After six years under John Chavis, LSU’s defense looks and sounds different this spring. With Kevin Steele now running the show on that side of the ball, everything from formations to terminology has gotten a makeover.

The defense apparently went through a pretty rough first week of spring ball. Players told the media that, while they were getting up to speed with Steele’s scheme, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron decided to try out all kinds of new tricks. With wrinkles the defense hadn’t seen before, players said they were frustrated and struggling to get caught up.

“I hate not knowing, because now we have Coach Cam, knowing that we have a new defense, he’s throwing all type of formations at us and all different types of motions and we have to make all types of checks,” senior safety Jalen Mills told early in spring practice.

The defense got with the program quickly. Over the weekend, Les Miles said the offense performed well in LSU’s scrimmage after the defense won the previous week’s scrimmage, but Miles still had a lot of positive things to say about the defense this past week too.

The unit is playing fast, finding ways to adjust without substituting. It’s reading between the lines, but Miles seems very happy with the way the defense looks compared to the end of last season.

Other than being able to substitute on the fly and play without substitutions a little more fluidly, what are some of the changes LSU’s defense is going through?

Some of the biggest changes are coming in LSU’s non-base formations. For instance, gone is the “Mustang” package, Chavis’ version of the dime defense featuring six defensive backs and two linebackers on the field at once. In its place is a more standard dime defense, with just one linebacker on the field, according to practice reports.

Additionally, players have said that the nickel defense, with five defensive backs and two linebackers, will see a change from its Chavis days as well. According to The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.), that formation now features the “Money” position. Under Chavis, the second linebacker in the formation was always a weak-side linebacker from the 4-3. Now, both strong- and weak-side players man the position.

“You do a little blitzing, do a little coverage. You can be inside the box making plays. You’re in the mix more,” rising junior linebacker Duke Riley told The Advocate. Riley, who plays the strong-side linebacker position, previously would have come off the field in nickel situations.

According to that same Advocate article, LSU is also working on a “Hippo” package, featuring four linebackers on the field at once. Steele comes from a 3-4 background at Alabama, but there’s no word as to whether this new package features three or four down linemen.

Perhaps most encouragingly, the Tigers now have an established leader on defense, rising junior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith.

“I already own it. They know it. The guys on defense know it. I’ve been trying to just get the hang of everything right now, so I’ve kind of been keeping to myself and just helping people if I can,” Beckwith told

Last year, Beckwith looked like a blossoming starter after taking over the middle linebacker position full-time midway through the season. LSU’s run defense took a major leap forward once Beckwith moved into the starting lineup, and with a full offseason commanding the defense he’s poised to burst to full-fledged stardom.

While it sounded a week ago like Beckwith was still getting a handle on all of Steele’s schematic changes, the more you hear from LSU’s defense the more it sounds like they’ve got a pretty good handle on things. With one of the most talented defenses in the country, the Tigers wouldn’t surprise anyone by once again sitting in the top-15 nationally come December, despite the change at coordinator.