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 July 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
TODAY'S SESSION: DEFENSIVE SUBS
We've kick-started enough talk about the offense this week. Now it's time to turn our attention to the LSU defense for a day.
Way back on May 30, I posted my projected starting defense for 2014. Today I'll be digging a little deeper, unearthing the players who come next – those platoon and rotational guys expected to factor in right away that would also become starters if injury strikes.
Beginning on the defensive line the Tigers have two quality pass-rushers in starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. First up behind the starters figures to be sophomore Tashawn Bower. The New Jersey native played in six games as a true freshman, only three versus SEC competition, making three total tackles. His role will expand this fall with Jordan Allen gone from the picture. Should position coach Brick Haley sub in two DEs at a time, the fourth man up at this point projects to be sophomore Lewis Neal. Redshirt senior Justin Maclin rounds out the depth at end.
The situation is a bit different at defensive tackle, where LSU is turning to a pair of first-time starters in Christian Lacouture and Quentin Thomas. Whereas Bower can be used primarily to bolster depth and give breathers at end, the next DT in line may well be called upon to replace one of the two starters if things aren't going as planned. The candidates: redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore along with true freshman Travonte Valentine. Bain left spring with a leg-up on Gilmore, but Fall Camp should bring competition aplenty between these three. Haley let starters Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson play until they almost dropped in 2013. I'm not sure he'll have that luxury this fall.
Moving back a level to linebacker John Chavis has experience in spades in his starting three – outside ‘backers Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis are juniors while D.J. Welter, the man in the middle, is a redshirt senior. After that trio are Kendell Beckwith at Mike linebacker and Deion Jones on the outside, most likely on the weakside. And, boy, those two couldn't be any different in terms of size and style of play.
Beckwith, at 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, is big for linebacker standards. He actually put his hand on the ground more often as a rush end in his true freshman season of 2013, when he played in 12 games and notched 11 tackles and a sack. The coaches say they're giving him a go strictly at Mike LB in 2014, letting him compete with Welter. Somehow, someway, the staff has to find a way to utilize this dangerous defensive weapon. Jones, on the other hand, is more of lightning bug, able to quickly dart in and out of holes with his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame. A season ago, as a sophomore, Jones totaled 15 tackles, one for loss, and a QB hurry. He gives Chavis a great situational option with plenty of "suddenness," as Chief likes to say.
In the secondary LSU still has some unrest, not knowing how the Jalen Mills' situation will turn out as things stand at the beginning of July. Obviously with Mills the current depth chart remains as is, but without him every player at safety more or less moves up a spot in line. We'll briefly examine both scenarios for the purpose of this write-up and how it trickles down to affect the platoon players.
With Mills: He starts at free safety, next to Ronald Martin, and the sophomore duo of Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White resumes their roles as the first-team cornerbacks. In nickel situations it would stand to reason that Mills drops down to nickel back while either Dwayne Thomas or Rickey Jefferson takes Mills' place in the back. In dime/Mustang situations I'd expect Mills to drop down, with Thomas or Edward Paris at dime back, while Jefferson (or Thomas) would backfill at safety. Other players who could thrust themselves into the mix of this conversation: Jalen Collins at corner; Jamal Adams and Corey Thompson at safety.
Without Mills: Martin will start at one safety spot while Jefferson would probably get the nod at the other. When the team went nickel, Thomas would probably just straight sub in for the linebacker with no other movement. Dime/Mustang sets would probably see Thomas and Paris come in with no other movement. So, in some ways, it actually lessens the amount of musical chairs if Mills isn't around, but you also subtract the team's best slot coverage defender and a guy who projects as the starting free safety. Not in any way a trade-off Corey Raymond wants to sign up for.