30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.
TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through June 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
TODAY'S SESSION: DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
Just about everyone talking LSU football these days assumes the defense under John Chavis will be better in 2014. It almost has to be, goes the popular train of thought.
Memories of the Tigers' three losses a season ago, when LSU surrendered a combined 109 points on the road at Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, float to the surface as Exhibit A. Then of course there were the 27 points conceded in the opener versus TCU, 26 on the road at Mississippi State and 27 in the home finale against Arkansas.
In terms of average yards and points conceded, Chavis' crew wasn't exactly awful in 2013, ranking in the top third of the SEC – albeit a defensively down SEC – in rush defense (143.2 ypg), pass defense (197.5 ypg), total defense (340.7 ypg) and scoring defense (22.0 ppg). Where LSU was most deficient, and unlike its usual self under Chavis, was in causing turnovers and making game-changing plays on defense.
The Tigers finished the campaign tied for ninth in the conference in interceptions, nabbing only 11, and turnover margin, ending the season back where it began – at zero (or even). Tack onto that a mediocre sack haul, 27 (sixth in the SEC), and LSU was often subject to letting opposing offenses stay on the field for stretches at a time, unable to come up with the big play to change possession.
When examining where LSU stands to be most improved, and different, this fall, that's the biggest area where the '14 defense should outperform its predecessor.
It starts with reliable cornerback play. Yes, a pass rush and secondary coverage work hand in hand, but with the type of man coverage Chavis prefers from his corners, LSU can rest easier and take more chances this season knowing Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White are on duty together from jump, hardened by a run through the league as freshmen.
Their ability to lock down on the outside will not only put them, and the Tigers' safeties, in better position to up the interception total. It will also provide edge rushers like Danielle Hunter, Jermauria Rasco and Tashawn Bower, not to mention several nickel and dime blitzers like Dwayne Thomas, additional time to get to the quarterback and wreak havoc in the backfield.
So it seems likely that LSU will have better overall play in the secondary and at defensive end, places where starters are returning and younger players are gaining experience as backups and rotational guys.
On the other side of the ledger, the Tigers may be taking a step backward in run defense, particularly up the middle of their front seven. Christian Lacouture and Quentin Thomas are stepping into starting roles at defensive tackle, filling in for two stalwarts from a season ago (Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson) that combined for 93 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and four sacks. After them in line at DT are a flock of redshirt and true freshmen. Their collective growth, and how quickly it happens on the job, will be paramount.
The same could be said for the linebackers, a group that returns three experienced players and can go a long way to helping LaCouture and Thomas against the run. D.J. Welter is seasoned at middle linebacker, but he'll have to show strides from a year ago in rush defense or else Kendell Beckwith's time could be soon at hand. First-year starter Lamar Louis, a former Mike ‘backer, does bring a more physical presence to his new spot on the strongside.
All in all there are no less than six starters back – Hunter and Rasco at DE; Welter and Kwon Alexander at LB; Robinson and White at CB – with one or both of the starting safeties, depending on Jalen Mills' situation, also experienced. That alone should ensure an improved defense. Today's tale of the tape does remind, however, that things will get better quicker against the pass (and getting to the quarterback) than in the run game.