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Five Things, LSU Football: Defensive Backs



28 Jalen Mills (So.)

6-0, 185

Started all 13 games and had 57 tackles, 7 pass break-ups, including 2 interceptions.

32 Jalen Collins (RS-So.)

6-2, 195

30 tackles, 8 pass break-ups, including 2 interceptions.

13 Dwayne Thomas (RS-Fr.)

6-0, 175


19 Derrick Raymond (RS-Fr.)

6-1, 175


36 Kavahra Holmes (RS-Fr.)

6-2, 180



6 Craig Loston (Sr.)

6-2, 205

55 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss, 4 pass break-ups, including 3 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.

26 Ronald Martin (Jr.)

6-1, 202

35 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble.

34 Micah Eugene (RS-So.)

5-11, 190

29 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss (3.5 sacks) and 3 pass break-ups.

12 Corey Thompson (So.)

6-2, 210

11 tackles, mostly on special teams.

39 Jerquinick Sandolph (So.)

6-2, 190

5 tackles, mostly on special teams, and 1 fumble recovery.

1. This is an interesting group. Three full-time starters return, plus Ronald Martin, who saw plenty of time. And this is a group that, in concert with the linebacking corps, will have to carry a lot of the load for the LSU defense while the defensive line comes together with a lot of those new faces. Despite the returnees, this still feels like a group that has to come together and find their own identity. That probably comes from not having the big names back, a la Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, etc...It's no secret this group struggled down the stretch. Some of that was facing a much better slate of quarterbacks; some of it came from a non-existent pass-rush. I'm also of the opinion that some of the younger guys hit a bit of a rookie wall, so to speak, after playing over their heads for the first half of the year. Hopefully, some experience can contribute to a more even performance.

2. We start with the cornerbacks. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins (no relation) might as well both be returning starters. Granted, Collins only got in when LSU went into nickel packages last year, it was a pretty regular occurrence. Certainly saw starter snaps. I don't know that either guy will ever become the type of shut-down corner that Zod or Mo became (confession: I really hate this cliché, applicable that it is to Peterson/Claiborne), but they bring good size, physicality and tenacity to the job. Mills in particular was really tossed into the deep end following Mathieu's departure. He was forced to not only handle one of the starting corner spots, but also the departed Badger's nickelback position and its blitz responsibilities. To me, Chevis Jackson makes for the best comparison. Hard-nosed, physical and smart. Isn't necessarily going to totally erase his man, but isn't going to get beat too often, either. Behold the video below:

That tenacity is really on display at the 1:50 mark when Mills goes through the gauntlet drill. Collins is an exciting physical presence that can really push opposing receivers around. He had his struggles with the veteran wideouts, but that's not unreasonable. Like Mills, he needs to continue to work on his consistency and pattern reading.

3. Behind the starters are three lanky redshirt players: Dwayne Thomas, Derrick Raymond and Kavahra Holmes. Predictably, they're all complete unknowns. Players who redshirt tend to get marginalized in the minds of fans lately, with how many freshmen LSU is willing to throw on the field now. That might not be the case here, of course, but we don't really know. Thomas is a bigger guy that has been talked about as a safety. Wouldn't shock to see him get a shot in the nickelback role, especially given how much zone LSU plays there. Raymond is a raw speedster without a lot of game film on his resume still, ditto Holmes, who played receiver in high school. Look for these three to start to get out there on special teams. And of course, Tre'Davious white promises to climb the depth chart once he arrives this summer.

4. In the linebacker preview I talked about Lamin Barrow's surprise emergence last year. It was a make-or-break season for him, and he came through. If there's another player that definitely fits that description, it's Craig Loston. He was the No. 1 safety recruit in the country, and he really struggled to see the field his first four years here. Some of that was due to injuries (particular concussions because of a reckless style on special teams), but largely he was passed up by underclassmen like Eric Reid, and that light bulb just never seemed to come on. That changed in 2012, and by the end of the year he was really playing better football than his consensus All-American teammate. Now he's the old man of the secondary. And while it's weird to think of him as "old" really, he's easily the most experienced guy out there, and has a chance to come through with a really big senior year. Ronald Martin returns with a decent amount of game experience, but was really uneven last year. Extremely vulnerable to play-fakes and never seemed to get up to game speed mentally, aside from a standout performance versus Idaho. He may be in a fight for his job with some of the rising sophomores.

5. Depth at the safety spot starts with Micah Eugene, who stepped into Ron Brooks' dimeback role. He's a hard-nosed player, a good tackler and showed some skill in blitz packages early, but teams definitely found ways to exploit him in coverage down the stretch. Like many of his teammates he's still learning. The principle backups at the safety spots at the moment appear to be sophomores Corey Thompson and Jerquinick Sandolph. Thompson, a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class, saw time in nearly every game on special teams and was one of the more dynamic coverage players on the unit. He's certainly the biggest safety on the team -- in the video above, his build really jumps out at you. Early talk has him pushing Martin for the other safety spot next to Loston. I would be willing to bet that next season sees John Chavis return to a three-man rotation at safety, much like he did his first two years with guys like Brandon Taylor, Chad Jones, Karnell Hatcher, Loston and Reid. Sandolph was a bit of a throw-in recruit, a "where's he fit in?" kid, but he surprised pundits by pushing his way onto special teams early, and much like Thompson, he's drawing some rave reviews for his physicality in the spring. Experience may be lacking a bit at this spot, but there's some very intriguing and athletic depth. Thompson in particular has the look of a future star, in my opinion.