Chavis feeling confident

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said he's happy with the direction of his defense.

With 22 years of coaching experience in the SEC, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis knows how to play his cards.

If Tuesday’s back-and-forth session with the media was any indication, the third-year coordinator is going all in with the Tigers’ 2011 defense.

--- Despite losing cornerback Patrick Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Chavis called his secondary the most talented backfield that he has ever coached.

“From a speed standpoint, there’s no question, and in terms of having guys who can truly go out and play press man and you aren’t concerned about matchups, I think by far,” Chavis said. “Now we’ve had some very talented teams, and we were very talented last year and the year before, but I think we’ve got more depth in the secondary than any I’ve been around.”

Chavis said he expects Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon to be the starting cornerbacks, meaning Chavis has the luxury of keeping Tyrann Mathieu in the nickel back role where he broke onto the collegiate scene at last fall.

“Those three corners can play and they’re game ready, there’s no question about that,” Chavis said. “Then you throw in Ron Brooks and that gives us a fourth corner. When we are playing our nickel and dime packages, you will see all four of those guys in.”

Brandon Taylor leads a safety unit that will also feature a heavy dose of Eric Reid and Craig Loston.

Chavis said Reid, who finished his freshman campaign with 32 tackles and two interceptions, would be called upon as the field general in the defensive backfield.

“If you ask Eric right now he can tell you just about what everyone on that field is doing,” Chavis said. “There’s going to be a lot of calls that he’s responsible for making. There will be several people but he’s the first person that comes to mind when it comes to taking the bull by the horns and getting people lined up and making adjustments.

“We’ll put a lot of responsibility on him to make our checks for us and there are things he will actually call on the field.”

--- On the defensive line Chavis said that he wants to play “five or six tackles in every ball game.”

After losing Pep Levingston and Drake Nevis to the NFL draft, Chavis led off the conversation on replacements with Michael Brockers.

“Michael Brockers has had an outstanding offseason,” Chavis said. “He’s played a lot of football for us and is ready to take on that roll.”

The battle for the second tackle spot remains wide open, but a strong pre-season camp from Josh Downs could put the junior in line for a starting spot.

“Josh Downs is another guy who’s done a tremendous job for us,” Chavis said. “He gives us some quickness and speed at the position and really causes problems for opposing blockers.”

LSU fans expected there to be plenty of discussion on freshman Anthony Johnson, but a welcome curve ball came when Chavis praised the progress of redshirt freshman Ego Ferguson. Chavis said both Johnson and Ferguson would see significant action this season.

“When you start talking about young guys who haven’t really taken snaps in the SEC, they’ve been in practice and they’ve been through some of the battles so we got a good look at them,” Chavis said. “You’re talking about two quality players that are both 310 pounds plus and they have outstanding speed and outstanding strength. Both of them are very aggressive and both do a great job of being run stoppers for us, but they also give us a great pass rush inside.”

The fifth tackle in the rotation will be sophomore Bennie Logan.

“Bennie Logan has gotten himself into position where he’s going to be an impact player for us,” Chavis said.

“Again, we’re talking about five guys that we feel very confident in right now that can line up and play at a high level in the SEC.”

--- Chavis led off his methodical position breakdown with the defensive end spot, and he didn’t shy away from stressing the importance of being strong off the edge in the SEC.

“It’s been my philosophy that if you’re going to be strong on defense you’ve got to be strong up front,” Chavis said. “There’s no question when you start looking at where we are at defensive end I think we’ve gotten better every year. We were better last year than my first year, and I think we’ll be even better at defensive end this year.”

Similar to the defensive tackle rotation, Chavis will rotate the important snaps with a mix of five defensive ends.

With Barkevious Mingo and Ken Adams comes speed.

“I don’t think you’ll find two faster defensive ends in the country,” Chavis said. “They may be playing side-by-side or they may be playing across from each other.”

Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards bring experience, and Sam Montgomery – now healed from a serious knee injury – is the ace in the hole.

After earning freshman All-SEC honors despite playing in only five games, Montgomery has the pressure on his shoulders to make 2011 his breakthrough season.

“To be quite honest with you last year going into the season we felt Sam was our best pass rusher,” Chavis said. “He’s also got great strength to be a great run stopper for us. Then the leadership he brings. We’ve got quality at that position, but Sam’s a guy that is second to none from a competitive standpoint.”

“Some guys have that factor and with him he has it. It’s going to be every play, it’s going to be full-speed and he’s going to be a leader on our defense. We’re excited to have him back.”

--- Another player Chavis will call upon to lead is Ryan Baker, a senior linebacker who finished second to Kelvin Sheppard with 87 tackles last fall.

Baker has starting experience at weakside linebacker, and Stefoin Francois was the starter at linebacker on the opposite side.

But who will win the battle for the middle linebacker spot: Kevin Minter or Karnell Hatcher?

“I’m excited about where Karnell is at this point,” Chavis said. “He’s still learning, but let me tell you he’s a football player and he’s got great instincts and can find the football. Having him inside is going to be a big plus for us, particularly with the number of spread teams we’re going to be facing this year.

“Kevin Minter has had a great spring and a great offseason, so certainly those two are going to be battling for the starting position inside.”

--- After spending more than 20 seasons wearing Tennessee orange in Knoxville, Chavis will go back to Neyland Stadium for the first time since parting ways with the Volunteers in 2008.

“Really I hadn’t really thought about it that much,” Chavis said. “The biggest thing is, and I’m not avoiding the question, is it’s not about me. It’s about LSU.

“I’m happy and that’s a great venue to go play, but there’s none greater than Death Valley.”

LSU and Tennessee face off on Oct. 15.

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