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LSU Spring Football Five Questions: Defensive Backfield

This might just be the strength of the 2014 Tigers and one of the best secondaries in the country.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Roster/Depth Chart


13 Dwayne Thomas (Soph.)

6-0, 181

10 tackles, 5 passes broken up, 4.0 TFLs (3.0 sacks) and 2 forced fumbles.

16 Tre'davious White (Soph.)

5-11, 177

55 tackles, 9 passes broken up (2 interceptions), 2.5 TFLs and 1 forced fumble.

21 Rashard Robinson (Soph.)

6-1, 165

16 tackles, 4 passes broken up (1 interception) and .5 TFL.

32 Jalen Collins (Jr.)

6-2, 195

22 tackles and 2 passes broken up.

36 Kavahra Holmes (Soph.)

6-2, 184

Accrued no stats in 1 game appearance.

24 Ed Paris Jr. (Fr.)

6-0, 189

Four-star recruit.


28 Jalen Mills (Jr.)

6-0, 189

67 tackles, 6 passes broken up (3 interceptions), 4 TFLs.

12 Corey Thompson (Jr.)

6-2, 212

40 tackles, 3 pass broken up and .5 TFL.

26 Ronald Martin (Sr.)

6-1, 218

38 tackles, 5 passes broken up (1 interception), 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered in 8 games.

29 Rickey Jefferson (Soph.)

5-11, 199

6 tackles, 2 passes broken up and .5 TFL in 7 games.

Note: bold indicates starting experience.

What's Good?

Well, if there's an upside to all of the growing pains LSU had last season, it's that all those young defensive backs took their lumps and grew. The backfield lineup shuffled throughout the season, but by the final stretch John Chavis & Co. had found a great combination with freshman cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Tre'davious White, Jalen Mills back at the safety spot and Rickey Jefferson working his way in.

That group combined with the veterans on the team to all but shut down Johnny Football & Texas A&M and follow that up with a fantastic day in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. Robinson and White have the potential to be the next great Tiger corner combination, with the former flashing some particularly impressive talent. Robinson didn't hit campus until about a week before the season opener due to some NCAA Clearninghouse issues, but still managed to work his way into the lineup within the season's first month. He's big, lanky and much more physical than his slight frame would suggest. If he can continue to add some bulk and maintain his smoothness and athleticism, the sky is the limit.

On the back end, Mills really seemed to take to the safety spot. He had a rough start to his sophomore year, and there were some clear communication issues with the other safeties like Ronald Martin, Micah Eugene, Craig Loston and Corey Thompson. But when Mills made the move back there, that seemed to clear up. Now that he's back there full-time it puts one of the secondary's most physical players and vocal leaders in a position that not only seems natural, but adds a lot of flexibility to the defense. Mills can slide down versus the run cover slot receivers man-to-man as easily as he can drop into zone coverage. And Jefferson showed some similar versatility in his limited time. He'd been one of the hot topics of fall camp, but never really found his way on to the field until November.

What's Bad?

All that said, the miscues and coverage busts that were all too common last season have got to be cleaned up. Yeah, the SEC will be breaking in a lot of new quarterbacks, but the handful that do return all happen to be in LSU's division. And besides, a lot of times receivers were running so open it didn't necessarily matter that guys like Aaron Murray or A.J. McCarron were the ones throwing the ball.

This group needs to develop chemistry and find the best way to communicate and play together within this scheme, especially with some more young talent coming in that will likely push for playing time.

What's the Goal this Spring?

Most of the key players are known here, but there are still some roles to develop for both some established veterans and some younger players like Jefferson, Dwayne Thomas and freshman early enrollee Ed Paris.

Who will start at the other safety spot next to Mills? Senior Ronald Martin started most of the season last year but really struggled before injury gave way to Jefferson. He's not likely to turn over playing time easily, but he was really rough at times. He never seemed to get a feel for his role in the defense and could get pulled out of position very easily. Junior Corey Thompson is out this spring, still recovering from knee surgery.

Thomas is the returning favorite at the nickel spot, and showed a knack for the job at times last season. He'll likely be pushed by Paris, who seems to fit the position near-perfectly as a prospect. He played corner in high school and was an outstanding ballhawk and aggressive hitter, but probably fits better as a safety than a true man-cover guy. That fits well in this defense, because the nickel corner is more often than not blitzing or dropping into zone coverage.

Mills' experience as a corner provides some interesting rotational options as well, especially once Jamal Adams arrives this summer. He could roll into the nickel in some sets with a different safety combination, or stay back with Paris and/or Thomas up. The latter is also cross-training at safety himself.

Junior Jalen Collins seems to be trying to regain his starting job as well after getting benched early in 2013 and getting relegated to special teams. He's still got great size and speed if he can rediscover the aggression he showed as a freshman. At a minimum, he provides another big body that could backup Robinson and White.

What am I Watching For?

Cornerback seems set, but safety is intriguing in a lot of ways. For one, it seemed to be the main source of the secondary's problems last year, with the corners often looking back for interior or deep help that was oft out of position.

But there's also an intriguing mix of players here, and that's before you add a talent like Adams. Mills and Jefferson both have cornerback skillsets that make for some interesting coverage possibilities. The former, in particular, has the potential to be a Brandon Taylor-like presence. Mills knows this defense inside and out and is one of the more vocal leaders on the team. He could be that presence in the middle keeping the secondary in line and its members in the position to do the things that they do best.

And then there's Paris development at the nickel position, as well as Thomas. The latter probably should have seen more time than he did last year, and could team with Paris to be one hell of a combination in the mustang package if the freshman adjusts quickly.