Since the hiring of Ron Cooper, there's been little questioning of secondary evaluation. LSU has loaded up on young talents that made drastic impacts as early as this season (Tyrann Mathieu, anyone?). Cooper carries the reputation of being a top-notch talent evaluator and developer, and his coaching prowess reared it's head in 2010. Though Patrick Peterson's departure will affect the 2011 LSU secondary, expect loads of young talent to step in as difference makers immediately.
However, the linebacker corps remains a major question mark. John Chavis maintains his reputation as one of the elite linebacker coaches in America, and the 2010 defense illustrated that with tremendous contributions from Kelvin Sheppard and Ryan Baker. The loss of Sheppard's leadership cannot be overstated, and many question the depth behind him to reload the position in 2011. LSU's primary recruiting base rarely produces top-notch LB prospects, yet Chavis has proven the ability to convert phenomenal athletes into phenomenal linebackers time and again. Let's take a look at what the future holds at both linebacker and secondary for LSU.
LSU returns two starters at LB in 2011 in Ryan Baker and Stefoin Francois. Francois put forth a quiet season in 2010 and has yet to live up to his recruiting promise. Baker flashed signs of greatness in 2010, and, in my opinion was the best LB on the roster. Could a move to the middle be in store? Potentially, but I don't expect it. Kevin Minter made a major statement in the Spring Game last season, but failed to take many meaningful snaps in 2010. Luke Muncie is a prospect that truly impressed throughout the summer of 2010, and played mostly special teams throughout the season before suffering a season-ending injury. It seems that the MLB competition will be between he and Minter this spring and summer (barring a surprise commit... more on that later). Tahj Jones is an undersized OLB that can run. He played significant minutes against WVU after Francois went down with injury, and his role should expand in 2011. Barrow is a player who came on in spurts and played with a mean streak, which often got him into trouble. He's got plenty of ability, but must play with greater discipline. Johns is probably little more than a special teams body at this point and D.J. Welter is another guy who will continue to develop in 2011, possibly to the point of meaningful snaps in 2011, based off our shallow depth chart.
As of this moment, LB Trevon Randle from League City, TX is the lone linebacker commit in this class. Naturally, he fills the spot vacated by Kelvin Sheppard's departure. Randle is a tremendous athlete that plays both ways in HS and returns kicks. He lacks ideal size and strength and will likely need a RS year to refine his body and skill set, but his speed and athleticism make him a stand out recuit.
In the longest of longshots, rumors of CJ Johnson's NSD flip perked up on NSD eve. I don't expect anything to happen, but keep your eye on the situation...
On the Roster:
Ron Brooks, Sr., CB
Brandon Taylor, Sr. S
Karnell Hatcher, Sr., S
Derrick Bryant, Sr. S
Morris Claiborne, Jr., CB
Ryan St. Julian, Jr., CB
Tyrann Mathieu, So., CB
Ronnie Vinson, So., CB
Tharold Simon, So., CB
Eric Reid, So. S
Rocky Duplessis, So.
Craig Loston, RS Fr., S
Sam Gibson, RS Fr., S
Brandon Taylor looks up one safety spot heading into 2011, while Morris Claiborne locks down one of the starting corner spots. However, that leaves open two remaining starters in the secondary. While Tyrann Mathieu will be the fan favorite to land at the other starting corner position, don't be surprised if he remains in his nickel role while Tharold Simon overtakes the spot. As for the other safety spot, Eric Reid seems to be Taylor's top backup, but he may transition to the other safety spot. If not, Look for Craig Loston to take the reigns. Karnell Hatcher's struggles have been well-documented by this point, but I wouldn't be blown away if he were to move down to a LB role in 2011. Ron Brooks will remain the top back-up draw. Derrick Bryant and Ryan St. Julien are question marks to return. Overall, the secondary remains in tremendous shape.
Martin is a guy who never accrued much interest on the recruiting trail, but was well-enough liked by the coaches to elicit an offer. He's a raw prospect with excellent size that could contribute as early as next season, though I expect him to take a redshirt in 2011.
David Jenkins, CB
Of all the secondary prospects in this class, Jenkins illustrates the most potential to be the next Tyrann Mathieu. Much like Mathieu, he ends the process severely underrated, despite Rivals claiming as the best cover corner as well as a top five athlete at the position. Jenkins possesses phenomenal upside, but also the potential to step into a big time role in 2011.
Jalen Collins, CB
Collins is a big, athletic corner that is still raw and developing. He is perhaps the best pure athlete in this class, but his technique as a player needs great refinement. Collins is big, strong, and exceptionally fast and could be a stalwart on the outside as early as 2012. I expect him to take a redshirt in 2011.
Eugence is an unheralded prospect from Acadiana that impressed throughout his senior season. Many analysts wrote him off as a player that would not qualify, but after dedicating himself in the classroom, he's ready to go.
Once again, Ron Cooper is handed to the keys to some masterful talent. One thing is for sure, LSU is loaded in the back 7.