- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Tony Ball has witnessed close to zero live game reps from the players he inherited at LSU, but the Tigers’ new receivers coach is already familiar with their work.
Just a few days before Ball opens his first spring practice with the Tigers, he has spent plenty of time watching game and practice film to evaluate who he will officially start working with on Saturday.
"I’ve done my homework on them and we’ve gone through the coaches’ early morning workouts, and I’ve gotten a chance to see them compete and see their athleticism and their ability to focus and pay attention to the little things," Ball said Wednesday evening. "I feel like I have a real good sense of each individual guy."
Whatever Ball builds this season will be centered around four returning wideouts -- Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, and Trey Quinn -- but the Tigers’ new receivers coach will also be entrusted with improving the depth. That is where he would do well to find a use for players like sophomores Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, D.J. Chark, and redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch.
Ball said an important part of his job as a new coach is letting players like that -- a foursome that combined for zero catches in 2014 -- know that he believes they can be productive receivers.
"Those that probably didn’t play as much, for whatever the reason, they’ve got to feel energized," Ball said. "And I think that I’ve given them the sense that I believe in them. And I think more than anything, that’s what energizes you. They get a sense that, 'Hey, this guy believes in me,' because I do. I think they’re very talented.
"We’ve got very talented young players. Those guys that haven’t had a bunch of reps, for whatever reason, they’re talented. So we’ve got to find a way as a staff to get them to perform at a high level."
That is a theme of this season for Ball. It’s not necessarily a knock against departed receivers coach Adam Henry, who worked with an incredibly inexperienced batch of receivers last season, that LSU’s wideouts were an up-and-down group in 2014.
Take Quinn, for example. ESPN’s No. 3 receiver prospect last year, Quinn was a standout during summer workouts and started the opener against Wisconsin, but he disappeared down the stretch, catching just three passes in the Tigers’ final six games.
Ball believes the sophomore can do better, and his job is to get his new player to agree with him.
"I love his skill set," Ball said. "Obviously he kind of dropped off a little bit last year and we’ve got to help him get his confidence back, because he has the ability to make a lot of plays."
Quinn represents one example of a general trend that existed within LSU’s receivers last season. Certainly part of the group’s issue was inconsistent quarterback play, but they didn’t do Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris many favors, either.
LSU’s wideouts were also learning on the job in 2014, and the results weren’t always positive. But the group got its first significant taste of SEC competition last fall, and now it’s Ball’s job to help them take the next step. He helped A.J. Green do that as an assistant at his previous stop, Georgia, and he hopes to help players with similar pedigrees -- like Dupre, who was ESPN’s No. 1 wideout prospect in 2014 -- advance in similar fashion at LSU.
It starts with learning about their personalities and capabilities, Ball said.
"No. 1, knowing who they are, knowing what their abilities are, knowing how they play the game right now, and then assessing how they play, having the ability to assess them and knowing how they work out and how they focus and how they work," Ball said. "That will certainly help.
"So now, the first challenge is teaching them how to prepare, how to train, how to ready ourselves, how we should focus, how we should think even before we get on the field -- just getting into the mental aspect of it," he continued. "And then once you get on the field and know what’s expected and they’ve got the right mindset, it really makes it easy on the field."