Summer Film Session: DBs
Watching spring practice videos of LSU’s secondary in action
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
We’ve reached another Tuesday in the summer, and that means it’s time for the next installment of TigerRag.com’s summer film sessions.
Every Tuesday from now until SEC Media Days in late-July (July 20-22, to be exact), we’ll run out a series of videos from this past spring’s LSU practice sessions.
Last week we broke from positional reviews and watched the players compete in the Big Cat drill.
The week prior we took a look at the LSU wide receivers being put through a series of drills and catching passes from the three signal callers.
Finally, the Tuesday before that, it was time to dissect the Tiger quarterbacks during spring practice sessions.
Today, we’ll dive headfirst into some tape of the deep LSU secondary.
At least in my opinion, this is far and away the most talented unit on the 2011 LSU football team.
It’s also the deepest.
What’s truly scary when making those types of claims is to consider the secondary lost Patrick Peterson to the NFL Draft in April. All Peterson was in Baton Rouge was the Tigers’ best cover corner since Corey Webster and possibly the most valuable purple-and-gold defensive back since Tommy Casanova.
But take a look at what the LSU secondary returns, in particular how young much of the talent is, and I think you’ll begin to see what I mean.
Peterson passed the lead corner baton to junior Mo Claiborne (6-0, 177), a former high school sprint champion in Shreveport, who burst onto the scene for LSU in 2010, leading the Tigers in passes defended (11) and intercepted (5). For his efforts, Claiborne was ranked second-team All-SEC as a sophomore by the AP and Coaches.
Lining up opposite Claiborne for the majority of this coming season will be one of two true sophomores.
In most base 4-3 packages, it’ll be LSU’s most disruptive defender returning from last season, Tyrann Mathieu (5-9, 180). No. 7 can do it all in the secondary, from blitzing signal callers to stripping ball carriers to manning up outside receivers. It’s that last skill set which I believe LSU fans will be mildly surprised to see in ‘11. Most only know Mathieu as a gunner and blitzer from his primary ‘10 role, but don’t forget the St. Augustine product was recruited to LSU more so for his pure coverage ability.
When John Chavis dials up a nickel, dime or Mustang package — and Mathieu moves inside — it’ll be Tharold Simon (6-3, 190) across from Claiborne. Simon was one of the break-out players of the spring, showcasing his range and closing ability several times during the spring game by breaking up deep balls meant for veteran LSU receivers like Rueben Randle. Defensive backs coach Ron Cooper has no problem sticking Simon on a man-to-man island at any point during the game. Case in point? He did it last year against the likes of Julio Jones (Alabama) and Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M).
Finishing off the rotation at corner for the Tigers is senior Ron Brooks (6-0, 179), who also doubles as one of the team’s best return men. It’s the pure speed and tenacity of Brooks and Mathieu that really make the Mustang package work so well for LSU. Brooks is also capable of locking down a corner, should injury or circumstance dictate as much.
What Mo Claiborne brings to the cornerback position for LSU, senior Brandon Taylor (6-0, 195) brings to the Tigers’ safeties. Taylor is the leader of the secondary, bringing his knowledge of Chavis’ system and full body of experience to the table for a relatively young group. He started the first nine games a season ago before injury knocked him out against Alabama. Expect No. 15 to be counted on quite heavily this season as he is the only remaining upperclassman left at safety who figures into the two-deep.
Again, like at corner, there are two sophomore options who are expected to grab most of the time across from the experienced starter.
The first of those is redshirt sophomore Craig Loston (6-2, 200), a heat-seeking missile with a nose for hammering ball carriers. His style meshes pretty well with Taylor as the latter doesn’t mind playing centerfield while Loston can be more so the guy who attacks the line of scrimmage. Loston was the starter for most of spring practice due to a tweaked ankle from the next guy …
… Which would be true sophomore Eric Reid (6-2, 207), another guy who can smack opposing players, but also has some better ball-hawking coverage instincts than Loston does. It wasn’t clear that Reid would’ve been the starter in the spring if healthy, but he had every bit as good a chance as Loston going in. And he still does at the dawn of fall camp. Both guys will play a lot next year, but I look for this to be one of the more entertaining “battles” in August, if you can call it that.
Finally, providing some depth behind the big three safeties are sophomores Ronnie Vinson (5-11, 187), Sam Gibson (6-1, 205) and senior Derrick Bryant (5-11, 199). Vinson had a big spring game, leading all defenders in tackles. He also added an interception.
Check out today’s film session footage on the LSU defensive backs, complete with notes and observations following each clip. For identification purposes: Claiborne is No. 17, Mathieu is No. 7, Simon is No. 24, Brooks is No. 13, Taylor is No. 15 (in a green jersey), Loston is No. 6, Reid is No. 1, Bryant is No. 36, Vinson is No. 28 and Gibson is No. 29.
Video 1: DB drills (3.12)
Saturday, March 12
NOTES: None of the three videos I’ve posted today have the DBs in actual coverage vs. wide receivers or hitting ball carriers. The reason is because the media was never allowed in for those portions of LSU spring practice. So the point of this one is to give you a feel for how big these guys are, and how each of them stacks up in comparison to the others.
For instance, Claiborne has one of the rare body types that is both lanky/angular and built with muscle at the same time while a younger player like Simon still has room to add muscle, but is clearly a rangy player as well with long arms. As for some other younger guys, Gibson is a pretty well-built player while Mathieu is smaller in statue, making what he does between the lines all the more impressive.
You also get a sense of general athleticism in this video when watching each player go up and get the ball at its highest point. Mathieu is light on his feet, has great hands and can sky. Loston, on the other hand, motors a little bit more when jogging/running, which is natural for a player his size.
Video 2: DBs work on Mustang options (3.22)
Tuesday, March 22
NOTES: Now this clip will shed some light into how LSU will line up in 2011 when it goes into its Mustang package, basically a variation of a traditional 3-2-6 dime package where two of the defensive backs come up to the line of scrimmage as gunners. (Depending on how you look at it, it could also be called a variation of an NFL 3-4, but with quick defensive backs in place of outside linebackers.)
Here’s what I wrote the day of this practice to describe the action:
The secondary, under the direction of Ron Cooper, began working on different variations of the ‘Mustang’ package (SEE ABOVE). The Flip Video footage I have will be probably the least interesting I’ve posted yet this spring in terms of movement and excitement, but it’s very good in letting you check out the secondary’s alignment - and who’s running with the first-team - when the defense goes Mustang. You can also see how Cooper wants them to shift and react when receivers line up in twins, trips, etc. Just for clarity’s sake (because with the second-team guys lined up right behind the starters in the video, it gets congested and confusing), here’s how LSU is currently lining up when the team goes Mustang. Mo Claiborne and Tharold Simon ran as the two straight CBs. Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks ran as inside gunners, within 3 or 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. And, finally, Craig Loston and Brandon Taylor were back deep as the two safeties. This configuration leaves Eric Reid as the odd man out.
Video 3: DBs backpedal then catch (3.31)
Thursday, March 31
NOTES: Here’s the best close-up video I have from the spring of the DBs backpedaling then reacting and breaking on the ball (albeit at close range). Watch the players’ hips as they come in and out of cuts. Guys like Claiborne and Mathieu are so fluid, but all of them are quick, as you can clearly see.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.