Fall Camp Preview: Secondary

TigerSportsDigest.com is taking a look at each position as LSU prepares for the start of fall camp and we're going to move on to the secondary.

But few expected the Tigers’ pass defense to drop from fourth in the league in 2007 all the way down to eleventh in the conference in 2008.

 

After picking off 23 passes and holding opponents to a 47 percent completion percentage the year before, LSU’s pass defense allowed 215 yards a game – 33 more than in 2007 – and registered only eight interceptions – which tied Mississippi State for last in the league – under first year co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.

 

Mallory, who also coached the secondary, and Peveto are gone and Tiger fans hope the problems that plagued LSU’s secondary last year went with them.

 

Additional Fall Camp Features:

Breaking in two new cornerbacks in the SEC is a challenge within itself, particularly when both received very limited playing time over the course of their career.

 

Jai Eugene saw action in 12 games during LSU’s national championship season in 2007 and was credited with eight tackles and one pass breakup, while the Tigers other starting cornerback in ‘08, Chris Hawkins, played in 13 games and logged 13 stops that year. Neither, however, had started a game prior to last season.

 

The entire defense has a role in defending the pass, just as it does with stopping the run, but there were obvious problems with LSU’s secondary last season. The problems were not solely on the players, though, as late substitutions at trying to matchup with their opponents certainly didn’t help matters, and it appeared that LSU played a much softer coverage than in the previous three years that Bo Pelini was calling the shots.

 

LSU didn’t apply as much pressure to quarterbacks as they did in 2007 – 37 sacks and 67 hurries compared to 28 sacks and 44 hurries in 2008 – so the secondary didn’t get as much help in that area as it had before.

 

Under first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis, Tiger fans should see a more aggressive defense than they saw the previous year, but one other word stands out to him more than pressure and that’s confusion. But it’s not the type of confusion that was all too common last season when players were out of place due to getting on the field late and mental breakdowns.

 

“I think when you’re at your best is when you can cause some confusion with the offense in terms of what they are doing,” said Chavis. “Such as if you’re rolling weak or rolling strong is it man or is it zone? Do they know because it’s man they have this throw or is someone going to show up underneath that throw. To me it’s a good balance and we’re going to pressure when we want to pressure and we’re going to play man when we want to play man.”

 

Playing more bump and run coverage under first-year defensive backs coach Ron Cooper and Chavis will require stronger play from the cornerbacks – Patrick Peterson, Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene.


Patrick Peterson has one year of SEC play under his belt

The battle for the two corner positions should be heated but Peterson looks to have one spot nailed down after the way he performed late in the year when he was thrust into a starting role, along with a strong spring.

 

Peterson, who was the No. 1 cornerback in the country for the 2009 class, started the final four games and registered his first interception of his LSU career against Alabama to go with 41 tackles on the year. He showed flashes of the type of player he was billed as coming out of high school but like most true freshmen at times he showed that he still had a lot to learn.

 

LSU fans got a glimpse of what they hope to see plenty of this season when Peterson intercepted a Russell Shepard pass on the sideline during the spring game and raced 69 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.

 

This spring marked Chavis’ first opportunity to see Peterson, who shared the honor of winning the Toby Caston Performance Award with Chad Jones for outstanding performance in spring drills on defense, up close in a game-like situation. He liked what he saw of the sophomore corner in that setting and he looks for him to continue to grow as he goes through the process of learning his second defensive scheme in less than 12 months.

 

“He’s a young kid that is very, very talented and he has a chance to be a very fine football player, but we have to let him grow,” said Chavis. “I think he has all of the tools that he needs to have and now mentally he has to be prepared.”

 

Being mentally prepared takes on just as much significance in Chavis’ scheme, as it should, and that’s an area that Peterson and the rest of the Tiger defenders spent a lot of time on in the offseason.

 

“That’s a big part of being able to play well is being mentally prepared, recognizing formations, recognizing splits, and anticipating things that can happen to you,” said Chavis. “The great ones do that. They prepare well both mentally and physically and they anticipate and understand the attack they’re getting in and it puts them in a better position to make plays.”

 

The corner spot opposite of Peterson could be one of the more competitive battles in camp between Hawkins, who was in on 50 tackles and picked off a team leading three passes last year, along with Eugene and Brandon Taylor, who failed to intercept a pass last season but made 35 and 4 tackles, respectively.

