
Bowe said he expects the Tigers receiving corps to surprise some folks come September.
“Oh yeah definitely they are going to be surprised,” Bowe said. “I know everybody knows how good Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson were when they were here, but there were people here before them and they had to come in and replace them, prove how good they were. Now they have left and now it is our turn to fill what is missing now that they are gone. But we plan to come here and do the same thing they did, maybe even better.”
Bowe, who is being touted as the next Clayton, says he is not quite to the level of the former all-SEC receiver and current Tampa Bay wideout.
“I am the same size, same speed, but I am more of an across the middle type of receiver where (Michael) Clayton was a good blocker and a good speedball receiver,” Bowe said. “I am just trying to have the expectations that he had coming into his sophomore season. I am shooting high. All of the records that he had set, I am setting my sights, my goals on them. I am out here everyday, working extra hard to try and meet the goals I have placed on myself.”
One thing Bowe will have to step up on the field if he wishes to play to Clayton’s level is a brash, aggressive nature that Clayton showed on special teams and downfield blocking. Bowe said he has that type of mentality when the steps onto the field, but he has not had the opportunity to show it off just yet.
“Right now, I do not see myself as good a blocker as Mike was, but I am improving everyday to be a dominant blocker like him,” Bowe said. “But just give me some time. By the time the first game gets here, I’ll be ready.”
To speak with Bowe, you can understand why Saban is depending on the Miami, Fla. sophomore to step in as one of the “bell cows,” or leaders. Bowe’s down-to-earth nature and expressive personality is one younger players can latch onto the way he was a freshman.
Bowe bragged on the newcomers and stated how impressed he was with the talent of Doucet, Hawkins and Carter. He also guaranteed the wide receiving corps will impress in 2004.
“Oh man, we have some great freshmen,” Bowe said. “Early Doucet, Lavelle (Hawkins) and Xavier (Carter), those guys have talent. They are just all-around great receivers, catch, block – it is going to be a hell of a season for the wide receivers at LSU.”