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LSU Spring Football Five Things: Defensive Backs

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The program’s glamour position.

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Roster/Depth Chart

Cornerbacks

Name

Height/Weight

2014 Season

13 Dwayne Thomas (Jr.)

6-0, 182

24 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss (1.5 sacks), 2 passes broken up (1 interception), 1 fumble recovery in five games.

16 Tre'Davious White (Jr.)

5-11, 191

33 tackles, 3 TFL (1 sack), 8 passes broken up (2 interceptions).

24 Ed Paris Jr. (Soph.)

6-1, 208

Three tackles.

39 Russell Gage (Soph.)

6-0, 180

Two tackles in two games.

2 Kevin Toliver II (Fr.)

6-2, 192

Five-star recruit.

Safeties

28 Jalen Mills (Sr.)

6-0, 194

62 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 passes broken up (1 interception), 1 fumble recovery.

23 Corey Thompson (Jr.)

6-2, 218

Injury redshirt.

29 Ricky Jefferson (Jr.)

6-0, 204

23 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 passes broken up (2 interceptions).

33 Jamal Adams (Soph.)

6-0, 206

66 tackles, 5 TFL (1 sack), 5 passes broken up.

26 John Battle (Soph.)

6-1, 186

Accumulated no stats in one game appearance.

What's good?

Deepest position on the team? Probably. LSU has recruited the defensive backfield better than just about any other on the roster. There is depth and talent here that comes as close as we're going to see since the 2010/2011 secondaries, which featured two Thorpe Award winners, two Bednarik Award winners, four All-Americans and six NFL players, five of which that were drafted within the first three rounds. And it will continue to get better in the summer when Donte Jackson, Xavier Lewis and Jeremy Cutrer arrive.

At cornerback, Tre'Davious White returns as one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC and the entire country. He doesn't have the reputation of a Vernon Hargreaves or the gaudy stats of some other corners, but for the bulk of 2014 opposing quarterbacks were strictly avoiding his side of the field. He's physical, with quick feet in man-to-man coverage, and longer arms than the typical sub-six-foot cornerback for getting a jam at the line of scrimmage. You can expect Kevin Steele to take full advantage of his ability to isolate one side of the field, and he should push for postseason honors by the end of the season.

On the other side, most of the eyes are on true freshman Kevin Toliver, the five-star recruit who enrolled early and walks into a wide-open competition with sophomore Ed Paris. But to date, most accounts have Paris working hard to hold the newer newcomer off. It's funny to think how quickly we forget that Paris was a pretty highly touted prospect himself. He's got the size to play the physical style we're used to see out of cornerbacks under Corey Raymond, and ball skills that had many speculate he could wind up at safety. Specifically the type of defensive back LSU needs.

Junior Dwayne Thomas returns from an injury-shortened 2014 to lend depth to the position, and seems likely to handle the nickelback position. He's considered one of the top leaders on the defense, and frankly he's always shown a knack for making plays when he's in the game, either grabbing turnovers or making plays in the backfield as a blitzer. Early reports are that Steele loves what he's seen out of Thomas, even though he's still in a green non-contact jersey as precaution, which could lead to some interesting scheme questions that we'll get into later.

On the back end, Jalen Mills returns as LSU's first four-year starting defensive back in years...since...LaRon Landry, maybe? He provides not only senior leadership, but versatility to the safety position as a player that can match up on slot guys in coverage, support the run or drop into the deep middle.

He's joined by Jamal Adams, whom you may have heard of.

Rickey Jefferson provides quality depth and more starting experience. He fits more in the prototypical free safety position. There's also sophomore John Battle and fourth-year player Corey Thompson, who missed 2014 with an injury redshirt. He may yet wind up at linebacker, with a profile similar to Devin Voorhies, who has already made the move this spring.

What's bad?

It's probably less than ideal that the only other cornerback with appreciable game experience, aside from White, is coming off of an injury. Paris and Gage saw limited action aside from special teams last year, and Tolliver spent last season playing high school ball.

Most don't have a lot of concerns about their ability to step in and at least play competently, but it's certainly a question.

What's the goal this spring?

This position, as much as any on the defense, may influence whatever changes Steele brings to the defense. Reports have been that there will be some plans for more pressure, a luxury afforded when you have cornerbacks this good.

The safeties and sub packages are where things get pretty interesting. Steele has three players with starting experience and some variance in skill sets. Mills, Adams and Thomas have all played roles in the nickel and dime positions as well. Will Steele prefer a pure corner there like Thomas, or a safety that may be a little more physical in run support? Is the Mustang package a thing of the past, or does the aforementioned flexibility increase its role?

Steele gets to figure out how to make the pieces fit to what he wants, and he has options.

What am I watching for?

You know that Adams kid? Yeah, so he may be fun to watch this season. He's the safest bet to make the jump to superstar status this season, because he's not only a blast to watch on the field, he plays with a charisma and a personality that we haven't seen since you-know-who. What's more, Adams loves this university, and he's not afraid to show it.

How he gets deployed will be an interesting sub-plot, and probably says a lot about how Steele wants to move the defense forward. Does the new DC go with the roles Paul outlined typical to the 4-3 under front? To me, Adams fits more as a versatile Brian Dawkins/Troy Polomalu-type of strong safety, that can move around to help disguise coverage, roll up on slot receivers or just straight shoot gaps into the backfield. The role Adams plays will set the tone for a lot of this, and in turn, shape some of the coverage looks we see as well. LSU's been largely a man-coverage free team with some occasional cover-two and quarters looks in long-yardage situations. Will Steele add in some three-deep and other zone looks?

Does he rotate his safeties as Chavis did? Use all three in some looks? Will he use the sub-packages as the Chief did, or go with more traditional nickel/dime looks?

The spring game won't answer all of these questions, but it will provide some glimpses.