LSU Tigers: Dwayne Thomas

Mills helps steady LSU's safeties

March, 19, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Mills doesn’t view himself as a safety. He doesn’t view himself as a cornerback, either.

He views himself as both -- which is coming in handy for LSU’s defense these days.

“When you come in, you call yourself a defensive back,” said Mills, a rising junior who started at safety for the first time in the Tigers’ Outback Bowl win against Iowa. “That means you can play corner to nickel to safety to dime. You want to be able to play all positions. You don’t want to be a single-position type of guy if you’re a defensive back.”

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJalen Mills is helping out at safety this spring after playing the position in LSU's Outback Bowl victory over Iowa.
That’s an ideal attitude because Mills is several of those things -- particularly now, when the Tigers must replace starting safety Craig Loston and are without part-time starting safety Corey Thompson, who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Mills is a starting safety in LSU’s base defense, remains as the starting nickelback and still finds time to practice in a traditional cornerback role at points.

The Tigers need him most at safety for the time being, which was the message that defensive backs coach Corey Raymond imparted prior to spring practice.

“Him and Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis], they kind of talked to me or whatever and they were like, ‘Right now we need help at safety. You played a pretty good job those last two games of the season. Can you play it for us?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,’ ” Mills said. “And he said, ‘But we’re still going to need you at corner and you’re still going to be our starting nickel when we go Mustang package.’ ”

With Thompson on the shelf and a group of talented safety signees -- led by ESPN’s No. 18 overall prospect and No. 2 safety Jamal Adams -- not yet on campus, the Tigers are primarily using Mills and Ronald Martin with the first-team defense.

Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas are also working at safety, and thus far the foursome is pleased with what it has accomplished.

“Rickey, if he keeps coming along, he’s going to help us out a lot. Jalen Mills is doing a good job back there, also. And Dwayne Thomas, he’s doing a good job,” Martin said. “That’s the only other ones that we’ve got working in right now in the spring, just us four. Us guys, we’re doing a pretty good job so far, so we’re just trying to keep it going.”

Perhaps that’s a good sign, as safety was a problem area for much of 2013. Loston was the one constant when healthy, but the starting spot opposite him was a revolving door partially because of inconsistency. The Tigers used seven different starting combinations at safety, with Martin, Thompson, Mills and Jefferson all starting at least once.

Once Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle IV arrive on campus this summer, Raymond will have even more safety options from which to choose. And Tigers coach Les Miles said the newcomers will indeed get a long look from the coaching staff.

“We’ll have guys back, but I think we’ll be looking at some of these young guys that are coming in,” Miles said.

Thompson will also be back by then. The rising junior missed the final two games of 2013 after injuring his left knee against Texas A&M and undergoing surgery in December. He said after Tuesday’s practice that the knee is back to about 80 percent, but he will not attempt to test it during spring practice.

“I aim to be 100 by May,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to rush it, get back too early. But then I feel like May is a good time to be 100 and do everything to get in shape and be ready for the season.”

So for now, the Tigers will continue to function with the four available safeties -- a group attempting to prove that last season’s lapses were only a temporary hiccup for a program known for solid defensive back play. LSU’s pass defense totals actually improved slightly (from 206.0 ypg in 2012 to 197.5 last season), but the Tigers’ overall defensive slide continued, with Chavis’ group dropping from second nationally in total defense in its 2011 SEC championship run (261.5 ypg) to eighth in 2012 (307.6) to 15th last fall (340.7).

That’s an 80-yard increase in just a two-year span, and the safeties know they must perform more consistently in order to improve those numbers.

“We’ve just got to show that we can be leaders out there -- show that we can lead the defense just like those guys in the past like Eric [Reid], Brandon [Taylor], LaRon [Landry] and so on and keep the pedigree going,” Martin said.

Continued progress from Mills at the position would offer a big boost, just as he did in his first-ever attempt at playing safety when he intercepted a pass during a comeback win against Arkansas.

Mills still has nuances of the position to learn, such as how to make new reads that are different at safety from those at cornerback, but he believes he is making the transition smoothly.

