By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Arden Key flew around the edge with relative ease, encumbered only by a flagged hold on the part of left tackle Maea Teuhema. He’d have thrown Brandon Harris to the ground if such quarterback contact wasn’t frowned upon in LSU’s annual spring game Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
Isaiah Washington, a fellow sophomore edge rusher manning the position mirroring Key’s on the second unit, dropped into coverage on third-and-long of the next series. When Danny Etling’s hurried screen pass slipped through Darrel Williams’ fingers, Washington intercepted it and raced back 22 yards in the other direction.
The ability to make both plays are part and parcel to what constitutes a day in the life of a defender learning to exist under new LSU under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
“That’s a great position because you can cover and rush,” said Lewis Neal, another natural defensive end learning the ropes as a hybrid linebacker. “They’re in disguise. Nobody knows if you’re rushing or covering. It can trick you.”
Aranda added: “We don’t really pressure a lot of guys five or six. It’s really always four-man rushes, so we’re trading jobs in our quarters. Trading jobs in our three-deep and trading jobs in our man. So the base, quarters, three-deep and man are in, now we’re just into trading jobs. The flexibility of guys who can rush and drop, that’s exciting because we have those guys.”
The annual culmination to LSU’s spring practice season served as an unofficial unveiling of sorts for Aranda’s variable scheme. This time around, in an effort to spice things up, a format change allowed the first team units to square off throughout the first half.
Facing an offensive line missing three presumed starters due to injury, the starting defensive front got the better of the action.
The stat sheet shows eight sacks, those it’s difficult to decipher how many came against walk-ons. Leonard Fournette’s short scoring run stood as the only touchdown yielded by the first defense.
A productive end to a productive spring, as coaches and players tell it.
“There’s good things today, things that we can build on,” Aranda said. “We’re still learning each other and learning what we can do.”
“The terminology was a different thing for us, but once we got the hang of that, we were rolling,” inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith said of his unit’s progress through its first spring under Aranda. Beckwith (six tackles) and Duke Riley (eight tackles) ran as first team inside backers.
While the Tigers shifted between a base 3-4 look and a nickel package throughout the game, Aranda said afterword he implemented just three defensive calls for the glorified public practice.
LSU coach Les Miles commented at his postgame presser that play-calling tended to be vanilla on both sides of the ball to avoid giving too much away.
“We put in a nice base,” Miles said. “I think our defense knows kind of what to expect out of the calls and now we’re in a position where we add some bells and whistles to the defense. Obviously, we removed a lot of the things we do both offensively and defensively for the game.”
Aranda wasn’t sure how much more of his defense there was to add, but Miles guesstimated there was roughly 40 percent left to be installed. Some adjustments figure to be schematic while others could have depended on personnel.
Either way, all parties involved there’s still plenty to be installed, learned and refined during the summer before the team regroups as a whole again for fall camp.
“We’ve got the base of it down,” Beckwith said. “Now we want to expand on it. We just learn and all try to work together and continue to make this defense a great one.”
Added Neal: “We didn’t really do nothing today. We just did a few calls, and that was it. Just imagine when we do everything. We were just playing base defense and weren’t really doing his specialties.”
– Inside linebacker Donnie Alexander didn’t participate because of a concussion, Miles said after the game. The LSU defense was also without Kevin Toliver, Rickey Jefferson and John Battle due to various pre-existing injuries.
– Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture have flip-flopped positions on the interior of LSU’s defensive line, with the former now taking over at nose tackle. Godchaux recorded a pair of sacks during Saturday’s proceedings. Aranda pointed to the junior’s explosiveness and ability to command double teams as the reasons behind the switch.
– Of LSU’s eight recorded sacks, four came courtesy of blitzes from the defensive backfield. Dwayne Thomas and Xavier Lewis, two of LSU’s versatile defensive backs, recorded a pair of quarterback ‘takedowns’ apiece.