Junior defensive back Jalen Mills has started all 29 games for LSU since he first arrived on campus in 2012. Part of the secret to his success, and what has kept him on the field, is his ability to play everywhere in the secondary, from corner to safety to nickel back.
And even though his primary haunt these days is free safety, Mills makes no bones about which is his favorite.
"Out of all three positions - safety, nickel, corner - I like playing nickel. I just like playing in the slot," Mills explained. "It's to help out the defense. When you have quicker, faster guys in that slot, you really don't want your linebackers on them."
Mills' fondness for that role started back in his high school days when he watched Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks terrorize opposing offenses from their nickel and dime spots in John Chavis' then-new Mustang package.
"Honestly, watching those guys in the nickel and dime, that was really the first time (I was exposed to that). Most high schools don't really run that," he recalled. "I was in high school saying 'I want to play nickel.' Just seeing the plays that those guys made, whether they were blitzing or manning a guy up or catching interceptions, (made an impression me)."
Fortunately for LSU, Mills doesn't just remember Brooks and Mathieu in historical terms. The DeSoto, Texas, native told TSD he and dime back Dwayne Thomas still regularly study tape of the duo that ran roughshod through the league from 2010-11 to help refine their games and techniques specific to those roles.
"They were a good combination. I mean those guys made a ton of plays. A lot," Mills said, almost with a look of disbelief on his face. "Me and Dwayne, we kinda go back in film and just kinda watch how those guys move, because you're not always just going to blitz off the edge. There may be times when you go up against a good lineman, and you may have to give him a different move. He's studying you just like you're studying him. We just watch those guys to see the different moves they did to try and add it to some of the tools we have."
Mills then opened up on the difference between playing safety and corner in LSU's system.
"You have a bigger role. At corner you look to the sideline, you get the play, you line up. At safety there are different motions and different things like that," continued Mills. "Now you can't just focus on one guy like if you're in man at cornerback. You have to read the linemen, whether it's pass or run, then get your eyes to the person whose in your zone or if you're in man you get them."
Check out the extended audio interview with Mills below, which also includes his thoughts on why the secondary has enjoyed better communication through three games this season as compared to 2013.