 

The safety position is another area that appears to be completely unsettled heading into camp.

 

Jones looks to have the free safety job nailed down after moving into a starting role the final two games last season.

 

Jones, who started a total of six games last year, served as the dime back for much of his first two seasons and also experimented some at linebacker. He logged 50 tackles and one interception in 2008 and seems to have taken to his new role despite missing some valuable time this summer while he helped LSU capture the 2009 National Championship in baseball.

 

“He’s taken to everything real well,” said Chavis. “He’s got a lot of room to grow, still yet, though. That guy in our defense has to be a very disciplined guy where you can count on him to make plays in the alley if the ball gets there, but you also count on him to be deep enough and make plays if the ball is thrown deep. That guy has to be a smart guy in terms of what he does and I think Chad really took a step in the right direction this spring.

 

After serving primarily as the nickel back in his first three years, Danny McCray returns for his senior year. He is expected to play a similar role in 2009 but could be pushed by Taylor if Chavis and Cooper look for more of a true corner to fill that role rather than someone who is more of a safety like McCray.


Ron Brooks and Karnell Hatcher will battle for the strong safety spot

Harry Coleman started at strong safety last season but with his move to strongside linebacker late in the spring there was an opening in the secondary. That move should help the Tigers when they do go to nickel, which won’t be nearly as much as fans had seen in the past, as Coleman will stay on the field at linebacker.

 

Who takes over his spot in the secondary, though, remains a question.

 

Ron Brooks had a terrific spring and was one of only two defensive backs to win the Mike Miley Award – outstanding performance in LSU’s offseason program – along with McCray.

 

Brooks (5-11, 175) made his mark on special teams as a redshirt freshman with 18 tackles and he tied for the team lead in forced fumbles with two. The sophomore standout received praise from head coach Les Miles for the job he did during the spring but will have to battle sophomore safety Karnell Hatcher (6-1, 196) in the coming weeks as this will be one of the best battles to watch in camp.

 

LSU also has the country’s top rated safety for the 2009 class, Craig Loston, but getting on the field as a true freshman appears to be bleak due to a wrist injury that will require surgery. Of course, even that is still up in the air as he’s still awaiting word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on his academic eligibility.

 

Several other youngsters will also try and make their move up the depth chart such as redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan St. Julien, true freshman safety Josh Johns, true freshman safety Rockey Duplessis, sophomore Derrick Bryant, who can play corner and safety, and sophomore safety Stefoin Francois, who is still recovering from a horrendous knee injury he suffered in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

 

There’s no denying that vast improvement is needed on defense if LSU is going to contend for the SEC championship in 2009 and that goes for all areas of the team including the secondary.

 

Chavis will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t have all of the answers entering fall camp but he knows what it takes to win championships in this league and he certainly feels that he has the talent to do so.

 

“I don’t think there’s any coach out there that will tell you he has all the answers,” said Chavis. “We’ve got good talent and we’ve got a lot of confidence in our players, but the people that we play will be very talented too. We have very good talent and that gives you a chance but it’s what you do with that talent and how you get yourself ready to play and play smart.

 

“That’s the thing that you have to do to win football games. The team that has the most talent doesn’t always win but the team that makes the fewest mistakes will more times than not win the football game. We have to be smart about what we ask them to do and make sure they fully understand what we’re asking them to do then we have to go out and play with relentless effort on every down. That’s what it takes to win in the SEC.”

 

 

Cornerbacks

7   Patrick Peterson   6-1, 205, So.

29 Chris Hawkins   6-1, 184, Sr.

4   Jai Eugene   5-11, 191, Jr.

15 Brandon Taylor   5-11, 183, So.

36 Derrick Bryant   5-11, 187, So.

35 Ryan St. Julien   6-1, 175, Fr.

 

Safeties

3   Chad Jones   6-3, 214, Jr.

13 Ron Brooks   5-11, 175, So.

37 Karnell Hatcher   6-1, 196, So.

44 Danny McCray   6-1, 212, Sr.

39 Josh Johns   6-2, 210, Fr.

40 Rockey Duplessis   6-1, 185, Fr.

23 Stefoin Francois   6-1, 194, So.

27 Craig Loston   6-2, 193, Fr.


Tiger Blitz Top Stories