Deep where it matters most

The LSU defense has relied on a cast of many to anchor a 13-0 season.

NEW ORLEANS – For any LSU fan who's watched even a little bit of Tigers' football this season, it's not exactly major news that there's a lot of depth on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, if you don't watch closely, you're likely to miss a wave of replacements, especially on the defensive line where 8-10 players are likely to rotate in and out of the game.

To some players – particular recruits trying to identify where they fit best – that may be confusing and maybe even a reason to look elsewhere.

But getting players to accept the idea of depth and sharing playing time has become a specialty of the LSU coaching staff, never more so than this magical run in 2011.

When the top-ranked Tigers (13-0) tangle with second-ranked Alabama (11-1) Monday night in the BCS Championship Game, getting on the field will continue to be a timeshare on the d-line and you won't hear anybody grumbling about it.

"I feel it's a very important aspect, because when you have a good first-team defense and then you get your second-team defense in there, they're even hungrier to make plays and they're going out there sacking the quarterback and getting interceptions," defensive tackle Mike Brockers said.

"I feel like with the depth that we have, that makes our defense even better."

Better as in somebody like defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who has cracked the starting lineup only four times in 26 career games, but has been a major factor this season, recording 8 sacks this season among his team-high 13½ tackles for loss.

Or better as in young players like Ego Ferguson and Jermauria Rasco – two top-shelf recruits the last two years – having the chance to develop at a slower pace and now blossoming late in the season as reliable reserves behind their veteran teammates.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis and assistants Brick Haley and Ron Cooper have deployed a number of players to construct one of the country's top defenses this season.

"It's not by consequences that it happened this way," defensive coordinator John Chavis said Thursday. "We intend to play (guys).

"People will use this against you in recruiting, but we're going to play 10 defensive linemen if we've got 10 healthy guys that can go in and give us quality snaps. What it does for your football team, it builds that depth."

To some, depth may be an unwanted code word for being a backup – the football equivalent of a four-letter word to high school prospects ready to star at the next level.

To the Tigers coaches, though, depth is a process of making sure the next wave of talent is ready to step in – whether it's in an emergency situation or for the next season.

Chavis pointed out that Brockers was a key backup last season when LSU relied heavily on senior stalwarts Drake Nevis and Pep Levingston.

With those two both gone to the NFL, Chavis and d-line coach Brick Haley didn't have to fret over grooming anybody in the heat of the battle this season.

Bennie Logan: A relative unknown when the season began, he emerged as a starter and led the d-line with 51 tackles.

Instead, Brockers stepped in and delivered a solid season with 47 tackles, 9½ stops for loss and a pair of sacks. Likewise, Bennie Logan emerged from off the radar when the season began, started all but one game and led the defensive line with 51 tackles.

"We lost two really, really fine players from the interior of our defense last year, and we didn't miss a beat," Chavis said.

"What happens, if you know you're going to play, you prepare a different way. That's just human nature. So our guys know they're going to play. They prepare, and when they get those opportunities, they want to show the coaches and the rest of the team what they're capable of doing.

"It gives us the depth that we need and it gets the guys excited about going to practice, going to get better and preparing for games. You can only get so good in practice. You've got to go play in the games before you're going to reach that level and gain the confidence that you need, and that's what we've done."

Not just up front either.

While Haley was the trendsetter, Ron Cooper has followed suit in the secondary where the Tigers have as much talent and depth as any position on the team.

Tyrann Mathieu: His versatility typifies the Tigers' depth in the secondary.
That has paid off, allowing Chavis to orchestrate a scheme that relies more on the 4-2-5 than the traditional 4-3 to get tenacious playmaker Tyrann Mathieu in a nickel back position where he's been freer to inflict more damage than he would've from his normal cornerback spot.

With Mathieu free to roam, sophomore Tharold Simon has gotten a shot to play corner, and senior Ron Brooks has played a ton in nickel and dime looks.

The versatility also came in handy when Mathieu and Simon were suspended for the Auburn game for testing positive for synthetic marijuana, then again when Reid was hurt and unable to play against Arkansas.

In the Auburn game, Brooks stepped in at corner and starred with an interception return for a touchdown. With Reid out in the regular-season finale against Arkansas' prolific pass offense, Mathieu dropped back to safety and was impressive with 8 tackles and two forced fumbles plus a punt-return TD.

"We've been fortunate this year we've been able to do it in the secondary," Chavis said. "With our depth there, and we've had to move some people around, and certainly Ron (Cooper has) done a great job. Our young men have done a great job in terms of being able to move around and play different positions. And when you've got parts that are interchangeable, it allows you to do a lot with your defense.

"So that's part of what we do. That's part of what we do in terms of getting them ready to play."

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