The LSU coaching staff promised that the spring sessions would see players shuffled until the strongest 11 on each side of the ball were found.
When camp opened on day one, two changes – one on each side of the ball – stood out among the pack. Jai Eugene, a cornerback for the past four seasons, lined up next to Brandon Taylor at safety. Joseph Barksdale, who lined up at right tackle for LSU in all three of his years with the program, had moved to left tackle.
For Barksdale, the move became necessary with Ciron Black gone from the blind side, a spot he had occupied for 53 straight games.
Foreign to the position, Barksdale will spend the next six months prepping to protect Jordan Jefferson on the opposite side of the line. When he received the news after the bowl game, Barksdale went straight into training.
“I started putting in a lot of work,” he said. “As soon as I got back I did drills and got on the weights. I am learning offensive tackle all over again. I started with the basics, getting in a stance and running the ball. Then we worked on pass sets. I had gotten used to a right-handed stance and movement … now all that changes. The footwork is completely flipped around.”
The biggest difference so far? Keeping up with speed that comes with protecting the quarterback from his blind side in the Southeastern Conference.
“At right tackle, you have the more technique sound defensive ends,” Barksdale said. “At left tackle, they are trying to sneak up on you by beating you off the ball. You have to get back faster instead of staying in place. The most different is the pass game. It’s just a whole different type of rush.”
While the Tiger offensive line sputtered through much of the 2009 campaign, the unit – with three returning names and a nice crop of young talent – said that the main message from the staff for 2010 is increasing the level of physicality.
“We have to be more physical,” Barksdale said. “We have to be more sound in technique. One thing coach said today was about getting out of the huddle. The number of offensive plays was lacking, and he thought it was due to us not getting down and being ready to play.”
On the opposite side of the ball, Eugene’s move comes for a different reason.
The senior defensive back was being threatened off the field by a younger talent, this time rising sophomore Morris Claiborne. Of course, it wasn’t the first time.
“It has been like that my whole career,” Eugene said. “I never got discouraged. I gave 100-percent. These young guys are really good. Ever since I have been here, there has been competition.”
With Claiborne set to start alongside Patrick Peterson, defensive backs coach Ron Cooper tested Eugene with the news soon after the offseason workouts kicked back up.
Without hesitation, Eugene jumped at the opportunity to remain on the field.
“Coach Cooper asked me when I was working out, ‘How do you feel about safety?’” Eugene said. “I told him playing for a whole season was my biggest concern, and that I didn’t care where he needed me.
“I had always told coach last year to try me at safety, and it came true with Chad [Jones] leaving,” he added. “That put a hole into the defense.”
Much like Barksdale, a week into the spring and Eugene has no complaints.
“It hasn’t been bad,” he said. “I know the defense from a corner perspective. Now I am getting it down pact and getting a feel for it. Brandon [Taylor] has done a heck of a job helping me out.
“You have a lot of freedom playing safety,” he added. “You see the field better and are helping other people instead of counting on help. I think you can make more plays.”
With a relatively young defensive backfield, the experience Eugene brings to the safety spot will certainly not go unnoticed.
“I know defense, and that is the reason they put me back there,” he said. “I know how the scheme is.”
With Claiborne’s quick rise coupled with Craig Loston’s need for mental growth as a safety, the move is one that Eugene expects to be more than just a trial run.
“I think I will be a permanent safety, especially if Morris picks it up,” Eugene said. “The more he gets better, the more I play safety.
“Loston is pushing me,” he added. “He is young so he needs work, and experience plays a big part in getting better. He’s a great athlete, and he is accustomed to the position because he played it in high school. He is going to be good.”