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2016 LSU Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs

Christian previews LSU’s defensive backs in the latest edition of Tiger Blitz position previews.

Returning Players: Tre’Davious White (Sr.), Jamal Adams (Sr.), Rickey Jefferson (Sr.), Kevin Toliver II (So.), Dwayne Thomas (Sr.), Donte Jackson (So.), John Battle IV (Jr.), Ed Paris (Jr.), Brandon Surtain (Sr.), Leyton Lavinge (So. walk-on), Jamal Adams (Sr.), Abraham Wallace (So.), John Battle (Jr.), Xavier Lewis (Jr.), Micah Dickens (Jr.)

Incoming Players: Saivion Smith (Fr.), Christian Conde (Fr.), Narendra Itwaru (Fr.), Kristian Fulton (Fr.), T.J. Lemoine (Fr.), Andraez Williams (Fr.), Eric Monroe (Fr.), Cameron Lewis (Fr.), Tony Westly (Jr. JUCO - Pearl River CC), Narendra Itwaru (Fr.)

Departures: Jalen Mills (Philadelphia Eagles), Corey Thompson (moved to linebacker)

2015 RECAP

LSU’s defensive back unit in 2015 struggled a bit more than most expected.

Injuries played a role in the blunders. Inexperience did too. Jalen Mills, LSU’s former nickelback and now Philadelphia Eagle, went down with a leg injury, missing the first six games of the season. Kevin Toliver, on Thursday, said he was fighting against a torn labrum in his right shoulder throughout last season. The tear in his shoulder forced the now-sophomore cornerback to miss some of Ole Miss’ 38-17 win against LSU last November. 

Adjusting to a new defensive scheme wasn’t easy, either.

“(Then-defensive coordinator Kevin) Steele was like a NFL defense,” Toliver said on Thursday. 

“Coach Aranda, he’s more simple.”

In 2015, LSU was migrating into first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s scheme and flaws were exposed while the talent was fertile. One year and another swap at defensive coordinator (Dave Aranda) later, LSU’s DB unit will again have to adjust and re-organize players to produce and enhance a solid passing defense with top-level talent.

With the coaching change in 2015, LSU ranked No. 51 in team passing efficiency defense: calculating opponents passing attempts (419), completions (236), interceptions (10), opponent passing yards (2,691) and opponent passing touchdowns for a passing defense efficiency percentage of 122.83, or 51st best in the nation. The Tigers’ secondary allowed two or more touchdown passes in seven of LSU’s 12 games last season.

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Perfection is expected, as it is most normally demanded from LSU fans, for this defensive back unit. Will they perform perfectly? No. But the anything less than perfect will be lambasted.

“We’re going to improve this year,” Toliver, who practiced for the first time since December on Thursday, said. “It’s going be a good year.”

Expect Jamal Adams, Tre'Davious White, Rickey Jefferson and Kevin Toliver to take the reigns again this season as the four lead coverage men. LSU’s bone-crushing style of defense is still to be in play, all the while sneaking Aranda’s new, nifty tricks into each snap.

With Aranda’s defense comes different coverage packages. In the past, Aranda has used a five-deep defensive back unit most often on the field at the same time. Although, it’s unclear how often LSU will use five DBs at once, the five-wide coverage unit was the most frequently used coverage package during the spring.

When the Tigers decide to trim down to a four-man coverage troupe, expect Adams, White, Jefferson and Toliver. When LSU shifts and adds that fifth man, things get tricky. But at that point, cornerback Donte Jackson said it’ll be his turn.”

Who will the opposite cornerback with White shifts to nickel?

“Me,” Jackson said. “Me and Kevin at the corners while he’s at nickel.”

And if Jackson does slide to corner, how does White look at nickel?

“He looks great,” he said. “Tre’Davious is a great playmaker. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever played with. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever seen play. Really, you could put him anywhere — you could put him at outside linebacker, safety, anywhere. He’s going to make plays. He’s always going to set you up. He’s great, it’s a great fit for him.”

Jackson, and Toliver, mentioned LSU’s depth at defensive back on Thursday, as did LSU coach Les Miles at SEC Media Days on July 11-14.

Here’s what he said on July 14:

“Corner, Tre'Davious White, No. 18, the team leader returns. He's really such a comfortable corner now. It would be very difficult to get open on one-on-one and understands coverage reads. So his ability to break on the ball would be very good. Kevin Toliver returns at the other corner, and Donte Jackson and Kristian Fulton is a freshman. Eric Monroe is a freshman. So we should have a pretty talented secondary. 

“Jamal Adams would certainly answer the call at safety, is Preseason All-American, very talented safety. And Rickey Jefferson, again, another guy that can step in and play physical, ball skill football. And we are going -- John Battle was injured most of last season, played a lot of football, nursing a groin, and now is really in position to play a lot of football. So we think that we're really pretty good shape there.”

Miles mentions two true freshman as replacement corners: Eric Monroe, from Houston, and Kristian Fulton, an Archbishop Rummel alumnus.

Dwayne Thomas, without being mentioned then, is a possibility. Defensive back coach Corey Raymond called Thomas a “jack of all trades” during spring training for his multi-purposeful skillset to play cornerback, safety and/or nickel, if need be. 

The LSU’s incoming freshman unit and reserves are no joke, either, like Miles said. Freshman cornerback Savion Smith whom Raymond said LSU will “rely on” during the spring, is expected to see the field in chunks. 

“I see a big contribution from Savion,” Jackson said. “He’s a young guy but he’s very smart. He can come in and contribute early.”

Ed Paris , a junior, snagged a handful of first team reps in the spring as Toliver sat out with an injury and Jackson was sidelined for academics. John Battle, a junior, is also a viable safety reserve, as he was in 2015 as well, and Miles said he is “ready” after a groin injury last season.

Scout’s guess at a DB depth chart:

CB: Tre’Davious White, Kevin Toliver, Donte Jackson, Ed Paris, Saivion Smith
SS: Jamal Adams, John Battle
FS: Rickey Jefferson, Dwayne Thomas
Nickel: Tre’Davious White, Dwayne Thomas

What don’t we know?

How is this rotation going to work? How quickly into games will Paris, Smith, Fulton, Battle and Monroe (all players Miles mentioned) and/or Dwayne Thomas come to relieve Jackson and Toliver at corner and the safeties? Will Thomas relieve White at nickel? 

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