Chavis shaking up DBU?

LSU defensive coordinator talks competition, youth in TSD exclusive

Perhaps the truest sign that this 2013 edition of LSU football is different than many of its recent predecessors is that, after two games, there are more questions about the Tiger defense than offense.

As opposed to Cam Cameron's offense, which has put a combined 93 points and 893 yards on the board in wins over No. 20 TCU and UAB, the LSU defense has been somewhat pedestrian. The Tigers have allowed 44 total points (although seven of those came via a kickoff return for a touchdown against the Horned Frogs), 17 of which the Blazers from Conference USA scored in the second quarter of Saturday night's home opener.

But, despite the outlook prior to Fall Camp, it's not the new-look defensive line that's struggled to hold its weight. Instead it's the oft-celebrated, veteran-by-comparison secondary of DBU that is battling issues with consistency. Through two games LSU has yielded 140.5 passing yards per contest, one passing touchdown, three completed deep balls and allowed the TCU and UAB offenses to convert 12 of 29 third-down attempts (41.4%).

Amid mass speculation that personnel changes are coming to the Tigers' defensive backfield, TSD's Ben Love caught up with LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis to gauge if a changing of the guard is at hand and which players are coming on strong, staking a claim to playing time before the SEC schedule arrives.

LSU's defensive chief gave a glowing endorsement for both of his true freshman cornerbacks, Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White, saying each has impressed in his respective time with the team and will factor into the defense's game plan moving forward.

"I've seen quite a bit," Chavis said frankly of the efforts of the two freshmen at practice. "They're obviously both very talented guys that will fit in in a big way as the season goes along."

White, a blue-chip prospect in the Class of 2013, had the luxury of taking in the entirety of Fall Camp while Robinson got his final approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse a mere days from the team's season opener in Arlington. That extra time in LSU's system gives White a leg-up, according to Chavis, who did not shoot down the notion of White stepping in more for Jalen Collins as the second corner when asked.

"Well we've seen a lot more of White obviously. He's quite a competitor, very talented, has good speed, has good coverage ability and will tackle in tight spaces," explained Chavis. "He's a guy that obviously we saw all through camp. He's had an opportunity to grasp a lot more of the concepts that we're doing (than Robinson), and he's able to handle those and transfer those things he's being taught to the field."

As it pertains to his lead corner, sophomore Jalen Mills, Chavis was obviously still smarting from some of the mistakes the player made which contributed to touchdowns in the UAB game.

Mills, who's made six tackles and hauled in LSU's lone interception of the year, may not quite be in the dog house, but it was clear how much Chavis and secondary coach Corey Raymond are making sure he feels the heat – to improve Mills' game and keep the maturing player accountable.

"You don't want to give up plays, and you don't want to give up big plays," Chavis said when asked about Mills' performance to date. "When you play out there on an island, there's a difference between (other positions) where you've got a tackle, an end, a linebacker and if you get out of your gap, there's somebody there to cover that mistake up. Usually when those occur, not many people know. But when you make a mistake out there, then everybody knows. It's going to happen. He's just got to continue his growth. He's just got to understand the integrity of the technique and how it needs to be played. I think he and Corey [Raymond] are doing a great job with that."

Chavis also had a few things to say about his safeties, namely which one is making some headway in the battle for playing time at free safety opposite senior Craig Loston.

Second-year player Corey Thompson, who featured plenty in the UAB rout after missing the TCU opener with a dislocated shoulder, is making his bid to start, per Chavis, who also said Thompson is narrowing the mental gap between he and current starter Ronald Martin.

"Corey had an injury that set him back quite a bit. He's back to 100 percent now, so he'll have an opportunity to compete," continued Chavis. "Physically, he's exactly what you're looking for. It's about getting him in situations where he can makes calls and do the right things in terms of what we ask him to check on the field. He's making progress in that area. As he continues to progress, hopefully he'll see his playing time go up."

Reflecting on the state of his secondary, Chavis acknowledged some particulars in terms of personnel are still in flux, but he is excited about the prospects of competition, particularly as it pertains to involving young talent into the mix.

"It's going to be very important," commented Chavis on competition. "You're not going to go through the season without getting people nicked up. You want to develop depth as much as you possibly can. And certainly, when we have a guy on the depth chart and he's slotted in a certain spot, he's put himself there by his performance.

"That doesn't mean that he's going to stay there. There's possibility of change, and we'll continue to evaluate. We're going to evaluate all our players and evaluate what we do successfully and where we need to improve. Certainly that involves players, and they've got a chance to move up and down the depth chart."

Finally, as to when – or by which game – the LSU lineup in the secondary will be more established, Chavis candidly responded it's difficult to tell. He did tip his cap, however, to the fact that things haven't gone as smoothly as he'd like, and Chavis is not afraid to mix things up to get back to the status quo for DBU.

"Well, you'd like for it to be (established) from game one, but normally that's not going to happen," detailed Chavis. "We're going to see how some of these young guys progress, and it's a little bit different when you start looking at the total number of starts this whole unit has had. It's not very many, and just because one guy starts one game doesn't mean he's going to start the next. If you can kind of have all that etched in stone on game one, then you're going to be a better football team.

"But that's not the case, and we'll battle through this. We'll continue to work to get our best guys on the field, the guys that are going to give us the best opportunity to have the kind of success that we want and we expect here at LSU."

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