Really need all this talent to finally show up this season.
Back with a Vengeance: Tiger Secondary Has Something to Prove
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag a.ssistant Editor
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(At left) Patrick Peterson came on strong last season and is primed to become one of the SEC’s top cornerbacks. (Photo by Matt Deville)
By now everyone knows that the secondary was certainly a point of concern and anger for many frustrated Tiger fans last season.
LSU had it’s worse defensive effort in the better part of the decade in 2008, and it was under the magnifying class being that the Tigers were following up a national title campaign.
Under Bo Pelini’s watch, the LSU defense was able to get it done when they had to, still showing that Bayou Bengal defensive fire that carried over from Nick Saban’s teams. But the co-defensive coordinator project of a year ago proved to be disastrous, making mega-talented players look completely lost on the field due to lack of communication and trust.
That’s where John Chavis comes into the picture. The newly hired LSU defensive coordinator has a wealth of experience in the SEC and brings with him to the coaching staff a no-nonsense veteran mentality that he has already instilled into his players.
Chavis refuses to look back at the troubles the defense had last year, as he was manning the nation’s forth best defense in Tennessee. But the coordinator acknowledges that all the tools and talent were there and are ever more abundant this season.
“One of the things that’s a true saying, and been said by a lot of people who have coached the game a lot longer than I have is, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win the game,” Chavis said. “So it’s a game of mistakes.”
It’s true that the secondary was one of the greenest positions last year, when the Tigers where bringing back players with minimal experience, and it showed at times.
The lack of understanding the defensive scheme and overall experience in the secondary was a glaring problem in 2008, as the Tigers gave up more passing yards (215.4 ypg) since the 2001 LSU defense, who was last in the country at the defending the pass (279.2 ypg).
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(At left) Chad Jones (Photo by Matt Deville)
Another obvious problem was the lack of big plays in the secondary, or on defense period. The Tigers only accounted for eight interceptions last season, their least since picking of a mere six passes in 1974.
But when looking at the depth chart in the secondary for the upcoming season, it’s probably safe to a.ssume that this unit may be the best of the entire defense. The LSU safeties and corners that were baptized by fire a year ago are back with plenty of playing time under their belt and a super-sized chip on their shoulder.
“I knew that this staff had done a tremendous job recruiting and getting talent here so that was a non-issue when you start looking at it,” Chavis said. “There’s definitely alot of talent here. When you look at our board, there are very few positions if any on defense that you can say this guy is going to be our starter for sure. There is competition, and that’s the thing that’s going to make you better.”
Two of those “very few positions” though are in the secondary, where Chavis said junior Chad Jones and sophomore Patrick Peterson are most likely shoe-ins at their respected position.
Jones will finally become a starter on the defense this season at free safety, after being shuffled around in extensive sub duties over the course of his first two seasons. Jones saw time in dime packages and used his vicious hitting style to make more than 50 tackles last season, with an interception and seven broken up passes.
Patrick Peterson is back at right corner after practically being thrown to the wolves in his freshman season when the coaches decided he was a better option than the struggling Jai Eugene. Peterson made 41 tackles and a pick last season while starting two games.
The talented Peterson was the top rated cornerback in the country coming out of high school in 2007, and his amazing abilities on the field peeked its way through the hard times in spurts last year. But after LSU’s Spring Game in April, it was clear Peterson is well on his way to becoming a top-tier college player, appearing to have added 10 pounds of raw steel to his frame while actually looking faster on the gridiron.
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(At left) Brandon Taylor (Photo by Matt Reynolds)
“They (Jones and Peterson) may be as good as any two guys in the secondary anywhere in the country,” Chavis said. “They could very well be ‘that guy’ because they have that kind of talent. The secondary is going to be a real strong point for us.”
The other two starting spots are still to be decided. Sophomore Ron Brooks seems to be a leading canidate at strong safety coming out spring drills, but the emergence of Brandon Taylor and major progress by Karnell Hatcher has made the strong safety position a three-man race to the season opener.
The opening at strong safety was left vacant when Harry Coleman moved to the SAM linebacker position. However, defensive coordinator John Chavis said Coleman could still be used at a safety in special situations.
Brooks raised eyebroks in the spring and became a favorite of the coaching staff. He was expected to be the heir apparent at strong safety and one of the key players to return kicks this season. But Brandon Taylor made huge strides over the summer, added about 10 pounds and has raced to the front of the line at strong safety. Taylor has been running with the ones, but Miles said “the race is very close.”
Senior Chris Hawkins started every game last year at left corner finishing with 50 tackles with a team-leading three picks, while breaking up 12 plays. While Hawkins has the speed to make his fare share of plays, he has been known to give up big passes.
