Extended Q & A: John Chavis

With so many starters from 2012 gone to the NFL, it's easy to assume the 2013 LSU defense will suffer a setback. Defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't see it that way. Come inside, where Chavis tells TSD's Ben Love how the Tigers will get it done this fall with new pieces all around.

Following LSU Media Day Sunday, TSD gave a small glimpse into what the Tigers' coordinators had to say about their respective groups coming into the 2013 season.

Yesterday I rolled out the full Q&A with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who spoke about playing "team offense," the development of quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the pocket and what LSU must do in practice to execute better in end-game situations. CLICK HERE for that 1,800+ word Q &A with Cameron.

Today I have below the full transcript of my time spent with defensive coordinator John Chavis. The Chief opened up on Anthony Johnson as a player and leader, reloading with a younger unit and what Kwon Alexander can mean to the 2013 LSU defense.


Question: A number of the defensive players this Fall Camp have seemed to walk around with a chip on their shoulders because people have been doubting this defense. Do you sense that in the locker room and do they hear things?

John Chavis: Sure, I'm sure they hear things. I've heard things, but it's not anything I'm going to talk to them about. I come to work every day with the number one goal of getting this defense ready to compete in the SEC. These guys are ready to compete. Everybody's saying that we're going to drop off or something. Well, we don't expect that, and we've got to work hard to make sure that doesn't happen. But it's a natural thing when you lose the number of people that we lost, it's natural for some people to maybe think they're going to be down a little bit. We don't think that way. We're going to work to be the very best that we can be, and certainly if we reach that level with the potential that we have in terms of the quality of players, we're going to be just fine.

Ben Love: Is there an opportunity for a year like this to maybe be a little more rewarding for you, to take so many young guys and not necessarily rebuild but do something with a number of guys who aren't as established?

JC: Well, we've done it before. Even here we've done it before. Three years ago, we were sitting here and, after losing Brandon Taylor during that (2010) Alabama game, we had to kick another freshman in the game as a starter by the name of Eric Reid. By the time we got to the Cotton Bowl, we had three starters in the secondary that were true freshmen. We've done it before and certainly we're going to do whatever we need to do to get this unit ready to play.

BL: For you personally, though, is it maybe a different outlook coming into this year than last year?

JC: A different outlook in terms of preparation, sure. There are some things that we're going to have to do early that last year and the year before we felt like maybe, maybe we could protect a guy or two here or there. But this year we've got to get them ready to play. The gloves are off, and we're going to let them battle and see what's going to happen.

Question: Defensively you guys recruit a lot of players who played a lot of quarterback in high school. Do you notice anything with those guys when they come over to the defensive side? Is it maybe harder to evaluate them sometimes?

JC: In some situations, not all, when you go to high school games, you're going to find the best athlete usually at quarterback or tailback – the guy that's going to touch the football. That's smart. That's what you want to do. You take your best athlete and you put him out there at wide receiver, you may not have anybody that can get the ball to him. You're going to find the best athletes there (at those positions). I actually have a long history of recruiting tailbacks to play linebacker because you're going to find better athletes there.

Kendell [Beckwith] played on both sides of the ball. Obviously, when it was all said and done, he may have been more valuable to his team because of the great play he had at quarterback. He did a tremendous job there, but he was just as effective on defense.

Question: Where does he fit in right now?

JC: He's getting good reps right now, and we're expecting to get him ready to play at outside linebacker. We'll see what we do, there may be some opportunity for him in our rush package, where he'll do some rush stuff for us quite a bit. But we're expecting and preparing for him to play at outside linebacker.

BL: Have you been surprised at all with how Melvin Jones has come in, especially the way he moves for a big man?

JC: No, he's a very, very talented athlete and very gifted for a big man. He may be the best big athlete on the team, and I classify him as a big athlete since he's 250 pounds. But he really may be the best big athlete on this football team.

BL: And middle linebacker is his future, you think, at LSU?

JC: Well, I don't need to comment on that any further.

(Publisher's Note: Les Miles has announced in the time since this Q&A that Jones is now working out strictly on offense, getting reps at both fullback and tight end.)

Question: When you look at Kwon Alexander, the sky seems to be the limit. He's been injured the past two seasons, but it seems like if he stays healthy, he could be one of the best. What do you make out of him?

JC: He's got an opportunity, and we were not disappointed in what he got done for us last year. You put on (tape of) the first half of that Florida game against a tough opponent, before he broke his ankle, and he was on his way to having a great, great football game that day. And he came back and played a little bit in the bowl game. He's certainly a guy that's very talented, has not disappointed us one bit at all, and I do think he's got a very bright future at LSU.

Question: What is it that he does well?

JC: Everything. I mean, everything. He's got great speed. He's got great explosion. Obviously those are the things that he does the very, very best, but there's not anything that he doesn't do well right now.

Question: As far as some of the young guys go, Les Miles said he thinks Rickey Jefferson is going to be very good in the future. What have you seen from him so far?

JC: Rickey's going to play safety for us, and I like what he brings. He's a physical football player. He's got great intensity. The biggest thing that Rickey's got to do right now is learn the playbook and learn the system. He's a very talented athlete, and we're excited about him. I do expect Rickey to play. Hopefully we can get him in there early and often because we've got to establish some depth there. We're looking forward to seeing how he does in pads. That's the thing we've got to be able to do – see him in a live situation. There will be some mistakes, and we need to make those mistakes early and get them behind us so we can have him ready to go play in the game.

Question: How has Anthony Johnson looked so far in Fall Camp?

JC: Anthony's had, and you would be disappointed if you heard anything different, his best Fall Camp thus far. And listen, he played well for us and practiced well for us last year, but I think leadership is where he's grown. Anthony has the capability of really putting this team on his back from a leadership standpoint. We need that strong leadership, particularly with a bunch of young guys up front. When I say young guys, I'm not saying in the first four that's going to line up. I'm talking about in the depth part of it. There will be a bunch of young guys, and they need that quality leadership to show them how it's done.

BL: Have those young defensive linemen given you reason to be optimistic so far?

JC: Yeah, yeah. But realize, like I said, we've had one full day in pads. We've got to see how they're going to handle it. The difference in there for a young guy is physicality. You know, can they go out and do it day after day and play after play? Certainly we think they can, but that's a mindset that you have to develop. A lot of that comes along with coaching, and let me tell you, they're being coached by the best in the business. Andre Haley is no doubt the best in the business in terms of defensive line. He knows how to get young guys ready to play. He knows how to get older guys ready to play better. So he's done a good job for us there.


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