“I really didn’t have a problem with [shifting positions],” Mills said. “Just coming from corner, you know where you want your safety to be sometimes in different types of checks. So just going from cornerback to safety, I know what the corner wants, so I just try to do it.”

LSU spring football primer

March, 14, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Here are things to know as LSU starts spring practice:

Practice dates: March 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 23 (scrimmage), 25, 26 and 28. After spring break, resumes April 9, 11, 13 (scrimmage), 16, 18 and 20 (spring game).

What's new: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will install his new offense, and four new starters will man the defensive line.

What's old: The Tigers have eight returning starters on offense, led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Offensive outlook:
Starters returning (8): QB Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, FB J.C. Copeland, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Odell Beckham, LT La'el Collins (moved from left guard), LG Josh Williford (moved from right guard), RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander.

New starters: TE Dillon Gordon or Logan Stokes, C Elliott Porter. Key reserves -- QB Stephen Rivers, RBs Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrance Magee, FB Connor Neighbors, LT Jerald Hawkins, RG Fehoko Fanaika, RT Ethan Pocic, WR James Wright, Kadron Boone, John Diarse and Travin Dural, TE Travis Dickson.

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Opening spring camp: LSU

March, 14, 2013
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Schedule: The Tigers open spring practice Thursday and will conclude the spring April 20 with their annual National L Club spring game at 3 p.m. ET in Tiger Stadium.

What’s new: Cam Cameron steps in as LSU’s offensive coordinator after spending part of last season in that role with the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron replaces Greg Studrawa as LSU’s play-caller on offense and will also coach the quarterbacks. Studrawa remains on staff and will coach the offensive line. Steve Kragthorpe will move into an administrative role after coaching the LSU quarterbacks the previous two seasons.

On the mend: Reserve quarterback Rob Bolden (knee) and defensive end Justin Maclin will both miss the spring while recovering from injuries.

On the move: Junior La’el Collins will get first shot at left tackle this spring after starting all last season at left guard. Senior Josh Williford will shift from right guard to left guard. Junior Terrence Magee is moving back to running back after playing receiver last season and catching just one pass.

Question marks: The Tigers are replacing five of their top seven defensive linemen. Junior tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and junior end Jermauria Rasco need to take that next step and become every-down forces up front. Head coach Les Miles said sophomore tackle Mickey Johnson has lost weight and had a promising offseason. Playing with more consistency at receiver will also be important. The Tigers had too many dropped passes last season and didn't make a lot happen down the field. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be counted on to make big moves as juniors. LSU also has to find a new place-kicker and punter. Sophomore Jamie Keehn heads into the spring as the punter, while junior James Hairston will have to hold off redshirt freshman walk-on Colby Delahoussaye for the starting place-kicking job.

New faces: Junior-college newcomer Logan Stokes will battle for a starting job at tight end, while junior-college newcomer Fehoko Fanaika could factor in at offensive guard. At receiver, redshirt freshman Travin Dural will be one to watch after injuring his knee last season along with a pair of early enrollees -- Avery Peterson (Patrick Peterson’s younger brother) and John Diarse. Two more true freshmen, Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig, will be among a handful of players vying for the backup quarterback job. The Tigers have a total of six true freshmen on campus who will be going through spring practice as early enrollees. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Thomas is a prime candidate to be the Tigers’ third cornerback on passing downs.

Breaking out: In reality, senior linebacker Lamin Barrow has already broken out. He had 104 total tackles last season, but was overshadowed by Kevin Minter. With Minter leaving early for the NFL draft, Barrow will move this spring from weakside linebacker to Minter’s middle-linebacker spot. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Barrow has everything it takes to become an All-SEC performer. If he sticks in the middle, it just makes the Tigers that much deeper at linebacker. Talented sophomores Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Lamar Louis can all play on the outside along with senior Tahj Jones, who returns after missing all but one game last season for academic reasons.

Don’t forget about: Senior running back Alfred Blue returns to give the Tigers one of the deepest backfields in the league. He injured his knee in the third game last season and was No. 2 in the SEC in rushing at the time. The 6-2, 220-pound Blue has excellent speed and also catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’ll team with sophomore Jeremy Hill to give LSU a dynamite one-two punch. The 6-2, 235-pound Hill had four 100-yard games as a true freshman and led the Tigers in rushing. Following a splendid freshman season, Kenny Hilliard was the forgotten man last season. He’ll be looking to regain his form this spring, while Magee will add some speed to the Tigers’ backfield.

