- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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With spring football and the NFL draft in the books, here are five things to know about LSU's secondary:
1. LSU's still DBU: For the second straight year, LSU had the NFL draft's first selected defensive back when cornerback Morris Claiborne went No. 6 overall to the Dallas Cowboys a year after Patrick Peterson went No. 5 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor (third round, Chargers) and cornerback Ron Brooks (fourth round, Bills) became the first trio of LSU defensive backs to be selected in the same draft since the 1960s, when the AFL and NFL held separate drafts. And LSU has had defensive backs selected in six straight drafts, including first-rounders Claiborne, Peterson and LaRon Landry (No. 6 overall pick in 2007 by Washington).
So LSU's place as a producer of NFL-quality DB talent has never been stronger. Already, ESPN's Todd McShay has projected safety Eric Reid as a first-rounder for next year. So don't expect the NFL-quality defensive backs coming out of Baton Rouge to end any time soon.
2. New DB coach Corey Raymond has holes to fill: The three drafted defensive backs weren't the only key secondary pieces leaving for the NFL. Also departed is position coach Ron Cooper, who joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' staff.
His replacement is former LSU player and coach Corey Raymond, lately of Nebraska, who comes to his new job with work to do. Sure, he has Reid. Sure he has CB/nickel back Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year. But replacing the likes of Claiborne, Taylor and Brooks will be no easy task.
The loss of so many proven players means unproven players will have to replace NFL-quality production. Jalen Collins, a redshirt freshman, appears to have the inside track to the third corner position, a spot that's key because it allows Mathieu to play inside as a nickel, where he's most effective.
3. A solid nucleus: While there are holes to fill, the return of Reid at free safety and Mathieu at cornerback give the Tigers a couple of accomplished starters to build around. You're talking about a projected first-round draft pick and a Heisman finalist, so that's a good start.
Reid, a junior, will provide solid leadership and true free safety play while Mathieu, LSU's "Honey Badger," has proven to be one of the nation's premier big-play creators.
When counting returning starters, one may also include Tharold Simon, the Tigers' third cornerback a year ago who played starter-like snaps because of defensive coordinator John Chavis' preference for playing Mathieu inside. This year, Simon will "officially" be a starter. With his height -- he's listed at 6-foot-3 -- and speed, he'll be a draft prospect.
4. A healthy Loston helps: Craig Loston came out of Houston's Aldine Eisenhowser as the nation's No. 1 safety prospect in 2009.
Since then, his story has been about a litany of injuries: A broken wrist in 2009, a concussion and rib injury in 2011 and a toe injury that forced him to miss LSU's spring game. If you are trying to find Loston, check the injury report first. But if the imposing Loston can finally stay healthy and live up to his prep billing, LSU's secondary talent level will be scary good.
If healthy, he would likely move into Taylor's strong safety spot, giving LSU a starting secondary that includes a Heisman finalist, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, a former top-rated prep safety in the country and an intriguing wildcard fourth starter in Simon. Youngsters Martin and Eugene could ease into their roles at a more manageable pace.
5. Who's next?: With its reputation as an efficient developer of DBs, it's not surprising to find LSU with an extensive national wish list in recruiting. And it's not surprising to find a lot of interested prospects.
Priest Willis, one of the nation's top safeties out of Arizona, has LSU on his list. Also considering LSU are defensive backs from Florida (S Marcell Harris and CBs Artie Burns and William Likely), Texas (S Kameron Miles and CBs Maurice Smith and Antwuan Davis), and California (S Tahaan Goodman). Max Redfield, a highly-regarded California prospect listed as an "athlete," who many project as a safety, also has an LSU offer.
The Tigers already have a commitment from four-star safety Jeremy Cutrer of Kentwood, La.'s Jewel Sumner High School.