- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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HOOVER, Ala. -- After LSU thoroughly dominated college football's secondary positions last year (How many schools can you name can equal LSU's feat of having one cornerback finish as a Heisman Trophy finalist and another finish as the Thorpe Award winner in the same season?), the NFL did a thorough job of raiding the Tigers' DB cupboard.
The Tigers lost three defensive backs to the NFL draft's first four rounds, including Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys. To make it complete, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired away position coach Ron Cooper to coach the same position.
So where does this leave the Tigers' secondary? Depleted? Rebuilding? On life support?
None of the above, it would seem.
"It's 'DBU,' " free safety Eric Reid said Wednesday at SEC media days. "That's what we break (DB position huddles) with."
That's Defensive Back University, a bold self-proclaimed title LSU secondary members give to the group. And it's not just an ode to Tigers of the past. There is plenty of reason to suspect that, despite the attrition to the NFL, plus the loss of three reserve underclassmen who transferred to others school, the beat will go on this year.
Much of it starts with Reid, a hard-hitting and cerebral free safety who is also a returning second-team All-American many project to be a first-round draft pick at the end of this, his junior season. And, of course, there is the Heisman Trophy finalist, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, also a junior, who will again be a prime candidate for national awards (he won the Bednarik Award in 2011).
Also back is Tharold Simon, who became a rising star as the team's third cornerback last season.
"I think we'll have a secondary that'll be as talented as any," head coach Les Miles said Wednesday.
So, the beat goes on. But how long can LSU's secondary keep this up?
In the last six years, the Tigers have had nine defensive backs selected in the NFL draft including three in the first round. Seven Tiger defensive backs make a first-team all-American squad in the last eight years.
The trend is even better lately. LSU has won the last two Thorpe Awards (Patrick Peterson in 2010 and Claiborne in 2011) have had all-Americans in both years (Peterson in 2010 and Claiborne and Mathieu in 2011), had a Heisman Trophy Finalist (Mathieu in 2011), two first-round draft picks (Peterson in 2011 and Claiborne in 2012) and is coming off a season where three players were taking in the first four rounds of the draft (Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor in the third round and cornerback Ron Brooks in the fourth round), the deepest secondary draft class in school history.
Reid suggested that much of the continued success despite consistent key losses is the embracing by the group of the nickname and what it takes to live up to it.
"We use it as motivation," he said. "We like to pride ourselves in being the best defensive backfield in the country and we use that to work hard. It's simple motivation. We go out everyday, we break it down as 'DBU' then we do our drills to get better."
And better they get.
While Peterson was considered the creme de la creme in recruiting circles coming out of high school, Claiborne and Mathieu were a bit more unheralded in high school and improved in LSU's ultra-competitive environment. Simon wasn't even considered a cornerback coming out of high school.
But Cooper molded them into household names. That environment is now to be nurtured by new secondary coach Corey Raymond, who inherits a difficult job Cooper made look routine -- finding young, unproven players who can quickly adapt and excel in their college roles.
Reid's confident Miles called on the right man for the job.
"They brought in another great coach for us," said Reid of Raymond who, appropriately, is a former LSU and NFL defensive back. "He came in early and told us he wanted to help us improve. That's what he's been doing."
They'll need rapid improvement from a pair of redshirt freshmen -- cornerback Jalen Collins will get the third cornerback role that Mathieu and Simon used to propel into stardom and safety Micah Eugene could be the third safety -- and they'll need for junior strong safety Craig Loston to stay healthy for the first time in his LSU career and finally live up to his lofty expectations coming out of high school.
If the youngsters play adequately, the trio of returning stars will likely be good enough to make the secondary outstanding again.
But adequate has not been good enough lately.
Not for DBU.
9dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough