What latest shuffle means for LSU defense

TSD's Ben Love examines the impact Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron will have on the field for the Tigers' defense.

More than six years have passed since the last time LSU played musical chairs with its defensive staff.

On that date – January 5, 2009 – Les Miles welcomed into the program John Chavis as coordinator and the duo of Brick Haley and Ron Cooper as assistant coaches on that side of the ball.

The trio not only put a band-aid on the Tigers’ ill-conceived co-coordinator situation that submarined the 2008 campaign. They were largely responsible for returning the LSU defense to prominence, the Tigers to the national championship game, following the 2011 season, and, in the process, cultivating DBU.

But things eventually grew stale, with LSU slipping from an 8-0 conference record in 2011 to 6-2, 5-3, and 4-4 in the three seasons since, and accordingly the situation grew sour for either program or coordinator/coach at various points along the way.

Today, Miles again infused new blood into his defense, announcing the additions of Kevin Steele, as defensive coordinator, and Louisiana native Ed Orgeron, as defensive line coach.

So, just what will these staff changes mean on the field for LSU’s defense?

“We're going to base out of a 4-3, but there are some times where you're going to get in a 3-4 front,” proclaimed Orgeron, who’s been out of coaching since serving as USC’s interim head coach the final eight games of the 2013 season. “But we have 4-3 personnel here and I believe that's what we're going to start off with.”

Steele, the new man atop the defensive pyramid for LSU, largely agreed, but he did issue a warning about shifting from one front to the other.

“You've got to be careful doing that, but the change of offenses has helped you,” Steele, previously a linebackers coach at Alabama, told reporters. “If in 2006, you said you'd go from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in this league, you would've had an issue. But it's a space game now, so little fast guys can play every down.”

Even more pertinent is Steele’s take on defending modern spread offenses and the no-huddle, areas of concern for LSU of late considering Mississippi State, Auburn and Notre Dame averaged 287.7 yards rushing against the Bayou Bengals during the 2014 season.

It’s also near the forefront of the defensive conversation for the Tigers because of how commonplace the spread offense has become in the SEC West. Only Arkansas – and occasionally Alabama – remain as traditional power offenses in LSU’s division.

“Well, you don’t have enough battery on that phone to tape it all,” Steele told TSD when asked about the type of creativity it takes to slow down the spread. “It’s pretty in-depth. You’ve got to be simple, but you’ve got confuse the quarterback pre-snap. You can’t let them know what you’re in because they’re going in a hurry.

“If he doesn’t know where to go with the ball or you muddle his reads and his zone reads and his Q-power reads and those kinds of things, and if you do the same things over and over, they’re just going to beat you into submission. It’s that $64 million question. How can I present them enough looks to confuse them without being complicated and disabling our players?”

Miles made one thing abundantly clear Wednesday. He’s been after Steele for a while.

The Tigers’ head coach, set to enter his 11th season at the helm, tried to get Steele in for the 2012 season, after he was let go from his defensive coordinator post at Clemson, but things never worked out. Instead Miles had Steele’s son Gordon on as a graduate assistant for three years.

Now Miles is pleased to finally welcome the older Steele into the fold, in large part because of a shared philosophy on how defense should be played.

“Really we've communicated often and in terms of professional development I've wanted to hire him for some time, to be honest,” leveled Miles. “But who he is as a person, his ability to create and maintain relationships, his familiarity with the league, his wide knowledge base of defensive football, he's one of the best recruiters in college. He is an advocate of our style of defense and very pleased that he joins our staff.”

Orgeron, who knows a thing or two about hard-nosed defense, is cut from a similar cloth. His ability to squeeze the best from his players on the defensive line is a big reason Orgeron is at LSU, as are his passion and energy – even if Miles scoffed today at the notion his program needed new life breathed into it.

“I'm here to be a defensive line coach, going back to aggressive style and enthusiastic style and getting my guys ready to play,” said Orgeron. “My greatest gift as an assistant coach is to get my guys to perform on Saturday, get them to go to class and do a great job of recruiting for Coach Miles.”

The one-time Northwestern State player indicated he hasn’t been told definitively where he’ll be during games in the fall, but Orgeron has a pretty good feeling about his ultimate destination.

“We haven't discussed that yet, but hopefully I'm down on the field with enthusiasm and cheering the guys on. That's what I've been a part of,” Orgeron recalled. “You've got to be there with the defensive linemen every play, getting them riled up, getting them after the quarterback. So I have a good feeling that's where I'm going to be, and hopefully that's what I can do the best.”

With all the change swirling around TigerTown, and things certainly figure to improve on the recruiting front with these hires, the reality is it’s Steele’s time to put his stamp on the LSU defense, setting a new direction with Chavis, now at Texas A&M, quickly a distant memory.

“This is an amazing opportunity, and the reason being is that I firmly believe that without question that LSU defensive football is and always has been something in this league and across the nation that says relentless pursuit, great effort, and just a dominating, attacking style defense,” Steele stated.

“That is just what LSU football was built on. That's what it is, and that's what it's continued to be under Coach Miles.”

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