Spring Football Wrap-Up: Defense
Need for speed gives Chavis’ group new look
Sometimes the mantra for SEC football reads like a NASCAR promo: Speed kills.
Second-year defensive coordinator John Chavis and the LSU defense are especially hopeful this axiom holds true for the 2010 season and beyond.
With a veteran corps of linebackers - Harry Coleman, Jacob Cutrera and Perry Riley - moving on and a defensive front injected with youth, the make-up of the Tigers’ D is taking on the appearance of a lighter, but quicker bunch.
It’s a widespread trend, too, with downsizing (in terms of physical size) evident on all three levels.
In the defensive backfield, LSU returns without the services of free-roaming safety and bona fide hitman Chad Jones. Also gone is Chris Hawkins, an undervalued cornerback who registered 40 tackles in 2009. Both guys leave important shoes to fill.
Attempting to step into those cleats is a group of players who, on the whole, are smaller in stature, but who do bring additional speed to the table. Morris Claiborne seems a lock to start at the left corner position, opposite returning star Patrick Peterson. Claiborne, at 6-foot-0 and 171 pounds, has the quickness to catch up with any receiver in the league and could also bolster the Tigers’ kickoff return game.
Stepping into Chad Jones’ role at strong safety will be rising junior Brandon Taylor. Taylor, and even back-up Karnell Hatcher, got loads of experience in ‘09 and are quicker than the 225-pound Jones. At the other safety is senior Jai Eugene. The Taylor-Eugene combo will begin ‘10 as the starters, but don’t rule out playing time for redshirt frosh Craig Loston (6-2, 198), who could bring size back to the DB equation should the ranks prove too thin.
At linebacker, only Kelvin Sheppard returns. The middle linebacker will be the heart and soul of the defense - and the team - next season. Flanking Sheppard, one of the SEC’s best, are two more players in that ‘quicker’ mold, both of whom weigh in at less than 220 pounds.
Junior-to-be Stefoin Francois is slated as the starting strongside backer while special teams ace Ryan Baker has made the move to starter at weakside linebacker. Both players will have to show their mettle in SEC play. It was another linebacker, however, who stepped up in the spring game. Redshirt freshman Kevin Minter made a game-high 14 tackles for the White Team and, in the process, proved he can be a capable back-up to Sheppard in the middle. That gives the Tigers a bit of insurance at the position and a total of four guys who can step in and play at LB.
But where the slimming down is most obvious is on the defensive line. Coach Miles raved all spring about how much quicker the edges collapsed with the new guys. Especially impressive was a trio of defensive ends in junior college implant Ken Adams and redshirt freshmen Sam Montgomery and Barkevious “Kiki” Mingo.
Mingo stole the show in the spring game with two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a total of seven tackles. Here’s what Miles said on the West Monroe product: “There were some plays made by Kiki that I don’t know many guys make. He’s awfully fast off the edge.”
The show-stopper for the entire spring, though, was a concensus among most: Montgomery.
Commented teammate Patrick Peterson, “Sam Montgomery is probably the most improved player I have seen since I have been here. He has been playing great and now he is in the starting lineup. He is going to make a huge impact on the secondary because he is going to get the quarterback to throw the football a little bit faster.”
That last word’s the key for LSU, who’s hoping faster is better in 2010.
Acting editor Ben Love reports on LSU football and basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.