TSD is running a story a day over the coming week-plus, combing through each position with a detailed look at who and what is being lost and the names/games of the 2015 targets that will be groomed as replacements in the short- and long-term.
CLICK HERE for Monday’s look at the situation at offensive tackle. And CLICK HERE for yesterday’s defensive end outlook.
Next position up: Safety.
LEAVING A VOID
Already this week we’ve discussed the possibility of LSU losing both its starting offensive tackles and defensive ends. And while each of those duos may be collectively more talented the safety twosome that could depart this offseason, you can’t undervalue how much experience Ronald Martin and Jalen Mills have playing for the Tigers. Martin, a senior, will be gone after the bowl game while Mills, a junior, is in the same boat as other defenders in his class like DE Danielle Hunter and OLB Kwon Alexander. They’ll all have to make decisions on whether to head for greener pro pastures or stick around to play on a 2015 defense that’s shaping up to be quite potent.
Martin’s career at LSU started off on an interesting note. His redshirt was burnt very late in the 2011 season, at Ole Miss, to aid with injuries to Eric Reid and Craig Loston. From there he almost always played, barring injury, and occasionally started during the next two years, at one point giving ground to Corey Thompson last season. But this year, a lot like fellow senior Jermauria Rasco, the strong safety played his best ball at LSU and played like a veteran. Martin, a native of White Castle, ranks third on the team with 66 tackles (most of any non-linebacker) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) and passes defended (10). He also forced two fumbles. All things considered, LSU probably has better athletes than Martin waiting in the wings at safety, but he was a solid football player that took the field in 36 career games, starting 20 times.
On Mills, this is perhaps all you need to know: Since the start of the 2012 season LSU has played 38 football games. Jalen Mills has started every one of them. (And, for my money, that will be probably be the reason he ends up leaving. Honestly, 38 starts with a bowl game to go is a very full career for most college players.) The Texas native started at corner for LSU from day one, also serving as the team’s nickel back after Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team a month before the 2012 campaign kicked off. At the end of his sophomore season Mills transitioned to free safety, where he started every game this fall. So far in 2014 Mills, who still plays frequently (and I think best) in his nickel role, has tallied 54 tackles, three for loss, an interception and six passes defended. He’s a willing tackler – Mills has accumulated more than 50 tackles in every season at LSU – and covers slot receivers very well. Should he leave this offseason, a very versatile player is walking out the door.
A final note to consider on the void being left behind at safety: Martin was truly the quarterback of the secondary, charged with relaying calls to the rest of the DBs and ensuring everyone was in the right spot. And given Mills knowledge of how things worked at corner, nickel and safety, his knowledge of the game and John Chavis’ defense were critical, too. So those that come in will have to be effective communicators and immerse themselves in the playbook/schemes this spring and summer.
FILLING THE VOID
LSU's two starting safeties for 2015 are probably already on the roster. Rickey Jefferson and certainly Jamal Adams showed enough this season to earn confidence from the coaches they can take over for Ronald Martin and probably Jalen Mills. First-year players like John Battle and Devin Voorhies played only sparingly, mostly on special teams, so they'll find themselves in a battle with incoming freshmen to fill out the rotation at safety. And also remember Corey Thompson should finally be back to full health to get back in the mix.
LSU currently has three defensive backs committed in the 2015 class, though all of them project to corner on the next level. Xavier Lewis could potentially develop into a safety if that gives him a better path to the field, and though Jeremy Cutrer may have the length to play safety, his weight probably leaves him at corner.
Most of LSU's recruiting efforts in 2015 have been spent on corners. Guys like Donte Jackson, Justin Martin, Kendall Sheffield, Holton Hill and Iman Marshall are all still in the mix for LSU, though all of those guys likely play CB instead of safety. The Tigers have had some safety targets fall by the wayside — Deshawn Raymond (TCU), Roney Elam (Texas A&M) and Ronnie Harrison (Alabama), but with so much depth already on the roster there, the Tigers should be just fine.
If you're looking for another safety target though, still keep an eye on Jamal Peters (pictured above). He's been committed to Mississippi State since the summer, picking the home-state Bulldogs over LSU and a host of other schools. But the Tigers are still courting him, sending an assistant coach to his home this week for a visit. With Mississippi State's success this season, it would seem Peters won't consider flipping, but LSU will continue to cover its bases as this four-star prospect definitely had legitimate interest in the Tigers early in his recruitment.