By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Before every live session of LSU camp, Donte Jackson struts toward the line of scrimmage and offers Danny Etling — or whoever else is behind center — a bit of advice in the form of a brash challenge.
“Danny is a great quarterback and really smart guy, but I tell Danny ‘You’ve got to make big boy throws.’ That’s my logic,” Jackson said. “I’m going to cover everybody close, but if you’re going to make big boy throws, there’s nothing my coverage can do to stop that.
“So that’s why I’m always talking to the quarterbacks. I’m the loud mouth of the defense.”
Dubbed the fastest man in college football, Jackson has certainly inherited the mantle of trash talker in chief within the defensive back room.
Whether it’s his encouragement to quarterbacks, jawing with receivers or coming up with nicknames for each and every defensive back, Jackson is always chirping.
But when it comes time to lead, even the trash-talking starting cornerback who nicknamed himself “Head Honcho” knows he can’t go it alone.
LSU lost four veteran starters to the NFL last season, including first-round picks Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White and seniors Dwayne Thomas and Rickey Jefferson.
Upon their departure, that vocal group imparted the next quartet of veteran defensive backs with a bit of advice in the form of a challenge.
“They told me, John, Kevin and Ed, we’ve got to be the guys now,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to be the guys that younger guys come in and want to learn from.”
That new leadership he’s talking about includes fellow starting corner Kevin Toliver and safeties John Battle and Ed Paris, both of whom have been in the program for four years. It’s been that way since LSU came back from the Citrus Bowl, according to Jackson.
“The Pa-pas of the group,” Paris smiled. “But it’s cool. It’s all a brotherhood. So it’s not just me and John being the old guys. Its guys like Kevin Toliver and Donte also. There’s old guys in the room, even if we’re young.”
Battle has taken a particularly vocal role since spring practice began, teammates say, but according to Toliver, who’s known him since high school, that’s always been part of the passionate safety’s personality.
It’s been a point of conversation among the veterans that none of them need to be anything they’re not. Guys like Adams and White led in their own way, and simply trying to emulate them would be counterproductive.
“Jamal can only be Jamal. Let’s be honest right now: Jamal is one person. We can’t be Jamal,” Paris said. “We can’t have no Jamal type thing. I can only be Ed Paris and John can only be John Battle. That’s just what it is.”
They’re responsible for setting the example in a crowded room that, per usual, is well stocked in young talent. Keep in mind that, despite losing all that firepower to the NFL, LSU moved five-star safety JaCoby Stevens to wide receiver last week because it was a far greater need.
There’s already two freshmen taking first-team reps in camp.
Grant Delpit has worked at free safety this week, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said, after Paris got kicked in the leg during practice. Kary Vincent Jr. is battling with Xavier Lewis to be LSU’s first-team nickel back.
Vincent, like Jackson before him, came to LSU a state-champion sprinter with world class speed. And Toliver, now fully healthy, is moving like a much smaller corner, according to Jackson.
Those three together adds up to a whole lot of speed. But as far as which is the flat-out fastest, apparently the new guy still hasn’t caught up to the new Pa-pa.
“He talks about it, but he ain’t ready yet,” Jackson said of Vincent. “He’s fast. He can run now, but me? I’m just on a different level right now. He ain’t ready to race me yet. Fast guy though. I always tell him he’s fast, but I’m different fast.”
Jackson also boasted of saddeling Vincent with the nickname “Care Bear,” which the freshman is not a fan of. It’s a riff on the fact Jackson thinks Vincent is particularly tenacious on the practice field.
The talking part of leadership just comes naturally to some people.
“NICKNAMES FOR DAYS”
Here’s a full list of defensive back nicknames provided by Jackson and Paris:
Donte Jackson: D-Jack/Head Honcho (according to himself)
Kevin Toliver: KT
Ed Paris: Eddie Bo
John Battle: JB/Batman/Sally Mae (“Because he’s old” – Paris)
Kary Vincent Jr.: Care Bear (“He doesn’t like it” – Jackson)
Grant Delpit: Javier (“Because he looks Cuban, kind of” – Jackson)
Todd Harris Jr.: Terminator Todd
Kristian Fulton: K Baby
Xavier Lewis: Zay
Cam Lewis: 31 Savage
Jontre Kirklin: Kirk