It's a position group with not a ton of clarity heading into the 2021 season, but the tight end room is one with plenty of promise and a number of strong candidates. Over the years, it’s been a position that’s primary focus has been blocking.
But as offensive coordinator Jake Peetz attempts to bring back the offensive styles of Joe Brady, it’s a position that will be needed in red zone and third down situations.
There are five key names to keep an eye on come fall camp: Kole Taylor, Nick Storz, Jack Bech, Jalen Shead and Devonta Lee. Those are the five that LSU will likely use at the tight end position this season, although it's important to note that in the Peetz offense, tight end will be just an extension of the receivers.
Taylor is the most well known name out of the group as he saw extended playing time at the position after Arik Gilbert opted out of the final two games of the season. Over those final two games he caught five passes for 33 yards so he didn't exactly assert himself as the next best option as a freshman.
The Tigers weren't expecting much out of the 6-foot-7 Colordao native as a freshman behind Gilbert but now that he's off to Georgia, there's a certain sense that he'll be given every opportunity to win the starting job. He'll likely need to add muscle this offseason to improve his frame for blocking purposes but the frame is there for him to add muscle and become a threat in this offense.
Storz and Shead are probably the two best blocking tight ends on the roster. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Storz was delegated to special teams as he transitioned away from baseball to focus on football. Like Taylor, he didn't receive much playing time a season ago but when he was inserted on offense, it was as an extra blocker on run designs.
Shead is an incoming freshman who excels in blocking but has some work to do to improve his agility and pass catching separaton before becoming a consistent threat in this offense.
Though LSU primarily will be in shotgun formation, there will be more variety in the schemes which could be beneficial to a player like Storz or Shead on play action calls at the line of scrimmage. There wasn't much of that shown in the spring game because of the lack of running backs but with the addition of the freshmen and improved health of the veterans, LSU can be a little more innovative with the playcalling.
"I think Kole is going to be an NFL tight end. He needs to get more physical at the point of attack," Orgeron said this spring on Off the Bench. "He's 6-6 and a half, he's about 240. Nick Storz is 6-5, 260. Those are some pretty good sized tight ends, we're going to use them, they're going to learn how to block and they're going to be fine."
Perhaps the name to watch the closest over the next several weeks is the freshman Bech. Originally recruited as a receiver, the plan is to convert him into a tight end so that he can play right away for the Tigers. He's a prolific athlete that the program is really excited about as he set Louisiana records over his final two seasons at St. Thomas More High School.
He's a perfect mismatch for linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field as he's big and strong but also possesses great ball skills and is quick for his 6-foot-2 frame.
Lee has been all over the field in his first few seasons with the Tigers. He started out at receiver before moving to linebacker and now he's back to the offense as a tight end. He caught a pair of passes in the spring game for 18 yards and is a big, physical athlete who can be used in the passing game.
LSU has also received a commitment from one of the best tight ends in the 2022 class in Jake Johnson, Max Johnson's brother, so the future looks bright for this group. The next step is just gaining experience through repetition.
This is one of the many positions up for grabs as the offseason progresses and it likely won't be settled for quite a while. Rotations seem to be a key factor in this Peetz offense so it's very possible two or three tight ends see the field throughout the course of a game as well.