LSU secondary a work in progress this spring
BATON ROUGE, La. – As LSU previews the first full season of the Ed Orgeron era with a rare night kickoff in the National L Club Spring Game on Saturday, all eyes will be focused on the debut of first-year coordinator Matt Canada’s offense.
While any show of an improved passing game will represent a milestone for the Tigers’ faithful, LSU’s secondary looks to answer major questions after losing projected top-five NFL Draft pick Jamal Adams and consensus All-America defensive back Tre’Davious White.
Without White and Adams, the Tigers’ elite defensive back tradition rests on the shoulders of senior safety John Battle and senior corner-converted-to-safety Ed Paris as they help develop the next generation of playmakers at safety – highly touted early enrollees JaCoby Stevens and Grant Delpit.
“(The spring) started off a little slow,” Battle said. “Just getting the young guys acclimated to the college game. They’re doing a pretty good job of buying in to the things we’ve got going on in the secondary. (LSU defensive backs) Coach (Corey) Raymond has been doing a good job of getting the guys right.”
Adams’ departure leaves Battle, who started seven games last season in the place of injured then-senior Rickey Jefferson, as the Tigers’ only proven safety. Battle recorded 39 tackles and four pass break-ups in 2016.
Although Paris, who said he began his transition from corner to full-time safety last fall during the Alabama game week, has yet to notch a start at his new position, the Arlington, Texas, native has taken over the open spot beside Battle this spring.
“As a defensive back, we are taught to know everyone’s position,” Paris said. “At corner, I need to know what the linebackers are doing and what the (defensive) ends are doing. At safety, you just know what everybody is doing. It broadens my game. My football IQ is increasing.”
Along with their different skill sets and experience levels, Adams’ absence and Paris’ insertion into the lineup comes with a major scheme change.
Last season, Adams and Battle each focused on their strengths, with Adams coming down to aid in run support as the Tigers’ strong safety while Battle remained deep to help in pass coverage at the free safety spot.
Without Adams as an anchor in run-support, Paris and Battle will play interchangeably at free safety and strong safety depending on the formation, according to Battle, making their chemistry and communication with each other crucial as they exchange responsibilities from play to play.
“When you are back there as safeties, you’ve got to make sure you both are on the same page to help each other out,” Battle said. “One could be thinking one thing and one could be doing another, and it makes the whole secondary look bad.”
Along with building chemistry with each other and presumed starting corners Kevin Toliver II and Donte Jackson, Paris and Battle have stepped up to teach Stevens and Delpit how to adapt to the college game.
Stevens enters his LSU career as a 5-star recruit and the nation’s top safety prospect in the Class of 2017, according to 247Sports, after posting 61 tackles and nine interceptions during his senior season at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Delpit makes his way back to his home state after his family’s relocation to Houston, Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. After transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his final prep season, Delpit earned a consensus 4-star grade and was the No. 10-rated safety in the nation by 247Sports.
For both freshmen, the hardest adjustment lies in the difference in the speed between high school and SEC play.
“It’s the speed of the game for them,” Battle said. “It’s doing little things that you used to do in high school that you can’t get away with in the SEC. They’re doing a good job, and I’m proud of those guys.”
Despite the improvement the Tigers have achieved throughout the spring, Battle maintains the secondary and the overall defense has a long way to go before it is ready to compete in the fall.
“We’ve definitely gotten a lot better (since the beginning of the spring), but there’s definitely more to improve upon,” Battle said. “We want to be the No. 1 defense in the SEC and the No. 1 defense in the nation. It’s the little things with us. Just having good eye discipline and things like that. Guys are growing up real fast. Camp is going to be very important. We’re going to shock a lot of people this year.”