5 predictions for Dave Aranda's first year as LSU's defensive coordinator
For years, LSU fans counted on defensive coordinator John Chavis’ defense — an aggressive, attacking 4-3 with a lot of nickel and dime packages added in — as a constant, comforting presence in the program.
That changed after 2014 when Chavis bolted for Texas A&M. Now, the Tigers are on their third defensive coordinator in three years. After one year of Kevin Steele — who came to LSU from Alabama and subsequently left after one season for the same job at Auburn — the Tigers now turn to former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
And what Aranda is bringing is something totally different. Unlike Steele, who flirted with the idea of moving the Tigers to a 3-4, Aranda has come to Baton Rouge completely committed to making the move.
LSU started the switch in the spring, implementing parts of a new look that appears to be evolving into an attacking version of the 3-4 — or a 4-3, 3-4 hybrid — that hopes to take advantage of the Tigers’ abundant athleticism while minimizing the issues presented by LSU’s lack of size. The Tigers have not been recruiting the big, bulky defensive linemen required in some versions of the 3-4.
Will it work? Time will tell, but here are five things you can expect to see once August camp begins.
- We’ll see more role experimentation in August: In the spring, Tashawn Bower was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he competed with converted safety Corey Thompson. Christian LaCouture started spring as a nose tackle and ended up at end, swapping spots with Davon Godchaux. Don’t think who plays where is settled by a long shot. More moves can be expected in August camp as Aranda finds what players fit best into new roles.
- Teams will run right at the Tigers: Godchaux came to LSU with the hopes of being a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3, ended up converting to a starting 4-3 defensive tackle and is now a nose tackle in the 3-4. Even if the Tigers take the obvious one-gap technique approach (which lends itself to smaller, quicker defensive linemen), the obvious offensive approach will be to try to run right at it to negate the Tigers’ team speed and try to exploit the smallish size. It would be surprising if Wisconsin doesn’t try to run its stable of running backs right up the gut in the season opener. If Wisconsin is successful, that will be the opponents’ blueprint for attacking the Tigers.
- Arden Key will have a breakout year: If there is a player on LSU’s defense who might have been a better fit for the 3-4 than the 4-3, it’s Key, the rangy but relatively thin former defensive end who might be a natural to play this scheme’s hybrid linebacker/defensive end role. The speedy Key, who had five sacks as a true freshman, will be a terror pass-rushing off the edge and is a good enough athlete to drop into coverage. And playing outside linebacker means less putting his hand on the ground and taking on blockers 1-on-1. For the 230-pound Key, that can only work to his advantage.
- We’ll see more packages to take advantage of secondary personnel: One thing Aranda seems willing to do is adjust his scheme to personnel. The lack of a traditional 3-4 nose tackle has led to a scheme that relies more on quickness than power up front. Similarly, the Tigers seem to have more good players in the secondary than any other part of the defense, so expect Aranda to come up with five- and six-DB packages not unlike what John Chavis used to do with his “Mustang” six-DB package. Non-starters like Donte Jackson and Dwayne Thomas are too good to be relegated to mere backup roles.
- LSU will pick it up quickly: On the surface, it may be concerning that Aranda only had three calls installed in the defense by the end of the spring, but don’t let that fool you. If any LSU defense is going to pick up a new scheme, it’s this one. LSU has eight starters back on defense, and the starting lineup includes six seniors. In the front seven, where most of the adjustments will happen, the Tigers could be blessed with as many as five senior starters. These guys know the drill as they went through a new defensive installation last year under Kevin Steele. So while learning a third defense in three years won’t be ideal, expect this bunch to have the maturity to pick up the system quickly.