All eyes on: Now that senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has a season as a starter in the SEC under his belt, can he capitalize on the improvement he showed toward the end of last season? In particular, Miles wants to see Mettenberger get better at throwing the deep ball and understand all of the throws better. Mettenberger struggled early last season, but he didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers. The best news for Mettenberger was the hiring of a veteran offensive coordinator like Cameron, who’s tutored a ton of quality quarterbacks. There’s no question that LSU has to be more consistent on offense if it’s going to return to the SEC championship picture. How much Mettenberger improves from his junior to senior season will go a long way toward determining whether the Tigers will be a part of that equation.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- By the middle of August camp, free safety Eric Reid was the only returning starter in LSU's vaunted secondary.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
AP Photo/Bill HaberCraig Loston will have to step into a leadership role with the departures of Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.
After Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team, Reid, the junior free safety from Geismar, became the elder statesman and responded with a solid, 91-tackle, two-interception season during which he was the Tigers' unquestioned leader in the secondary and became a consensus All-American.

His end of the bargain held up, Reid announced his decision Friday to leave LSU for the NFL. He wasn't the only one.

In a mild surprise, junior cornerback Tharold Simon also declared for the draft after leading the team with four interceptions and 13 passes defended. A first-year starter in 2012, he was a key piece to the LSU secondary in 2011 as the fifth defensive back whose presence allowed the Tigers to use Mathieu as a nickel back.

With their departures, all six of LSU's primary defensive backs on the 2011 team -- Simon, Reid, Mathieu, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor and dime back Ron Brooks -- probably will be on NFL rosters next season.

Regardless, LSU looks to be in better shape next season than it was entering 2012. Where only two of the top six DBs returned for the 2012 season, the Tigers should still have four of their top six back next season.

Junior strong safety Craig Loston probably will return for his senior year and starting cornerback Jalen Mills, nickel back Jalen Collins and dime back Micah Eugene were all freshmen.

That bodes well for the Tigers' secondary, which outperformed expectations most of the year, given that Mathieu's departure forced LSU to have to start a true freshman, Mills, in his place. The Tigers did struggle down the stretch, allowing four straight 300-yard passing games to finish the season.

Developing young talent will be crucial this offseason. Ronald Martin, Eugene, Corey Thompson and Jerqwinick Sandolph are young safeties who might vie for Reid's free safety spot. LSU has one 2013 recruit committed, Jeremy Cutrer. But LSU is pursuing more, including ESPN 150 safety Priest Willis.

At cornerback, Collins figures to replace Mills and LSU also returns Dwayne Thomas and Derrick Raymond and has a talented class of cornerbacks coming on signing day, including three four-star prospects -- Jeryl Brazil, Tre'Davious White and Rickey Jefferson -- and three-star Rashard Robinson.

 

 

Where LSU will need help: Defense 

January, 3, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The commitment of Maquedius Bain to LSU on Wednesday made perfect sense.

Bain, the No. 6 defensive tackle in the ESPN 150 and the highest-rated of the Tigers' 24 commitments, figures to play at LSU early. And he'll play a position where the Tigers have a tremendous recent track record for getting players to the NFL. Part of the reason there is a need for defensive tackles in this LSU class (Bain is one of four DT commitments in the class) is the presumed early departure of junior Bennie Logan to the NFL.

If Bain does play immediately, it will continue an LSU trend: Tiger freshmen should come ready to play because many of them will play. LSU used 15 true freshmen in the 2012 season, including four who started and a fifth who was a special-teams starter.
The clock has sped up for the development of LSU cornerback Tharold Simon.

[+] EnlargeTharold Simon
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezLSU's Tharold Simon is ready to help lead the secondary in 2012.
Like the steady line of Tiger stars at cornerback in recent years, Simon was supposed to enjoy a season being the "other" starter next to the superstar. He would start for the first time this season while lined up opposite Tyrann Mathieu. From there, he'd be "the man" next year.

