BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – An 8-5 season is acceptable in many places around the country but at LSU, a school that won two BCS National Championships in the previous five years, 8-5 was a losing campaign to many.
Key changes were made in the program as Miles vowed to change the course and he started on the defensive side of the ball.
Out were co-defensive coordinators Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory, who accepted jobs at Northwestern State and New Mexico, respectively, along with defensive line coach Earl Lane who also moved on.
Miles set out to fill his vacancies in December, prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and he found three guys with 30 years of coaching experience in the Southeastern Conference – defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Chavis, defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive backs coach Ron Cooper.
The task facing the three new coaches is to revive a defense that was once one of the best in the league but dipped to ninth in the conference last season in both scoring and total yards allowed at 24.2 points and 325.5 yards, respectively.
Spearheading the charge is Chavis, also known as “Chief”, who didn’t take long to get his point across.
“Intensity. He’s a fired up guy at every practice,” said LSU senior linebacker Jacob Cutrera when asked what the biggest change was with Chavis in charge of the defense.
“Those two and a half hours we’re out there, he’s in your face and you’ll know when you mess up. He’s brought a lot of intensity and the way he does things has helped out.”
One thing that plagued the Tigers last season under Mallory and Peveto was constant substitutions to matchup with the offensive personnel. As a result, there was a lot of confusion that led to players getting on the field late and being out of position to make plays.
Under Chavis, though, things will be different.
“I think the big difference that everybody is talking about is that he leaves linebackers on the field,” said Cutrera. “He doesn’t rotate nickel and dime packages as much. He stays with it and his thing is if you can play on first and second down passing situations then a linebacker can play on third down.”
Something else that will be much different is there is only one voice on defense. That in itself has helped immensely according to Cutrera.
“It’s meant a lot,” he said. “A guy coming in like that, it’s what he says goes. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s not a second opinion or anything so it’s helped out a lot with the confusion and stuff like that.”
Cutrera has been around Chavis for only six and a half months but in that short time he quickly learned just what style of play he brought to Baton Rouge.
“He likes to bring it and guys like that about him,” said Cutrera. “The blitz packages are something that we’ve never seen before and everybody bought into it and we’re loving it.”
Spring practice was the Tigers’ first opportunity to implement Chavis’ more aggressive defense and he wasted little time in grabbing Cutrera and his teammates’ attention.
“In my four years here I’ve never had a spring like we had this spring,” Cutrera said. “The intensity is there and everybody has bought into it. Every practice was so juiced up ad so amped up and it carried over into the summer workouts and it’s going to carry over into the fall too.”
Carrying over that intensity will go a long way towards helping the once vaunted Tiger defense regain its mojo. After all, 8-5 was not only unacceptable to Miles and the fans, but even moreso to the players.
“We know that’s not what we’re about around here and not what we’re used to,” Cutrera said. “The fans aren’t used to it and neither are we. We’re going to get back to that level we’ve been at. We’ve worked too hard to make sure of that.”