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LSU 2014 Position Previews: Defensive Backfield

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From the offensive front to the defensive back end.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

Roster/Depth Chart

Corners

13 Dwayne Thomas (Soph.)

6-0, 182

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

16 Tre'davious White (Soph.)

5-11, 191

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

21 Rashard Robinson (Soph.)

6-3, 177

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

32 Jalen Collins (Jr.)

6-2, 198

22 tackles and 2 passes broken up.

24 Ed Paris Jr. (Fr.)

6-1, 208

Four-star recruit.

39 Russell Gage (Fr.)

6-0, 180

Three-star recruit.

Safeties

28 Jalen Mills (Jr.)

6-0, 194

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

12 Corey Thompson (Jr.)

6-2, 218

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

26 Ronald Martin (Sr.)

6-2, 220

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

29 Ricky Jefferson (Soph.)

6-0, 204

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

33 Jamal Adams (Fr.)

6-0, 206

Five-star recruit.

30 John Battle (Fr.)

6-1, 186

Three-star recruit.

35 Devin Voorhies (Fr.)

6-2, 208

Four-star recruit.

Who's Returning?

Six players, three of which definitely project in the 2014 starting lineup. This is easily the defense's returning strength, led by sophomore cornerbacks Tre'davious White and Rashard Robinson.

The duo both saw time early last year, and were either starting, or in Robinson's case, seeing starter's snaps, by midseason. They took their lumps early, but improved with each game and look poised to break out as the top duo in the SEC, if not the country.

White is a technician, with quick feet and a good mind for the position. Robinson, a late qualifier who was too good to keep off the field despite missing all of LSU's 2013 training camp, is a tall, physical player that excels in press, man-to-man coverage. With a full offseason in the weight and film rooms, the sky's the limit for both players.

In the middle of the field, Jalen Mills is the headliner at one of the safety spots for reasons good and bad. The latter is known, and until its fully settled we don't really know if he'll miss any time. The good, is that once he moved back to the safety position, the coverage busts that plagued the first half of 2013 for LSU suddenly seemed to stop. Mills was always more of a physical, zone-type of corner, so the transition seemed natural, and by most accounts he's as well-versed in the defensive coverages as anybody on the team. He should excel in the strong safety position, and will likely still slide into the nickel corner role from time to time.

Veterans Ronald Martin and Corey Thompson return off of injuries as well. They're both bigger, more physical players that fit well in the strong safety role where they can fill versus the run. Both really struggled in coverage last season though, particularly Martin. Between Mills and the incoming freshmen, they could see their roles reduced to special teams as the year goes on.

Ricky Jefferson probably mans the starting free safety spot to start the season. He received a lot of preseason pub from some program insiders, but he didn't really get on the field until the final month. However, he did flash a nose for the ball and showed some nice versatility in the Outback Bowl against Iowa with an active, physical presence that was still in position in coverage.

Other notable returnees, and possible X-factors, are corners Jalen Collins and Dwayne Thomas. The former was expected to really breakout in '13 but wound up on the bench quickly with some pretty brutal outings. That said, he seemed re-dedicated in the spring, doing his best to push for his starting spot back while Robinson was out dealing with academic issues. Collins is another tall, physical player that definitely looks to have the tools; it just looks really hard for him to find a spot outside, where he fits best, while Robinson and White are on hand. But then again it wasn't that long ago that LSU's fourth cornerback used special teams and spot duty to become a third-round pick.

Thomas, who has referenced a move to safety on twitter, is probably the most versatile corner. He was pretty solid as a dime/blitz player in the Mustang package last season, forcing a game-clinching fumble on a blitz versus Arkansas. His role on the team is a little mysterious right now as some the positions settle (which we'll explore in the competition portion of the preview), but he's shown a bit of a knock for making plays. He'll find some way on the field.

N00bs?

Look for a couple of freshmen to work their way into the mix somehow, which is a testament to the quality of the defensive backs LSU recruited in the last class as much as it is the current state of the secondary.

The headliner, of course, is five-star safety Jamal Adams. The Hebron, Texas native was a late switch from Florida to LSU, and by all accounts he's living up to the hype thus far. Adams is a sudden, explosive athlete that could offer some very intriguing options at the position. A player that can move like that can offer John Chavis a number of ways to disguise coverages. Look for Adams to possibly get involved in the return game as well.

Ed Paris is next on the freshman list, a bigger, thicker corner that is almost built like a safety himself. It wouldn't surprise me if that's his ultimate future, especially with the ball skills he displayed, but for now he's working at corner and nickel.

The remaining newbies are safeties John Battle and Devin Voorhies and cornerback Russell Gage. The latter two are former do-it-all high school guys that played in a number of roles, while Battle was a bit of an underrated recruit that drew a lot of positive reviews off the field as well. The trio all seem likely for special teams duty, with Voorhies and Gage possibly redshirting, but I like their potential as long-term investments. Particularly Battle, who reminds me a lot of Brandon Taylor.

Where's the Competition?

Adams and Jefferson appear locked in a pretty tight competition for the free safety position right now. One might "win" in terms of the starting job, but look for both to play and for LSU to rotate as many as five guys at either safety spot.

That ties in to the other major area of competition, the nickel/dime positions. As previously mentioned, I would expect Jalen Mills to slide down to the nickel corner spot in LSU's nickel and Mustang sets. Dwayne Thomas projects as the other corner in Mustang, but somebody like Paris or maybe even Battle could sneak in there. The nickel corner/safety positions are similar in terms of their coverage responsibilities, so look for some of the freshmen to start off there until they move back. Mills sliding down also creates another spot at safety, and I could see either Martin/Thompson subbing in versus run-heavy teams, or Adams and Jefferson teaming up in some third-and-long sets.

And What's the Bottom Line?

LSU's secondary is good. Really good. In my opinion they're the best in the SEC right now, and maybe the country. Robinson and White will man the corner spots, and Mills will likely stay on the field as much as any other DB (barring any missed time). But Adams brings some a real sense of excitement among the newcomers. I'm very interested in seeing how he transitions to the college game.