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LSU Spring Football 2018: Defensive Backs

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Three starters back, yet questions remain for the namesake of #DBU.

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

It’s weird to feel that LSU actually has some questions regarding the defensive backfield — especially with three starters returning from yet another top-25 passing defense.

2018 LSU Spring Cornerbacks and Safeties

Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Completions Allowed Completion Rate Contested Targets Contested Completions Break-Ups Interceptions TDs Allowed Air Yards/Tgt Yds Allowed 1st Downs Allowed PI Penalties
Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Completions Allowed Completion Rate Contested Targets Contested Completions Break-Ups Interceptions TDs Allowed Air Yards/Tgt Yds Allowed 1st Downs Allowed PI Penalties
CB 29 Andraez Williams (So.) 6-2, 182 58 20 34 19 3 11 6 1 16.1 299 11 0
22 Kristian Fulton (So.) 6-1, 195 Missed 2017 season. Former Five-star recruit.
15 Kary Vincent Jr. (So.) 5-10, 182 9 tackles, 2 pass break-ups and 1 interception in 11 games.
13 Jontre Kirklin (So.) 6-0, 173 2 tackles in 12 game appearances on special teams.
28 Mannie Netherly (So.) 6-3, 194 Former four-star receiver recruit.
FS 9 Grant Delpit (So.) 6-3, 201 60 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 9 pass break-ups in 13 games.
21 Ed Paris (Sr.) 6-1, 210 Played in just 3 games due to injuries. 8 tackles, 4 pass break-ups.
30 Eric Monroe (So.) 6-0, 197 14 tackles, 2 pass break-ups in 13 game appearances with one start.
3 Jacoby Stevens (So.) 6-2, 216 Two catches for 32 yards as a receiver.
SS 26 John Battle (Sr.) 6-3, 201 61 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception, 5 pass break-ups and 2 forced fumbles.
31 Cameron Lewis (So.) 6-2, 200 One tackle in two games.
33 Todd Harris Jr. (So.) 6-0, 186 Four tackles in 13 games on special teams.
Returning starters in bold. Stats via CFBFilmRoom.com.

I suppose that’s what happens when a fan base’s last impression are a once-in-a-lifetime game-losing touchdown pass in the bowl game, followed by another round of early NFL departures and a significant failure in recruiting.

LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond bet big on landing Patrick Surtain Jr. It was more or less an open secret that Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II would be headed to the NFL. It was all set up for the nation’s No. 1 cornerback recruit to walk in to a starting job.

That won’t be happening at LSU.

What’s Old?

I don’t think too many opposing coaches will offer condolences. LSU still returns the nation’s current No. 1 cornerback, freshman All-American Andraez “Greedy” Williams, fresh off an SEC co-leading six interceptions and the league’s leading pass break-up rate at a 1.31 per game.

LSU hasn’t exactly lacked in quality cornerbacks since Morris Claiborne left, but Williams may be the first in a while with a true knack for playing the ball in the air. He gets his head around and his hands up — and that can be a natural talent sometimes. Now, he steps into a leadership role as a third-year sophomore.

Behind him, there’s fantastic depth at safety: another freshman All-American in Grant Delpit, and fifth-year senior John Battle, along with a slew of highly recruited backups in sophomores Eric Monroe, Jacoby Stevens and Todd Harris.

Delpit started 10 games as a true freshman and finished with 60 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He grew into his own as a spectacular box defender over the second half of the season, especially in terms of anticipating what was happening. His aggressiveness can be a problem in coverage at times, but if that can be channeled he has a chance to be another great one.

Battle is an inconsistent player, especially in coverage, but there’s value in having a full-fledged adult in your secondary, and No. 26 is unquestionably one of the more respected leaders on this team.

Expect players to rotate at either safety spots, and don’t be surprised if one of the stud underclassmen take significant snaps from Battle. Monroe had some mental busts, but flashed some potential as a coverage safety. Stevens is a player everybody wants to get a look at as a former five-star athlete recruit, and LSU’s staff was so eager to try and involve him that they tried to get him on the field on offense early on. He moved back to safety over the back half of the season, and finally managed to grab a little more playing time in the bowl game. At 6-2 and the 220-pound neighborhood, he could maybe see a move to some sort of specialty nickel linebacker role, even.

Harris was almost strictly a special teamer, but he’s a frequent subject of praise from the coaching staff. He’s also the kind of tweener athlete that could see the field in a nickel or dime position.

What’s New?

Well, a lot of things — namely depth concerns at the cornerback position, which is not something we’re used to seeing here. There are some bodies: sophomores Kristian Fulton, Kary Vincent and Jontre Kirklin will compete with classmate, and converted receiver Mannie Netherly for the opening starting spot, as well as the nickel position — which might as well be a starting position in modern football.

That’s fine from a quantity perspective, but that’s a whole lot of unknown quality.

For starters, there’s the simple fact that Fulton remains staring down the second of a two-year suspension for interfering with an NCAA-mandated drug test his freshman year in 2016. Regardless of the bull(lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll)shit premise of a two-year suspension for any college athlete not involved in an ongoing violation, there’s no way of knowing if his appeal has any chance at success. NCAA precedent blows with the wind, and prudence demands assuming you won’t get the result you want until you do.

Vincent saw the field early at nickel and made a spectacular interception early on, but afterwards he admittedly let the early success go to his head, and saw the bench once Toliver returned from suspension. He certainly has the speed you like for the position, but it remains to be seen how that can translate for him.

Kirklin was a lower-tiered recruit, but one that has drawn some consistent praise from Orgeron and Co. He certainly has the size you’d like for a cornerback, and was an incredibly successful high school quarterback. How that translates to corner, however, is anybody’s guess.

Netherly, likewise, has intriguing potential as a 6-3 athlete who was buried on the receiver depth chart. Another former quarterback, the hope is he has the athleticism to translate to defense.

Among other new things, the coaching is also newly split in the defensive backfield with safeties coach Bill Busch brought in from Rutgers. Busch will assist Raymond with the safeties, and also help with the nickel corners, which have become more of a hybrid position anyway. Busch has some familiarity with Dave Aranda from previous stops, and better recruiting chops than most knew coming in.

Although much like the cornerback prospects involved, that’s a quality we won’t know until we see it out on the field.

What’s the Story?

LSU has plenty of talent, and lots of it is relatively proven. But chances are, true freshman Kelvin Joseph will almost certainly see the field quickly this fall, and there’s still the possibility of a graduate transfer here. That’s new territory for #DBU.