CARBONDALE — Last spring, Landon Lenoir was catching everything SIU's quarterbacks threw his way.
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound sophomore was pulled into duty as a true freshman in 2016 after some injuries and competed in seven games. He caught nine passes for 47 yards, played on some special teams, and was on his way to moving up the depth chart before tearing his lateral meniscus in August. Lenoir had surgery just over a week before the season opener, and missed all of 2017.
He still rehabs three times a week, but looked sharp in SIU's fourth workout of spring ball Thursday. Lenoir added 17 pounds to his frame in the offseason but just started running for the first time since August on Jan. 3.
"I just kind of do my individual drills, trying to get my balance back right and my footing back right, because I haven't run in a long time," Lenoir said. "It feels good just getting back out there and doing things. I love it."
Spring football is a bit about pacing himself. Thursday's workout at Saluki Stadium was the fourth of 15 practices Division I teams are offered in the spring. SIU is giving its players next week off for spring break, and returning for three practices a week up until the spring game on April 7.
SIU coach Nick Hill said he liked how Lenoir was progressing.
"I told him this in the team meeting, I really like his approach and how he's come back, and just been workin'," Hill said. "He knows multiple positions, and if he stays healthy, he'll be a high-level player in this conference, and we really feel like we have four or five of 'em that can be that at that position."
SIU returns six of its top-seven receivers from last year. Darrell James, a fifth-year senior who led the Salukis in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns in 2017, paired up with senior Raphael Leonard with the first offense Thursday. Leonard, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, caught 34 passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Lenoir, the younger brother of former Western Illinois standout Lance Lenoir Jr., could find a niche as an underneath receiver with James and Leonard on the outside. He could also be a Jaelon Acklin-type, like the Leathernecks receiver that led the Missouri Valley Football Conference in yards last year, and line up at different spots.
"He's just do-whatever-you-need," SIU quarterback Sam Straub said. "He's very reliable. It doesn't matter what you ask him to do, whether it's get open, in the slot or on the outside, anything like that. He's just one of those guys you can lean on for a play when you need it."