Most of the headlines this offseason concern how LSU plans to move on from the single best offense this sport has ever seen. That’s understandable, Burrow and Brady are onto the NFL after laying waste to the 2019 schedule. LSU’s defense, on the other hand, was uncertain at times, before clamping down over the final 4 games. The shoes aren’t quite as big, to be sure, but really closer to size 14s than the size 700s that Burrow and Brady leave. With what has been mentioned, a ton has been made about LSU’s perceived holes at linebacker (I think that’s silly, the real concern is at edge rusher), and how they can be filled amidst a switch to a 4-3 base.
Enter Jabril Cox, a 3x FCS National Champion. With LSU’s switch to a 4-3, they’ve found a perfect outside linebacker. NDSU’s defense was by no means complicated, they mostly played a ton of Tampa 2 (cover 2 where the MIKE drops deepish in coverage) with corners in tight man out of their base 4-3 set. This is actually really weird. With the wonderful proliferation of the spread and its scores of branches, defenses almost never actually run their base alignments and groupings. 4-3 and 3-4 are really more general philosophies on player roles and alignments than actual personnel groupings at this point. Spread teams almost always force you into nickel and dime. Not NDSU. Jabril Cox’s overall versatility and NFL level ability in coverage were the biggest reasons they were able to do this. NDSU put Jabril Cox all over the field. They split him out wide to cover receivers in the quick game, they used him as a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker, and they used him as an edge rusher. For what it’s worth, LSU is still not going to be able to live in base like NDSU, you just can’t have a linebacker consistently trying to man cover Jaylen Waddle underneath. That said, that gives you an idea of the kind of defender Jabril Cox is. Let’s get into the tape.
The first play we’ll look at is simply a glance into the kind of athleticism LSU is getting. I don’t know what his 40 time is, but I can’t imagine it’d be any higher than a 4.5 barring a fluke run. To put it simply, he can absolutely fly. Here, NDSU sends him on a blitz from his most common positioning against pass happy teams. NDSU VERY frequently lined Cox up over a slot receiver and underneath a half field safety, and from what I’ve seen, I actually think it may be his most common alignment against spread teams. Here, they send him after the QB from that positioning and he ruins this play by heat seeking the QB.
Here, he’s being used as a pure standup edge rusher. The goal here for NDSU is to simply get numbers on the tackle and overwhelm him. Normally, on an actual pass and not a screen, you’d want to check the protection to have the back pick up Cox but it is a screen, so the play is gonna get trashed by Cox. This is just one of the ways they used Cox’s athleticism.
Here we see Cox blitzing again from his oft used quasi nickel corner alignment. You can really see the pure foot-speed this dude has as he fits behind the pulling guard and blows this power scheme up.
In the run game, NDSU mainly used Jabril Cox as a force defender, meaning he was tasked with setting the edge and pushing the runner inside to where the defense has bodies. Here, he does a really nice job moving with the counter action and getting outside his DE, who gets sealed off by the pulling guard. He sets the edge, and forced the play to waiting interior defenders. Granted, counter is usually supposed follow the lead blocker here, H back 45, not bounce outside. That said, NDSU usually used him to fit the D gap (outside the tackle), and this nicely shows how solid he is in his run fits.
Now, we get to the part of Jabril Cox’s game that makes him exceptional: coverage.
Here, NDSU is playing cover 1 robber against a 4 wide set out of base. Here, they’re forced to put Jabril Cox one on one against a slot receiver (Right next to the G in Gate City). Now normally this is kinda why teams don’t play their base a whole lot, normally you’d want your nickel corner here, especially with only one safety over the top. Cox doesn’t have an ounce of respect for a potential vertical route here by the way, no backpedaling here. He reads the break of his guy and passes him off to the robber, nothing difficult or crazy, but it shows the trust they have in him to cover in space.
Now this shows you why they’re so comfortable putting him over slot receivers. Here is Jabril Cox (42 over the slot receiver), a 230 LB outside linebacker, playing tight man against a receiver. I mean, he absolutely erases this guy’s inside curl. This is a stud cover linebacker.
So to restate, no, LSU isn’t going to play a whole lot in base next year, even with Jabril Cox. That said, Bo Pelini is getting an outside linebacker that is stunningly gifted athletically, is technically proficient in his run fits, is a skilled pass rusher, and can cover like an NFL linebacker. Kary Vincent is obviously gonna take his slot corner snaps, but Cox will be fantastic covering running backs and tight ends, dropping into slant and dig windows, pursuing outside runs, spying athletic QBs, and rushing the passer from numerous alignments. Suddenly, between 5 star recruit Marcel Brooks, Damone Clark (who I have a huge football crush on, that dude is gonna be so good), and now crown jewel, future NFL starter Jabril Cox, the LSU linebacker room isn’t a question mark, it’s a strength.
Special thanks to @SkolMitzel for the All 22, if you aren’t following him on twitter/subscribing to his youtube channel, go change that ASAP.