Ed Orgeron likes to say the depth chart at any position is etched in sand. Starting spots must be re-earned on the daily basis and nothing is given.
Kary Vincent Jr. understands better than most what he means by that.
The speedy cornerback started the first four games of his true freshman season as LSU’s nickelback. Suspensions opened up spots to competition, and Vincent outplayed older defensive backs in fall camp to win the job.
But that early success petered out as the season went on. LSU eventually shifted Donte Jackson inside when deploying nickel packages, relegating Vincent to a backup role. He didn’t see the field at all in the Alabama and Notre Dame games and didn’t record so much as a tackle after Sept. 23.
“Starting the first four games was pretty exciting, and honestly I didn’t expect that as a freshman,” Vincent said. “Watching that playing time die down, that was pretty hard. At the end I ended up understanding why, and it was beneficial to me. I’m so glad I had the opportunity.”
Vincent enters his second fall camp as an odds-on favorite to reclaim a starting spot, either at cornerback or in the nickel, but the field is more crowded than it was a season ago.
For what it’s worth, he’s taken individual drill reps alongside All-American cornerback Greedy Williams during the media viewing portions of practice to this point. But in seven-on-sevens and team drills LSU has rotated in a host of defensive backs around Williams, seemingly the one constant at corner.
Everybody brings something different to the table, their own strengths to build off of and weaknesses to sure up.
Vincent, a part-time track star, is a speedster who can outrun mistakes. Jontre Kirklin and Kelvin Joseph are physical in jamming receivers. Mannie Netherly, a converted receiver, is long and fast. Terrence Alexander is the vet of the bunch. Kristian Fulton is the wild card pending his NCAA appeal.
“It’s great competition,” Williams said. “Right now anybody can go in there and play as the No. 1 corner because there’s that much confidence in all those guys right now. When it comes down to it, Coach is going to pick who he wants out there and I’m pretty sure they’ll rotate every series or so.”
Based on comments from LSU coach Ed Orgeron, Vincent would likely get the first opportunity if the season started today. Orgeron singled him out as a standout on the first day of practice.
“Had a solid day today,” Orgeron said Saturday. “His speed, he came off the edge one time, blocked a field goal. Had good coverage, good break on the ball. Came up and made a couple of good tackles. Showed some physicality, understanding of the defense, making calls out there communicating.”
And as Williams can attest, any opportunity once the lights turn on for real comes with a chance to make it impossible for coaches to sub someone else in.
Williams himself was a redshirt-freshman going into last season, meaning he’d played even less than Vincent has going into year two. He got the start in the season opener in place of the suspended Kevin Toliver, intercepted a pass and never gave the job back en route to an All-American season.
“An opportunity came up, one man goes down and another has to step up,” Williams said. “One of those situations that Coach O always expresses. I did what I had to do and I started the rest of the year.”
Vincent see now that he wasn’t mature enough to do that last season, but he’s studied the tape on what went wrong and internalized the lessons that came along with his benching. Coverage concepts and run fits don’t seem as complicated as they once did.
“Last year, watching the film, you could tell I was a little antsy,” Vincent said. “I made a lot of freshman mistakes. It’s really just about staying in the film room, seeing what you did wrong and why you did it, and fixing it. That’s going to help me a lot.”
LSU has rotated in every conceivable combination of cornerback and nickel with the first-team defense opposite Williams in practice in search of the best fit. That’ll likely continue right up until the season opener against Miami.
Having corrected those rookie miscues, Vincent projected confidence that his versatility to line up inside or out can give him a leg up on the competition.
“I plan to be diverse,” Vincent said. “I want to be that guy that can do everything for this defense to make sure I never come off the field.”