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LSU Spring Practice 2018: Dave Aranda and Proof of Concept

With just four returning starters, LSU’s defensive coordinator faces his first true rebuild.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

“Proof of concept,” is a popular term for the idea of just illustrating that an idea works, with some kind of evidence.

It’s not really something Dave Aranda needs to prove as LSU’s defensive coordinator, even now as a $2.5 million man. In his first two seasons, Aranda’s Tiger defenses have ranked fifth and 15th in scoring defense, 10th and 28th in yards per play and third and 18th in defensive S&P+. Last year’s unit ranked 14th in Havoc Rate despite not having it’s most disruptive defender, Arden Key, on the field or at full strength for most of the season.

Aranda’s bonafides are not in question.

That said, with just four true starters returning this year, he faces his first true rebuilding job.

Spring Football Depth Chart - Defense

Position No. 1 No. 2 No. 3
Position No. 1 No. 2 No. 3
DE Breiden Fehoko (Jr.) Glenn Logan (So.) Neil Farrell (So.)
NT Ed Alexander (Jr.) Tyler Shelvin (RS - Fr.)
DE Rashard Lawrence (Jr.) Justin Thomas (RS-Fr.) Davin Cotton (Fr.)
Buck-LB K'Lavon Chaisson (So.) Ray Thornton (So.) Andre Anthony (So.) - OR - Travez Moore (Jr.)
Mack-LB Devin White (Jr.) Micah Baskerville (Fr.) Layton Garnett (So.)
Rover-LB Tyler Taylor (So.) - OR - Jacob Phillips (So.) Patrick Queen (So.)
Field-LB Michael Divinity (Jr.)
CB Andraez "Greedy" Williams (So.) Jontre Kirklin (So.)
CB Kristian Fulton (So.) Mannie Netherly (So.)
NB Kary Vincent (So.)
SS John Battle (Sr.) Eric Monroe (So.) Cameron Lewis (So.)
FS Grant Delpitt (So.) Jacoby Stevens (So.) - OR - Todd Harris (So.) - OR - Ed Paris (Sr.)
P Zach Von Rosenberg (So.) - OR - Josh Growden (Jr.)
K Connor Culp (So.) - OR - Jack Gonsoulin (So.)
LS Blake Ferguson (Jr.)
Returning starters in bold.

The units Aranda inherited here weren’t exactly in dire straights, and they were very much already in place. Already on campus or signed. He took them to another level from his predecessors, but Key, Kendell Beckwith, Duke Riley and Tre’davious White were already here.

Aranda has some true stars at each level of the 2018 unit in Rashard Lawrence, Devin White and Greedy Williams. But the rest working in around them will, for the most part, be players he has scouted, recruited, and/or helped to develop. And most of the new starters will be second- or third-year players. Players like Jacob Phillips, Tyler Taylor, K’Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpitt, Breiden Fehoko and Ed Alexander — new starters, but not exactly complete unknowns off the street.

Likewise, it’s personnel more fit for a true 3-4 defensive unit: true nose tackles like Alexander and Tyler Shelvin; big, strong defensive ends that can both two-gap and make plays up the field like Fehoko, Lawrence and Glen Logan; and linebackers with more size, both in the middle like White, Taylor and Phillips, and edge rushers like Chaisson and Ray Thornton.

Those outside positions will be the big test for Aranda, along with defensive line coach Dennis Johnson (and Orgeron, who of course will remain heavily involved at the position). Michael Divinity is the odds-on favorite at the Field spot, but he’s yet to distinguish himself as a reserve. On the other side, both Chaisson and Thornton have flashed skills at some of the less-heralded aspects of linebacker play — coverage, setting the edge in the running game, maintaining gap/containment responsibility, etc..., but what they have not shown, is the ability to really create pressure from the edge as a pass-rusher. And while there’s certainly that potential, particularly with Chaisson, it hasn’t been converted yet.

And of course, there’s Kristian Fulton’s uncertain status — although he will be on the practice field this spring, at minimum.

All in all, it creates a challenge LSU’s defensive mastermind has yet to encounter in the program. And for the first time, the answer will be truly his own.