Replacing Chad Jones: Football
Filling in for No. 3 on the gridiron
On the afternoon of Jan. 11, Chad Jones announced his intentions to declare for the NFL draft via a letter submitted by his father, Al Jones Sr. The 6-3, 225-pound junior, assuming he signs with an agent, will forfeit remaining eligibility for his last football season and final two baseball seasons. Already a national champion in each sport, Jones has accomplished a great deal in his three years on campus. The experience is one he says he’ll miss. But probably not as much as the Tigers will miss him …
Can you replace Chad Jones? In a word, probably not. Okay, so that’s two words, but Jones did play two sports. A constant in the defensive backfield and a blossoming talent on the mound, Jones’ value to the athletic program can’t be overstated. So, while outright replacement is nearly impossible to expect, here’s the Tiger Rag prediction for how LSU will attempt to fill the large shoes of Chad Jones on the football field. (Part two turned its attention to Jones’ impact on the diamond)
Chad Jones’ decision to turn pro isn’t a crippling one for LSU football, but it does serve as a bit of a shock to the system. Now, a defense which will continue to fortify under John Chavis, must do so without one of its stalwarts over the past three seasons. Essentially, Jones’ departure makes the Tigers just a hair younger and leaves a question mark in an area previously answered. Who fills the free safety’s shoes?
For starters, there are two guys with experience in the defensive backfield that can help. Karnell Hatcher (6-2, 207) and Brandon Taylor (6-0, 191) each spent time in the 2009 strong safety timeshare, and each returns for his junior campaign in ‘10. Whether or not either makes the switch back to free safety remains to be seen, but the smart money’s on Taylor easing back to that position (should the answer come from these two). The reason: Hatcher’s just too strong and better in run support. He filled in for Taylor on an almost-permanent basis following the Alabama game. On that dark day in Tuscaloosa, the wheels (and confidence) started to fall off for Taylor, who was beat on a corner-route TD by Darius Hanks before having the misfortune of being one-on-one with Julio Jones on the 73-yard game-clinching score when Patrick Peterson was sidelined with cramps. Hatcher retained most of the detail from that point until the duo shared time in Orlando when the Tigers featured a heavy amount of dime coverage.
Regardless of who steps in, there’s a need to improve in a hurry. Especially when taking into consideration who returns next season to the SEC West: Julio Jones of the defending champ Tide, Greg Childs and the young receivers at Arkansas (with the Mallett cannon throwing to them) and a bevy of talented WRs at Auburn, including DeAngelo Benton. If the solution isn’t a tandem of Hatcher and Taylor at the two safeties, that can mean only one thing: It’s Craig Loston time!
Coming off an injury-plauged freshman season, the Houston native will be chomping at the bit to show he really was the best safety in the land coming out of high school in 2009. He may well be the direct descendant to the Chad Jones throne, while the other two duke it out at strong safety. Loston (6-2, 193) certainly has the measurables and pedigree - he’s cousins with Russell Shepard - but it’ll be up to him to show he’s ready for the prime time. Keeping it all in the family with Shepard, it’s interesting that Jones’ exit also opens up the door for him to monopolize punt returns. Of course with Chuck Scott, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday gone, Shepard already figured to be a bigger part of the ‘10 offense. Well tack on special teams, too. It’ll be high time for two true sophomores - Loston and Shepard - to face the SEC music for the first time. It’s a tough task and it’s one that may, in some ways, set the progression of LSU’s secondary back a season.