There are bumps in the road, players forced into learning positions and, whether it seems like it or not, newbies taking time to gain the necessary seasoning.
Such was the case a season ago when precocious freshman Jamal Adams hit the scene at safety for the Bayou Bengals.
Yes, he finished sixth on the team in total tackles (66) and fifth in tackles for loss (five). But Adams wasn’t ready for prime time right off the bat, only entering the starting lineup in the season’s final few games.
And, like the 2010 LSU freshmen defensive backs – Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon – who turned into sophomore sensations in 2011, Adams is proving ready to carry the load and lead a talented secondary in 2015.
The sophomore from Texas notched the first interception of his career, and LSU’s first caused turnover of the season, Saturday afternoon in the second quarter of the Bayou Bengals’ 45-21 home win over Auburn.
“I definitely wanted to bait him,” Adams told reporters after the game. “I’d seen what type of personnel they were in, and I knew they were going to try to get the ball to one [No. 1, receiver D’haquille Williams]. So I showed going to the middle, but I definitely broke back over and helped (cornerback Kevin) Toliver and made a huge play.”
Auburn you're doing it wrong pic.twitter.com/FEl4fbe5an— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) September 19, 2015
Junior corner Tre’Davious White, donner of the prestigious No. 18 jersey, was happy Adams got the monkey off his back.
“I’m so happy for him because we always joke with him in the DB room and tell him he makes a lot of great plays, but he hasn’t gotten his hands on the ball yet,” said White. “But he finally got one in a big-time game like that. It was a great deal for him.”
Of course, as White noted, there was one small blemish on Adams’ record Saturday. The physical safety dropped a sure pick-six from War Eagle signal caller Jeremy Johnson after Adams already had one takeaway to his name.
“Once he got in to halftime we made him drop (and give 20). We drop picks in the DB room, and it’s 20 pushups for every dropped ball,” White leveled. “So he definitely got in and got his pushups. It’s something he’ll learn from. I feel like he’ll have more come his way.”
Adams, who also registered six tackles, one for loss and two pass breakups versus Auburn, didn’t discuss his halftime pushups. But he did share some insight into how that ball eluded his grasp as he seemed to be headed right into North end zone of Death Valley.
“Yeah, that was tough,” Adams said of the one that got away. “I learned from it, looking at the student section and my eyes. I’ve got to keep the eyes on the ball and just finish it. It’s definitely going to give me some nightmares.”
Adams’ starting safety mate in the back, Rickey Jefferson, has been very impressive in his own right.
The Destrehan product, who seldom even played defense in high school and was considered a receiver prospect, is making the best of a first-team opportunity presented when senior Jalen Mills went down with an ankle injury in fall camp.
Jefferson, who compiled six tackles and a sack Saturday, praises his position coach for making the transition possible.
“Great credit to coach Corey Raymond. He basically molded me into the player I am as far as knowing the defense and knowing what it is to play safety,” explained Jefferson. “All the athletic ability I have, he helps channel that into something positive. I also credit the rest of the coaches and (strength coach) Tommy Moffitt.”
The younger brother of Jordan Jefferson acknowledges that Mills was a huge lynchpin in LSU’s defense, but he feels his insertion in Mills’ place hasn’t caused the unit to miss a beat.
“We both play with excitement. We’re not scared to come down and hit. We can cover extremely well and we get the scheme of the defense,” he continued. “We’re both veterans and both leaders, just looking to take it to the next level.”
But Jefferson hesitates to say the defense improves with him instead of Mills at free safety. Just his ability to backfill, Jefferson insists, is what matters.
“I really couldn’t say, just me coming in and being ready to fill that position. That’s a big step,” Jefferson said. “I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job and the team is helping me with everything I need. I’m ready and we’re ready.”
And so it goes that LSU’s dynamite safety duo, not comprised as anyone expected some five or six weeks ago, has evolved into one of the team’s best position groupings and can boast being one of the nation’s top pairings.
“I think we’re just getting better every day,” Adams concluded after his big day. “It’s like coach Raymond stresses – it’s not about on the field. Sometimes it’s just about bettering yourself as a man, doing the right things on and off the field. We’re going to keep getting better and the sky’s the limit for this secondary.”