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2015 LSU Football Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Defensive Backs

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Cornerbacks

Name

Height/Weight

2014 Season

13 Dwayne Thomas (Jr.)

6-0, 186

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

18 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, 210

Three tackles.

39 Russell Gage (Soph.)

6-0, 182

Two tackles in two games.

2 Kevin Toliver II (Fr.)

6-2, 196

Five-star recruit.

1 Donte Jackson (Fr.)

5-11, 167

Five-star recruit.

17 Xavier Lewis (Fr.)

6-0, 193

Four-star recruit.

It seems fitting that what could be argued as the glamour position of the LSU program wears the honor of the No. 18 jersey this season. Junior corner Tre'davious White is one of the best players on LSU's team, and just might be the best cornerback in the country. White is a lockdown, man-to-man corner with quick feet and long arms, and really came into his own in the second half of last season. With the exception of a late touchdown against Texas A&M, White was more or less ignored by opponents, including Alabama when matched up against Amari Cooper. White's gotten very little preseason love for his talent level, but that could change quickly, especially if he and his mates allow new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to really ratchet up the pressure.

His running mate on the other side, however, will be either a first- or second-year player, as sophomore Ed. Paris Jr. and freshman Kevin Toliver compete for the job. Both players bring outstanding size to the position, north of 6 feet and around 200 pounds. Paris seems to have the edge at the moment, but many expect Toliver to push him through the season and play quite a bit. It just goes to show the nature of LSU's recruiting at this spot that a four-star prospect like Paris can come in with a ton of fanfare, only to have fans more or less forget about him the very next year when somebody like Toliver, at one time considered the top overall prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, comes in.

But, to date, the word on Paris is consistency. His practices at a pretty high level start to finish, whereas the younger guys tend to have a little more variance. And consistency -- just the ability to avoid giving up big plays -- is an underrated trait for a cornerback.

Still, Toliver will play. He's a stud in his own right, tall and built more like a college junior than a freshman. His book as a prospect is one of a physical, heady player who brings a real edge to field and a knack for getting his hands on the football. Creating turnovers is going to be a huge focus for this defense, and if Toliver can help do that he's going to play sooner rather than later.

Senior Junior Dwayne Thomas will work at the nickel and dime positions. He missed most of last season with a knee injury, but always has seems to make plays when he gets on the field, either in coverage or on the blitz. With a couple of tackles for loss and turnovers in his first few games, he seemed to be coming into his own as a junior before the injury. It will be interesting to see if Steele continues to utilize him in the same way as John Chavis did with blitz packages.

The rest of the depth chart is stacked with sophomore Russell Gage and 2015 stud recruits Donte Jackson and Xavier Lewis. All three are virtual certainties to see the field on special teams. Jackson may already be the fastest player on the team, so there will be a lot of clamoring to use him on offense or returns if he's not seeing snaps on defense. Personally, I worry about a Russell Shepard or Kendell Beckwith type wasted freshman year if the staff tries to do too much with Jackson. Plus he's a very thin, wiry type of player that may need to adjust to the physicality of the college game.

Safeties

28 Jalen Mills (Sr.)

6-0, 196

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

23 Corey Thompson (Jr.)

6-2, 221

Injury redshirt.

29 Rickey Jefferson (Jr.)

6-0, 206

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

33 Jamal Adams (Soph.)

6-1, 211

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

26 John Battle (Soph.)

6-1, 194

Accumulated no stats in one game appearance.

The bedrock of LSU's defense will be up the middle this season, and it really extends to each level, from defensive tackle to middle linebacker to the safety positions, where LSU has three starting-caliber players and a breakout superstar in sophomore Jamal Adams.

In his freshman All-American season, Adams showed nearly every desirable skill for the modern safety. He's a fantastic in-the-box run defender, can cover slot receivers and attack the backfield as a blitzer. He's even a pretty good actor. Cut from the same cloth as multi-faceted safeties like Troy Polomalu and Brian Dawkins, LSU hopes that Adams will add a few more big plays to his stat line in year two in terms of interceptions and forced fumbles.

How Steele deploys Adams and veteran safeties Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson is one of the more interesting subplots to his first season. John Chavis had a tendency towards blending the traditional "strong" and "free" safety roles, having either man up in the box to fill a running lane or dropping into center field based on how the offense lined up. He also liked to rotate them based on series and matchups. My best guess is that Adams will be the constant here, while Mills and Jefferson rotate. Steele will likely use him every way he can, from middle-of-the-field coverage, to man-to-man on slot players, to blitzing and run-filling.

Mills returns as LSU's only senior in the defensive backfield, and a fourth-year starter. A former cornerback, Mills brings strong coverage skills and good physicality to the position. He's typically slid up into the nickel position when offenses go three-wide, and I would expect that to continue.

Jefferson will likely slide into one of the deep safety looks when LSU is in the 4-2-5, and he could be primed for a big year. He's certainly been eager in attacking the offseason program. Jefferson has always looked the part of a typical ballhawk type of free safety. And that's what this defense needs.

Junior Corey Thompson and sophomore John Battle should provide some valuable depth. Thompson was a former big-time recruit who's battled injuries for the last two years or so. But there was some good talk about him as camp opened up, and if he can stay healthy he has good size and speed that could maybe even allow him to play some linebacker in the aforementioned "hippo" set.

Optimistic

Last season, LSU had one of the most efficient pass defenses in the country with a tremendously anemic pass rush. This season, Kevin Steele uses the former to help fix the latter. Taking advantage of the coverage abilities he has on the back end, he fields an aggressive, attacking defense that creates big-play opportunities and takes the Tigers to the next level on that side of the ball.

Pessimistic

The challenge for Steele here is to try and diversify this group without overloading them or confusing them. Which means that if there are going to be problems, they're likely to occur in the secondary. If there are issues with the new terminology or assignments, LSU's early schedule won't be forgiving with Dak Prescott on the road in week two. And if the secondary can't hold up its end of the bargain, the front seven will suffer.

Realistic

I can honestly say that LSU has the best secondary in the country, and I expect them to play that way this season. White and Paris should hold down the corner spots well, and Adams will be one of the most exciting players in the game by the end of the year. If Mills or Jefferson can help create more turnovers, this defense will surpass last season's group.