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LSU Football 2016 Position Preview: Defensive Backs

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NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This unit took it on the chin a few times last season, but still returns four starters and enough talent that one of the best recruiting classes in the country may actually redshirt a few players.

Cornerbacks (returning starters in bold)

Name

Height/Weight

2015 Season

18 Tre’Davious White (Sr.)

5-11, 197

44 tackles, 1.5 TFL and 7 pass break-ups. Second-team All-SEC (Coaches).

24 Ed Paris Jr. (Jr.)

6-1, 203

Four tackles.

2 Kevin Toliver II (So.)

6-2, 193

35 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception and 5 pass break-ups. Freshman All-America (247 Sports).

1 Donte Jackson (So.)

5-11, 173

26 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 interception, 2 pass break-ups and 1 fumble recovery.

17 Xavier Lewis (RS-Fr.)

6-0, 190

Redshirted, four-star recruit.

8 Savion Smith (Fr.)

6-2, 192

Four-star recruit.

22 Kristian Fulton (Fr.)

6-0, 188

Five-star recruit.

29 Andraez Williams (Fr.)

6-2, 175

Four-star recruit.

Cornerback is one of the deepest positions on this team, and maybe the one that took the biggest hit in reputation last season, especially against the best receivers on the schedule. A year of experience will almost certainly help, given that two of the top three guys were freshmen last year, but so will a new defensive scheme. Whereas Kevin Steele’s complex zone coverages and checks led to confusion and missed assignments, Dave Aranda will work with more man-to-man coverage, a luxury he has said he’s very excited to have finally, and zone coverage that won’t change based on formation shifts. The call is the call.

The headliner will be senior Tre’Davious White, who passed on being a potential top-100 pick to return for his senior season. Although he, likewise, didn’t quite play up to his own standards in 2015, struggling with opponents like Laquon Treadwell, Jakeem Grant and De’Runnya Wilson. He could, however, be in a position to shine in the new scheme, sliding inside to the nickel spot when subs out of base defense.

It’s a really intriguing fit. For one, White’s always been a physical player and sure tackler, so he should adjust well to the increased responsibilities in run defense and blitzing. But for another, he’ll be a little harder for quarterbacks to avoid him compared to outside. When he’s in zone, he’s going to spend more time in direct throwing lanes, either in the curl/flat area, or over the middle of the field. Don’t be surprised White has a few more chances to get his hand on the football.

When White does slide in, look for sophomore Donte Jackson to take his place as the corner on the field side. He’d flashed some talent for the nickel spot as well, but made some nice plays down the stretch, and his speed and long-arms for press coverage make him a natural outside corner. Classmate Kevin Toliver will man the boundary side of the defense. At times, you could argue he was the Tigers’ best defensive back in 2015, and he should only get better.

Junior Ed Paris and Xavier Lewis, both former star recruits, offer depth and will be joined by three more studs in freshmen Savion Smith, Kristian Fulton and Andraez “Greedy” Williams. Smith was an early enrollee who worked at corner, nickel and safety and is expected to contribute quickly this year, to the point that he’s actually overshadowed the five-star prospect in Fulton. All could get on the field via special teams at minimum, but don’t be surprised if there’s enough depth here to maybe try and redshirt one or two.

And that’s a luxury LSU hasn’t had in some time.

Safeties

9 Rickey Jefferson (Sr.)

6-0, 209

36 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 interception amd 3 pass break-ups.

13 Dwayne Thomas (Sr.)

6-0, 201

34 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss and six pass break-ups.

33 Jamal Adams (Jr.)

6-1, 211

67 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered and 6 pass break-ups. Second-team All-SEC (Coaches, AP).

26 John Battle (Jr.)

6-1, 202

5 tackles, 1 interception and 1 pass break-up.

30 Eric Monroe (Fr.)

6-0, 191

Four-star prospect.

31 Cameron Lewis (Fr.)

6-1, 196

Four-star prospect.

Jamal Adams was a pre-season All-SEC pick and should compete for plenty of postseason honors. He’s one of the best in-the-box safeties in the country, and Aranda’s going to count on him to clean up a lot on the wide side of the field. He could stand to get a little more consistent in coverage, but I expect him to challenge for the team lead in tackles and maybe get a little more involved in the blitz game.

The spot opposite him, however, is going to feature some competition even with a returning starter in senior Rickey Jefferson. He’s a solid enough player, but somewhat miscast as a free safety as opposed to strong. More of an in-the-box tackler and blitzer. Fellow senior Dwayne Thomas’ move to the position could be an intriguing fit. Thomas is one of those players that has shown a knack for making plays in a variety of ways, but struggled in man-to-man coverage as a corner. He’s added some nice size and it wouldn’t be a shock if he developed into a nice ballhawk as a center-field type of safety. Something LSU badly needs.

Depth will come from junior John Battle and another pair of stud recruits in Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis.

Depth Chart

Boundary CB

Free Safety

Strong Safety

Nickel CB

Field CB

Kevin Toliver
Ed Paris
Savion Smith
Xavier Lewis

Rickey Jefferson -or-
Dwayne Thomas
Eric Monroe

Jamal Adams
John Battle
Cameron Lewis

Tre’Davious White
Donte Jackson
Savion Smith

Tre’Davious White
Donte Jackson
Kristian Fulton

Possible X-Factor: Eric Monroe

Monroe kind of got lost in the shuffle of this signing class due to being an early commitment and staying true through the whole process, but he was the No. 3 safety in the 2016 class and made a real impression on observers at LSU’s summer camp in 2015, competing constantly and even working with younger players on hand. He also emerged as a leader among the freshman class in summer conditioning. Monroe will get on the field early with special teams, and watch for that to lead to sub-packages on defense and maybe, eventually, the other safety spot.