Spring Football Preview: DB/ST

The Tigers begin spring practice on Friday, and here is TigerSportsDigest.com's look at who to watch for in the defensive backfield and special teams.

LSU’s defensive backfield was hit hard with the loss of Chad Jones, who – as a junior - put his name into the hat for the NFL Draft. This spring will be about finding out who can replace the talented free safety.

Junior Patrick Peterson, one of the nation’s top defensive backs, leads the cornerbacks into the spring. With Morris Claiborne playing the role of fast-riser, where will senior Jai Eugene, who played a backup role in 2009, fit in for 2010?

Here is our take on what you need to watch for over the course of spring practice:

 

Patrick Peterson

6’1”, 211, Junior

Pompano Beach, Fla.

Last Season: 13 starts in 13 games played. Recorded 47 tackles, 13 pass break ups, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

 

Jai Eugene

5’11”, 181, Senior

St. Rose, La.

Last Season: 2 starts in 13 games played. Recorded 26 tackles, one interception and one pass break up.

 

Morris Claiborne

6’0”, 171, Sophomore

Shreveport, La.

Last Season: Seven games played. Recorded seven tackles.

 

Brandon Taylor

6’0”, 191, Junior

Franklinton, La.

Last Season: 10 starts in 13 games played. Recorded 38 tackles, two pass break ups and a pair of interceptions.

 

Karnell Hatcher

6’2”, 210, Junior

Delray Beach, Fla.

Last Season: One start in 13 games played. Recorded 32 tackles.

 

Ron Brooks

5’11”, 176, Junior

Irving, Texas

Last Season: 13 games played. Recorded nine tackles, one pass break up and one pass deflection.

 

Craig Loston

6’2”, 195, Sophomore

Houston, Texas

Last Season: Two games played.

 

Ryan St. Julien

6’1”, 180, Sophomore

St. Martinville, La.

Last Season: 13 games played. Recorded 10 tackles.

 

Daniel Graff

6’0”, 180, Senior

Metairie, La.

Last Season: 13 games played. Recorded seven tackles and one blocked punt.

 

Derrick Bryant

5’11”, 195, Junior

Lawrenceville, Ga.

Last Season: Three games played. Recorded one tackle.

 

Josh Johns

6’2”, 205, Freshman

Baton Rouge, La.

Last Season: True Freshman.

 

Rocky Duplessis

6’1”, 200, Freshman

Belle Chase, La.

Last Season: True Freshman

 

Defensive Backs Breakdown:

With Jones headed to the NFL, a replacement at free safety is needed. While Jones had one safety spot locked up last preseason, the spring saw Ron Brooks get positive reviews from defensive backs coach Ron Cooper and defensive coordinator John Chavis – and most felt the Lone Star State native was looking at a starting spot.

Yet, preseason camp in the fall saw Cooper convert Brandon Taylor, a cornerback, into a strong safety, which sent Brooks back into the cornerback rotation.

This spring, Cooper and Chavis will have a chance to play with their rotation once more.

Most expect that Craig Loston, who played in just two games last fall and should see the year turn into a redshirt season as a result, will battle for one of the spots. The same goes for Taylor, who started in double-digit games last fall. The legacy Loston left behind in high school is one that is still fresh on many LSU fan’s minds, so to say that big play from the Houston native is expected would be an understatement. Back healthy after an injury to his hand, Loston should be able to shine in his first spring with the team.

Karnell Hatcher, who had only one start but played in every game in 2009, was used primarily in running situations. Talks have also swirled that Hatcher, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior, could make a move to strongside linebacker – where he would join Stefoin Francois in the race for playing time. Josh Johns and Rocky Duplessis are other defensive backs that have been worked out at linebacker.

Patrick Peterson should get the start as the team’s primary cornerback, trailed by Jai Eugene and Morris Claiborne. However, don’t be shocked if the staff does some moving and shaking if Claiborne proves himself too valuable to keep off the field on every play. Without much experience outside of Taylor at safety, Eugene – who has great tackling skills – could make a run at seeing time as a strong safety.

Brooks and Ryan St. Julien will provide depth at cornerback. Next season – when Eugene and, likely, Peterson are gone from the lineup – should give these two Tigers a chance to move onto the field in a more permanent role.

 

Special Teams

 

Derek Helton

6’0”, 188, Senior

Hoyt, Kan.

Last Season: 13 games played. Averaged 40.6 yards on 42 punts.

 

Josh Jasper

5’11”, 160, Senior

Memphis, Tenn.

Last Season: 13 games played. Converted 16-of-19 field goal attempts, including six of 40 yards or more. Had eight of his 12 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

 

Drew Alleman

5’11”, 185, Sophomore

Lafayette, La.

Last Season: One game played. Punted twice for a 25.5 average. Had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line.

 

Looking at the Unit:

When it comes down to special teams, the return of coach Joe Robinson’s punter and kicker gives the unit little to stress over this offseason.

Last spring, when Miles said not to expect a fall-off from Colt David to Jasper, most fans wanted to see the results before passing such praise down to the junior. In his senior campaign, look for Jasper to handle kickoffs, field goals, extra points and pooch punts – eight of which he downed inside the 20-yard line in 2009.

Helton, a junior college transfer who had up and down moments last fall, should do well with a year of spring and summer workouts. Miles and Robinson certainly hope the 40-yard average sees an increase, because – at least in practices and pre-game warm ups – Helton has shown that he can become consistent with his long kicks. The senior’s hang time is another area Helton said he would focus on this spring.

On the kickoff units, expect to see Brooks back once again. In replace of Trindon Holliday, the Tigers will try out Russell Shepard. LSU fans have begged the staff to put the ball into Shepard’s hands any way possible, and this is certainly one of them.

While Jones and Holliday returned punts in 2009, both are gone from the roster this spring – meaning that Shepard could fill that void as well. However, watch for Rueben Randle to take shots at winning the spot – a position the coaches worked him out at during bowl preparations.


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