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Kevin Steele, the 3-4 Defense and LSU Personnel Part 4: Cornerback Prototypes

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Paul takes a look at the type of corner Kevin Steele will look to deploy as defensive coordinator.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Part 1: The Scheme
Part 2: The Defensive Line
Part 3: The Linebackers

John Chavis grew LSU into a powerhouse factory pumping defensive back prospects into the NFL on a near yearly basis. LSU DBs embraced the moniker of DBU, continuing today and championed by the likes of Dwayne Thomas, Jamal Adams, and Jalen Mills. The pass defense under Chavis proved remarkable in most seasons, across multiple types of players and two different DB coaches. Chavis most typically preferred size at corner and safeties that could both tackle and serve as a respectable last wave of defense. Players like Brandon Taylor were exceptional at preventing LSU from getting beat over the top. Others, like Karnell Hatcher, not as much. He also liked a wildcard playmaker at the Nickel position, who he could move around formations and utilize as a blitzer and general chaos maker (notably Mathieu, but Thomas to a lesser extent).

As we've touched on, Steele will likely depend less on his secondary for extra pressure and more on his linebacker core. Steele will have input on secondary play, as he's been a DB coach himself in the past. In the scheme post, I've addressed how Steele is likely to approach coverages in the back 7. It's not likely LSU will dramatically shift the types of defensive backs they recruit. Expect the same types of guys with size, speed and athleticism.

Cornerback

Folks often mistook Chavis' schemes for being dominantly press/man, when he quite often slipped into zone coverage and playing off. Steele might shift LSU more heavily in this direction. It will all depend on game situations. That said, what shall be emphasized is winning leverage. This gets back to the basic Chip Kelly philosophy of "big people beat up little people." Size and strength will continue to be points of emphasis for an LSU corner.

LSU is likely to feature a heavy amount of Cover 1 and Cover 3 under Steele, asking the corners to play inside leverage. As Carroll states it:

we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field. If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top. There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside. You have to be realistic as to what your players can do. They only way a corner can play inside leverage and make a play on the out route is if the offense screws up or the quarterback makes a bad throw or the receiver runs a bad route. If you don't understand that then you are asking the corner to do something he can't do.

Bigger, stronger defenders are able to route receivers in the direction they want. Carroll is playing the percentages, betting the QB will have a much more difficult time completing an out route than anything to the middle of the field. As to the bump and run, Carroll has this to say:

The corners have to run fast if you plan on playing bump and run. If they don't run fast then you can still play with them. But if your corners are not faster than the wide receivers you are facing don't play bump and run. You're asking them to do something they can not do and they'll get beat deep. It is a race when you play bump and run and if you can't win the race don't play bump and run.

LSU generally fields the quality of athletes to have this competitive advantage. I don't think that will be lost on Steele and entirely abandoned. But it's also much easier to find the types of players that fit more easily in a zone-heavy scheme. Rather than relying on the foot race, you can win by disrupting routes, punishing receivers and playing physical, and safe-guarding with over the top safety help.

The other primary role of the corner is something also heavily emphasized by Chavis: tackling ability. LSU's corners must be willing to come up in run support. It's a big reason a guy like Tre White saw the field immediately and Jalen Collins found the bench in 2013. Collins shored up his run support in 2014 and became an integral piece in the LSU defense en route to likely becoming a 1st round pick.

It will be interesting to see if Steele utilizes the "field" and "boundary" corner distinctions. A field corner is typically the guy that can cover more ground, think Tre White. A boundary corner is typically a bigger type, and plays to the short side of the field. Kevin Toliver II is an ideal type for the boundary corner.

Field Corner Potential Roster Fits: Tre'Davious White, Donte Jackson, Dwayne Thomas, Russell Gage
Boundary Corner Potential Roster Fits: Kevin Toliver II, Ed Paris