Last season LSU's Josh Reed caught a school-record 94 passes for an SEC-record 1,740 yards and won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver.
Reed has moved on to the Buffalo Bills, but the Tigers say they still have one of the most talented groups of receivers in the conference. And, whether by group effort or through the emergence of a single standout, that group plans to fill the void left by Reed.
"We have so much talent,'' said sophomore Michael Clayton, who was second on the team to Reed with 47 receptions for 754 yards and six touchdowns last season. "I know I'm not ready to do what Josh Reed did last year, but we have a lot of guys who can do things Josh couldn't.
``We have a lot more speed. We're more experienced, and we've got Reggie Robinson back. Anybody could step up and make the big play, and anybody could emerge.''
LSU will miss the dependability of Reed, who, with departed quarterback Rohan Davey, helped the 2001 team set several LSU offensive records. But LSU doesn't necessarily need another Reed-like season.
"Hopefully the catches will be spread out,'' said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. "That will make us tougher to defend. Someone will emerge. There's always a go-to guy in the offense. We'll just have to see who that is.''
Clayton and seniors Jerel Myers (39 catches, 461 yards, one touchdown) and Robinson comprise the top three. Bennie Brazell, Shyrone Carey and Devery Henderson all have shown flashes of ability and could get significant playing time.
Robinson missed last season after a disc problem was discovered in his neck. He went through a spring practice without contact. As a junior in 2000, he caught 31 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns.
"I look at it like we're reloading,'' Robinson said. "We've got different things that different people can do. The catches are going to be spread around. We'll have four or five guys with 20 catches, instead of one with 100 like Josh last year. It will be a receiving corps by committee.''
Robinson gives the Tigers experience. He said he feels 100 percent after the year off, and is stronger and quicker.
"He gives us a big body, experience, leadership,'' said Fisher. "Guys can look up to him and say, this guy's been through the wars and won, made big plays in big games.'
"Just his presence on the field will help us with the young guys. You don't realize how important a guy like that is until you lose him. The young guys can learn to live for the moment and relish it.''
"I haven't lost a step,'' Robinson said. "The young guys call me `old man,' but I still run by them. I turn it on when I have to.''
As a highly touted incoming freshman, Clayton made a spectacular debut. He caught the winning touchdown pass with 16 seconds left against Kentucky and averaged 16 yards per catch. He said he is a much better receiver coming into this season.
"I've made a lot of improvement, especially mentally,'' he said. "Last year I had one position to learn. This year I'm learning more of the concepts, reading the defense, knowing when to cut. I'm mentally more ready.''
A big key to the receivers' success this season will be the development of quarterback Matt Mauck, who replaces Davey. Mauck was the MVP of the SEC title game, but is unproven over a full season. Early impressions in camp have been good.
"Matt came out and impressed the whole receiving corps,'' said Clayton. "He stepped up and is putting it in there just like Ro (Davey) did. There are no steps lost. We have a good combination.''