But with Mathieu getting kicked off the team last week, the junior from Eunice, La., will have to instead be ready to be the leader of the cornerbacks.

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Elliott Porter settles in at backup center 

August, 15, 2012
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When offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk started cross-training as LSU's across-the-line utility man, he was asked about taking snaps as the second-team center.

"Well, I think the first guy who will get the call after [starter P.J. Lonergan] will be Elliott Porter," Dworaczyk said.

That's a testament to how for how far the sophomore from Waggaman. La./Archbishop Shaw has come at the position. A high school defensive lineman, Porter has had to learn the ins-and-outs of arguably the most demanded position on the offensive line.

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Tigers shifting positions at camp 

August, 14, 2012
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Les Miles hinted more than a week ago that offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk might become a utility offensive lineman.

That has become a reality at camp as Dworaczyk has taken snaps at first-team right tackle at recent practices.

The senior is not alone in recent position change developments as LSU moved to the late stages of August camp. Perhaps motivated by the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu, LSU has moved freshman wide receiver Kavahra Holmes to cornerback in an effort to add depth to a position that has lost five underclassmen off last year's roster. And to add depth to the receivers, LSU is cross training running back Terrence Magee at wide receiver.

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At the end of the day, Tyrann Mathieu just couldn’t stop thinking about himself.

Months after proclaiming he was changed, humbled and ready to lead, Mathieu’s selfishness cost him his LSU career, as Les Miles announced his player's dismissal at a news conference Friday.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTyrann Matheiu emerged last season as one of the nation's top cornerbacks and punt returners.
Miles, with disappointment scribbled all over his face, stood up and announced to the college football world that one of the most exciting players in the game -- and a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago -- is no longer a part of LSU’s football because he violated team policies again.

One of the best game-changers and playmakers -- regardless of position – that the game had to offer claimed to have learned from his mistakes, but he is now leaving a team capable of making back-to-back national championship runs.

The face of LSU’s program, who went with the celebrity flow by posing for preseason magazine shots this year and showed off his punt-returning skills to the nation on ESPN, let his team and its fan base down by once again thinking of himself first.

Miles didn’t give details as to what Mathieu did to earn a one-way ticket out of Baton Rouge, but from the way Miles sounded during his press conference, Mathieu had run out of chances. And Miles had run out of patience with the Honey Badger.

“This is a very difficult day for our team,” Miles said. “We lose a quality person, teammate and contributor to the program. However, with that being said, we have a standard that our players are held to, and when that standard is not met, there are consequences.

“It’s hard because we all love Tyrann. We will do what we can as coaches, teammates and friends to get him on a path where he can have success. We are going to miss him.”

What they’ll miss on the field is his unbelievable playmaking ability. Mathieu had a true nose for the ball, constantly locating and flying to it no matter where he lined up, and amazing vision. He wasn’t the biggest player or the best cover man, but he just had a way of disrupting things that few could mimic. And on special teams, he proved he could completely change the landscape of a game with one cut.

During his two years at LSU, he totaled 133 total tackles (16 for loss), grabbed four interceptions and forced 11 fumbles (most in school history). He also recovered eight fumbles and averaged 15.59 yards per punt return (with two scores) last year.

The Tigers will now look to a committee of players to replace Mathieu. Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins could get work at corner, while true freshmen Dwayne Thomas, Deion Jones and Corey Thompson could get work at nickel. Redshirt freshman safety Micah Eugene could also get some work there.

But none are the Honey Badger.

In January, Mathieu sat at a podium inside the Marriott Convention Center in New Orleans just days before the national championship expressing his feelings about his celebrity status and how it transformed him.

He admitted to getting carried away with his Honey Badger persona that took the Internet and college football by storm. The T-shirts, signs, videos and slogans that made him so captivating and famous slowly began to inflate his ego. He went from playing with a chip on his shoulder to playing like he owned the world.

Then, just as he was sitting on top of the world, he was suspended halfway through the season for reportedly failing a drug test. Mathieu later said his one-game suspension helped him realize he wasn’t as invincible as he thought. It helped bring him back to reality and made him truly cherish his time with his team.

