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Friday, June 28, 2013
Battle becomes 12th Tiger commitment

By Gary Laney

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach John Chavis and secondary coach Corey Raymond want to stay ahead of the curve.

So while others may pursue "true" cornerbacks and safeties, the Tigers have been relentless in their pursuit of a new ideal: versatile players who can cover like a cornerback and are big enough to play in the run-support role of a safety.

LSU found just such a player on Friday when John Battle IV (Hallandale, Fla./Hallandale) pledged to be the 12th member of the Tigers' 2014 class.

Battle announced his decision on SouthFloridaHighSchoolSports.com, choosing LSU over USC among many other offers.

"Hanging out with Les Miles, he's a very great coach and has a drive to win, and that's something I want to do," Battle said. "That’s big-boy football. It don’t get no better than the SEC. I'm ready for it."

At 6-foot-1 and more than 170 pounds, Battle has the frame to be big enough to fill holes and meet SEC running backs. But he's also enough of a fluid athlete that if he's caught in a one-on-one battle against a slot receiver in a spread offense, he is capable of turning and running with the receiver.

Sound familiar? One may say the same thing of ESPN 150 selection Edward Paris Jr. (Arlington, Texas/Mansfield Timberview), one of LSU's early commitments, or even athlete Devin Voorhies (Woodville, Miss./Woodville). Laurence "Hootie" Jones, the ESPN 150 safety from Monroe/La. Neville, also has that kind of skill set.

In the 2013 class, both Rickey Jefferson (Destrehan, La./Destrehan) and Rashard Robinson (Pompano Beach/Ely) are players who mix coverage skill with safety-like size.

What made the versatility so valuable? Multiple offenses that show at least some spread elements now dominate the SEC.

Most programs in the SEC, along with the rest of college football, can show at least some spread, and inside receivers in those offenses can often exploit man-to-man coverage of safeties whose strength is not in pass coverage, but in run support (your traditional "Cover 2" safeties).

In recent years, run-support safeties have become especially vulnerable against teams that run some cut-read option out of the spread because the threat of the quarterback keeper (think recent SEC Heisman winners Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel) prevents linebackers, in particular, from giving underneath coverage help to a safety lacking in coverage skills.

But in the SEC, teams can't simply move cornerbacks to safeties because many offenses could substitute out of a spread look and into a traditional offense, and run right at a smaller safety. Having safeties who are versatile allows LSU to adjust to teams that switch from the spread to a conventional, without having to change defensive personnel.

So LSU's priority has been to have players like Eric Reid, LSU's star free safety who was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in this year's draft and was noted for his coverage ability coming out of high school. Or a cornerback like Tharold Simon, a fifth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks this spring who some projected as a safety coming out of high school.

Even the "Honey Badger," Tyrann Mathieu -- the Heisman-finalist cornerback who lacked safety size -- had the physicality to fill in admirably for Reid at free safety when Reid missed the 2011 Arkansas game because of injury. Not surprisingly, Mathieu is starting his pro career with the Arizona Cardinals as a safety.

Battle appears to fit that mold perfectly. LSU fell in love with what it saw from Battle. While Battle is a three-star prospect, he has offers from the likes of Louisville, Florida State and Tennessee.