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Reloading and Rebuilding the Secondary

LSU has lost two starters, but what does that translate to this spring?

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

A few weeks ago I looked at how Dave Aranda might employ K’Lavon Chaisson in 2019 as he gets his playmaking hybrid edge player back from injury.

Today, we’ll take a look at how the Tigers will reload in the secondary with some tremendous talent but will also have to rebuild the scheme a little bit.

The two big pieces that the Tigers lose from the 2018 secondary are Greedy Williams and John Battle. A cursory look at those two players will tell you that replacing Greedy will be the bigger task based on him being a potential top-10 and definitely a first round pick in the draft compared to Battle who is maybe a late round pick and more likely an undrafted free agent.

I don’t think it’s that simple. Battle’s positional versatility allowed Aranda to play around with a lot of different personnel match-ups. His replacement might have to come in the form of two separate players, Todd Harris and Jacoby Stevens. At cornerback, Aranda prefers his dudes do less things. Their job is to lock down the outside receivers in man coverage for most of the game.

If all goes according to plan, Greedy will be replaced by Derek Stingley Jr. and everything will hum along nicely outside. The scheme won’t change that much no matter who is playing corner. Of course, if it’s Stingley and Fulton, given all the Stingley hype, we may as well start booking our trips to the SEC Championship.

Where the scheme will change is how the staff chooses to replace Battle. For all intents and purposes, Aranda would love to play with three safety-type bodies on the field for the two actual safety positions and the sam/field linebacker position.

Last year, Battle (26), Grant Delpit (9) and Kary Vincent Jr. (5) were used in a multitude of different alignments depending on personnel and formation.

He could have Battle as the free safety, Vincent as the nickel and Delpit at the Sam against Trips, for example:

This was a common trips check by Aranda called Packer (stubbie or solo in other terminology).

Against Miami they rotated late into with Vincent and Delpit showing man coverage and Battle looking like the free safety at first. By the time the ball is snapped Vincent and Delpit are playing a combo coverage to the front side (with Phillips walling off) and Battle coming all the way to the backside to double the solo back-side receiver. Fun stuff.

What about against teams that used a fullback or h-back? Same 3 guys on the field this time in man coverage with Vincent playing against the slot receiver, Battle playing in the box against the fullback and Delpit as the free safety.

Now with Aranda’s base quarters defense:

Here’s a clip against Ole Miss where they show this look but then rotate down to blitz Delpit (don’t mind the actual result of the play):

The possibilities were endless.

Replacing Battle is less straight forward than replacing Greedy. Battle was an intelligent player who could both play deep in space and also come up to play man coverage on slot back and fill in the run game as a strong safety. These guys don’t fall off trees.

The two potential replacements, Harris and Stevens, could not be anymore different from each other.

Harris is 5-11, 186 and is more of a center field or half-field deep safety type player. Stevens is 6-2, 225 and is a guy you want closer to the line of scrimmage.

Stevens projects to more of Corey Thompson or even Dwayne Thomas type of role. I see him playing the majority of his snaps at Sam like he did in the Fiesta Bowl. Aranda will have to get creative when he wants to get Delpit near the box playing Sam. Does he just sub out Stevens for more of a cover guy in Harris? That’s the obvious answer but I kinda like Stevens and I think he should be on the field for the a lot of snaps.

With Harris on the field instead of Stevens, Delpit can roam around and be a nuisance. Harris does have some man coverage skills but not as an unprotected Sam linebacker. When LSU goes to their under front, he can play out as a nickel. More likely he lines up at safety so Delpit can play low.

Stevens replacing Battle like for like is still in play, however. This gives Aranda the most flexibility but it remains to be seen if Stevens is that player. Stevens is going to be really good but maybe not as a middle of the field safety. Maybe that’s what they are working on this offseason and we’ll see a leaner Stevens who can fly around the field.

It could be Harris that bulks up and becomes a stout defender in the box.

Maybe there’s another player on the roster who can perform all these duties. The team moved former receiver Kenan Jones to safety to start spring practice. He’s a great special teams player so it’s possible they like his tackling ability.

Both of these outcomes seem unlikely. What we will probably get is a less position fluid defense next year with Delpit playing more of a true safety role and Stevens at Sam. That’s not a bad thing either. The problem of having too many good players in the secondary is not a real problem anyways.

DBU continues to rebuild and reload.