But the past caught up with Mathieu, who leaves a team poised to be better in 2012. The offense is expected to take off with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, and the defense, which ranked second nationally last year, had a chance to be even better, too. But Mathieu won’t be around to help.

LSU has met distractions before, but to lose someone with so much talent and status is a real shot to a team hungry to make up for last year’s championship failure. This team will regroup, but it has to feel betrayed.

The childlike smile, blonde hair and charismatic play that made Mathieu so endearing in Baton Rouge are all gone. And Mathieu has no one to blame but himself.

Freshman class ready to shine 

August, 9, 2012
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From here on out they'll be the silent contributors.

They make up a significant chunk of this 2012 LSU team, and many of them are expected to make major contributions this fall. But this 2012 class of Tiger freshmen -- barring some extraordinary circumstances -- won't be heard from again this season after Tuesday's interview session at LSU media day.

Kwon Alexander
ESPNUKwon Alexander comes to LSU with some serious pedigree. He was ESPN's No. 3 outside linebacker and the 29th overall prospect in the class of 2012.
That's a funny thought when considering the impact this freshman class could make. The Tigers have high hopes for their youngsters, whether its a four-man linebacker class that is expected to give added depth to a unit that returns just one entrenched starter. The same can be said for the secondary, where LSU doesn't have many proven commodities behind safety Eric Reid and the cornerback tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon.

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Rob BoldenAP Photo/Gerald HerbertFormer Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden is attempting to pick up LSU's system quickly.

In a lot of ways, the afternoon session of LSU's first day of practice was more intriguing than the morning.

None of the Tigers' playmakers were on display in the indoor practice session Thursday afternoon. All of the All-America candidates and key cogs for 2012 wrapped up their day during the morning. But the players who took the field for the later practice were the great unknown.

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Most of it got lost behind the uproar of Rob Bolden's transfer to LSU, but Les Miles actually addressed a bevy of topics in his pre-camp press conference Wednesday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Gary Laney/ESPN.comAt a news conference Thursday, LSU coach Les Miles said he hopes Tyrann Mathieu doesn't put too much pressure on himself in 2012.
Miles spoke for roughly 30 minutes on a variety of topics, ranging from youngster angling for playing time to the Honey Badger hype surrounding Tyrann Mathieu. And of course there were several other notes worth mentioning besides Bolden on the Tigers' 2012 roster.

Roster moves: The Tigers traded a quarterback for a quarterback, with Bolden joining the team and sporting No. 1 -- his same number from Penn State. While Miles confirmed 2012 quarterback signee Jeremy Liggins as a non-qualifier who will not report to camp.

Two other LSU newcomers didn't report Wednesday, but Miles said he's confident both will be with the team shortly. Two 2012 signees, wide receiver Avery Johnson and juco offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika, are still waiting on finalization with their academic qualifications. Miles said he's confident both will make it to Baton Rouge in short order.

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GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

The basics of LSU's secondary are pretty obvious.

Monstrous cornerback Tharold Simon is going to start on one side of the Tigers' defense. Preseason All-SEC safety Eric Reid is going to anchor the last line of defense. If he can keep himself healthy, veteran Craig Loston should hold down the strong safety spot. And fellow All-SEC selection Tyrann Mathieu seems to have an early bead on the other starting corner spot.

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GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

The consensus about LSU coach Les Miles for a long time was that he'd always favor experience over youth. For years the argument about the Tigers' head man was that he wouldn't give newcomers a fair shake against established players.

That doesn't hold much water these days -- not after the past two seasons. LSU is 24-3 in the past two seasons, and green players have played a role of their own in setting that mark. In 2010 it was defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Eric Reid reaching the field early to make an impact.

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GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

[+] EnlargeKwon Alexander
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comKwon Alexander is one of six linebackers in LSU's 2012 signing class.
If one were to look at an LSU defensive depth chart, he'd see four linemen, three linebacker and four defensive back positions.

But in the last two years, John Chavis' defense hasn't really looked that way very often. Forced to match up with the ever-popular spread offenses and faced with personnel where the Tigers defensive backs were a bit stronger as a unit than the linebackers, the five-DB look has been more the norm for LSU.

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