It's August. Well, almost. The football team reports in just a week or so for fall camp. So naturally, it's time for some serious positional breakdowns. But you can read those anywhere, and of course we here at And The Valley Shook like to stand out. And occasionally break out into song. This means you, dear reader, get some musical accompaniment.
We started with the obvious weakness of 2009, so let's move over to the obvious strength of 2010: the LSU Defensive Backfield.
When you have Patrick Peterson in your secondary, this song becomes appropriate. He practically cuts off one side of the field on his own. You run out of superlatives to discuss No. 7, and I'm not going to drone on about him. The man is simply the best at what he does. He's the only cornerback I've ever seen a team try to avoid in the running game in addition to the passing game. Expect him to make a run at postseason honors this year, and possibly even become LSU's full-time punt returner.
Though LSU returns just two starters (safety Brandon Taylor and cornerback Patrick Peterson), there's actually quite a bit of experience returning in the secondary this season. Morris Claiborne will step into the other corner spot in place of Chris Hawkins after a true freshman year of mop-up duty, and fifth-year senior Jai Eugene is currently slated to start at free safety - though it wouldn't be shocking to see that change. Behind them are veterans like Ron Brooks and Ryan St. Julien, with freshmen Craig Loston and Tyrann Mathieu expected to see some playing time.
Taylor had a solid, if unspectacular, first year at the strong safety spot last season with 41 tackles, two picks and four more pass break-ups. Given that the move to safety was something of a surprise last August, that's not bad. Taylor's continued to add some size this offseason, and laid a couple of nice hits in the spring game. If he can learn to anticipate and recognize route combinations, he could become a dangerous player.
Claiborne was an almost completely unknown recruit in the 2009 class but he quickly made a name for himself last season, winning a backup corner job in camp. A former high school quarterback out of Fair Park High School in Shreveport, the 5-11, 180-pounder was also won a state title with a 10.76 100-meter dash time, and it didn't take long before that athleticism was evident. But he'll need to get the finer mental points of his game down quickly, because he can likely expect a lot of passes his way so long as Peterson's on the other side.
Jai Eugene currently tops the depth chart at free safety after four years as a cornerback. A former five-star prospect and the subject of a heated recruiting battle between LSU and Michigan (which some say is a big reason for the bad blood between Les Miles and Lloyd Carr), Eugene's struggled to get on the field beyond special teams. At corner he had a tendency to look lost at times, struggling particularly with reaction time when it came to turning and running with receivers. But he does have decent speed and has been a steady tackler, so free safety in John Chavis' defense might not be a bad fit at all. He'll play a lot of center field, which can allow him to see the ball and not worry about the man quite so much.
But, don't assume he's going to hold on to that job either. A year ago Ron Brooks was projected to be one of the starting safeties after a spring of rave reviews, and within a day or two he was on the bench with Taylor taking his spot. It wouldn't shock me to see Craig Loston take over, or maybe even take the strong safety spot with Taylor moving over to free. Either way, expect three or maybe even four guys to see the field at the safety spots.
What is there to like?
Have I mentioned that Patrick Peterson is playing cornerback for the Tigers this year? Because Patrick Peterson is totally playing cornerback for the Tigers this year.
2. Taylor's not getting a lot of publicity now, but I think with just a natural year of progression (i.e. just the standard level of improvement you would expect from a new starter) he can become a pretty good safety. And if he takes a major leap forward, this secondary officially becomes scary.
3. True freshman Tyrann Mathieu's recruitment started slow, but he exploded on the summer camp circuit to earn a four-star rating from Rivals. He's a little undersized at about 5-9 and 175, but his change-of-direction skills and reflexes earned him recognition as one of the country's best man-to-man cover prospects. Scuttlebutt from the summer workouts has been that he's expected to see the field this season.
What is there to worry about?
1. People are excited about Claiborne for good reason, but he's going to have to get on the ball quickly. As long as you're playing corner next to No. 7, you're going to be "the other guy" and offenses are going to try him early and often. Expect some growing pains.
2. Craig Loston managed to secure a medical redshirt for last season, so he'll have three more seasons after this one to get on the field, but the sooner the better. As I've said before, I definitely think Eugene can be a competent safety, but I don't think there's any question the best scenario would be if Loston explodes in camp and takes the job over. He's got a size advantage over Eugene for run defense, and just has that look of a natural athlete. But can his work ethic catch up to that ability?
3. As I said in the offensive line preview - everything starts up front in football. Even the best secondary can only cover for so long. And while I'm excited about the defensive line's potential ability to get pressure, that "potential" word is always a bitch of a caveat.