- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: This week we continue to break down each of LSU’s position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. After examining the offensive positions last week, today we focus on the secondary.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Every position coach would like to have Corey Raymond’s problem. How will LSU’s defensive backs coach possibly find enough playing time for all of his deserving candidates?
Such is life when you coach the secondary at a school that calls itself Defensive Back University – or DBU for short – because of its long tradition of excellence against the pass. And it’s not about to change.
Although LSU lost key pieces from a 2014 secondary that ranked third nationally against the pass (allowing 164.2 yards per game), the Tigers could be even better this fall. The Tigers have one of the nation’s top cover cornerbacks in junior Tre'Davious White, a four-year starter in safety Jalen Mills, and one of the SEC’s budding defensive stars in safety Jamal Adams, a Freshman All-American in 2014. They also return the versatile Dwayne Thomas, who was one of the most valuable pieces in the secondary before tearing a knee ligament and missing the final eight games.
There are a couple of questions, but they’re hardly major concerns. Will Ed Paris hang onto the cornerback spot opposite White or will a youngster such as early enrollee Kevin Toliver, Donte Jackson or Xavier Lewis steal the job? How will Raymond juggle Mills, Adams, Rickey Jefferson at safety, and where does Thomas fit best? And if Corey Thompson returns to active participation – he missed spring practice and the entire 2014 season while recovering from a 2013 knee injury – does he stay at safety or shift to outside linebacker?
Whatever Raymond decides, he will once again field one of the nation’s best secondaries – even if there has been a vibrant Twitter debate between his players and multiple defensive backs in Florida as to which program truly deserves the “DBU” title. They will both rank among the best, and one of the most intriguing storylines that will arise at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 17 is which secondary shows out when Florida and LSU meet.
There will be multiple future NFL starters on the field that day, which will be a running theme each time LSU’s secondary takes the field this season. This will be a special group.
S Jalen Mills/Sr./62/3/1/5/6
CB Tre’Davious White/Jr./33/3/2/6/8
S Jamal Adams/So./66/5/0/5/5
S Rickey Jefferson/Jr./23/1.5/2/2/4
CB Ed Paris/So./3/0/0/0/0
CB Dwayne Thomas/Jr./24/2.5/1/1/2
CB Russell Gage/So./2/0/0/0/0
S John Battle/So./0/0/0/0/0
S Corey Thompson/Jr./Did not play in 2014
S Ronald Martin/Sr./73/0/2/9/11
CB Jalen Collins/Jr./38/3/1/9/10
CB Rashard Robinson/So./17/1/0/1/1
Newcomers: Kevin Toliver (Fr., Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian, ESPN five-star prospect, No. 2 CB, No. 10 overall prospect); Xavier Lewis (Fr., LaPlace, La./East St. John, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 13 CB, No. 150 overall prospect); Donte Jackson (Fr., Jefferson, La./Riverdale, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 15 ATH, No. 176 overall prospect).
Keep your eye on: The freshmen. Paris led the race for a starting job at the end of the spring, but early enrollee Toliver was the jewel in this year’s signing class. This could be a situation where he follows Adams’ pattern from last season, earning his stripes on special teams and gradually playing more on scrimmage downs. Jackson, who could also contribute on special teams or offense, and Lewis also could challenge at some point. The secondary is already in good shape, so the emergence of the freshmen would only add to the weapons at Raymond’s disposal.
Confidence meter: Super high. There are other strong positions at LSU, but this should be the best. There is top-end talent, there is depth and there is better-than-average experience. Developing a better pass rush would help LSU’s defensive backs do their jobs more effectively, but either way, the Tigers expect to rank among the nation’s top pass defenses again this season. There is no compelling reason to doubt their ability to remain in that conversation.