There are four other players that should see a great deal of playing time this year in the Tiger secondary.
Eugene, who started 11 games last year and ended up making 35 tackles, hasn’t been anything close to the blue-chip LSU signed in Les Miles first recruiting class in 2006. Eugene will most likely backup Peterson at right corner and work out of the nickel and dime packages.
Danny McCray has been another roustabout type player in the secondary over the years that will be competing for starting time behind Chad Jones. While McCray has shown flashes of superb defending during his career, he has also been the victim of poor coverage more than a time or two.
“There’s good depth there,” Chavis said. “We’ve got five or six guys back there that can play, that can win, in the SEC. And you get excited about looking at that group of young men.”
INSIDE THE HUDDLE – Defensive Secondary
Returning Starters: Patrick Peterson, Chris Hawkins, Jai Eugene, Danny McCray, Chad Jones
Departed Starters: Curtis Taylor
Best Player: Patrick Peterson – After spending the Spring with Peterson, new LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis called the sophomore cornerback, “one of the best young corners” he has ever been around. That’s decent praise from a coach that has spent 20 plus years in the SEC. Peterson started the last two games of last season, replacing Jai Eugene and gained valuable experience. But the progression the 6-1, 205 pound pheanom has made in the offseason has some experts thinking he will have a monstrous ‘09 campaign. He can play any position in the secondary, but is expected to start at right corner.
Wildcard: Jai Eugene – He was the big defensive land of Les Miles’ first recruiting class, but hasn’t come close to living up to the expectations thus far. Eugene’s athleticism is not matched by anyone on the field, but wasn’t slightly effective last year in his first season at starting right cornerback for the Tigers. In Eugene’s defense, the rest of the secondary wasn’t much better and the coaching change on the defensive side of the ball should bring out the best in this former blue-chipper.
Rising Star: Ron Brooks – One minute into a conversation with John Chavis and you realize just how much the new Tiger DC loves Brooks ability. Brooks, who was originally recruited as a cornerback, had a suburb season as a special teamer and has the coaches confidence to contribute a lot in the LSU secondary this season. Brooks has blazing 4.4 speed and is a surprisingly hard-hitter for his 5-11, 175 pound frame.
Top NFL Prospect: Chad Jones – As one of the most gifted athletes in the country, Jones has garnered attention from both MLB and NFL scouts recently. If everything pans out with the move of Harry Coleman from safety to SAM linebacker, Jones will most likely be the starting free safety for LSU, a position that Miles said, “fits him best.” The experts are already bracing for the enormous season the 6-3, 228 pound junior is expected to have.
2009 LSU Defensive Backs
No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Exp. Hometown(Previous School)
44 Danny McCray S 6-1 212 Sr. 3L Houston, Texas (Westfield HS)
3 Chad Jones S 6-3 214 Jr. 2L Baton Rouge, La. (Southern Lab HS)
13 Ron Brooks S 5-11 175 So. 1L Irving, Texas (MacArthur HS)
23 Stefoin Francois S 6-1 194 So. SQ Reserve, La. (East St. John HS)
15 Brandon Taylor S 5-11 183 So. 1L Franklinton, La. (Franklinton HS)
7 Patrick Peterson CB 6-1 205 So. 1L Pompano Beach, Fla. (Ely HS)
37 Karnell Hatcher S 6-1 196 So. 1L Delray Beach, Fla. (Atlantic Community HS)
29 Chris Hawkins CB 6-1 184 Sr. 3L Walker, La. (Walker HS)
4 Jai Eugene CB 5-11 191 Jr. 2L St. Rose, La. (Destrehan HS)
43 Daniel Graff DB 5-11 171 Jr. 1L Metairie, La. (Rummel HS/New Orleans)
39 Josh Johns DB 6-2 210 Fr. HS Baton Rouge, La. (Central HS)
28 Joe Maltempi DB 5-8 171 Sr. SQ Chester, Va. (Thomas Dale HS)
27 Craig Loston DB 6-2 193 Fr. HS Houston, Texas (Eisenhower HS)
19 David Detz DB 6-0 177 Fr. RS Leesville, La. (Leesville HS)
21 Tayler Debusk DB 5-11 180 Fr. RS Tupelo, Miss. (Tupelo HS)
40 Rockey Duplessis DB 6-1 185 Fr. HS Belle Chasse, La. (Belle Chasse HS)
36 Derrick Bryant DB 5-11 187 So. 1L Lawrenceville, Ga. (Peachtree Ridge HS)
35 Ryan St. Julien DB 6-1 175 Fr. RS St. Martinville, La. (Catholic-New Iberia HS)
17 Morris Claiborne WR/DB 6-0 171 Fr. HS Shreveport, La. (Fair Park HS)