LSU Tigers: Morris Claiborne

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.


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Recruiting rewind: LSU All-Americans

January, 29, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU fans are drooling over uncommitted targets such as Malachi Dupre and Adoree' Jackson, which is understandable since four- and five-star prospects are statistically more likely to become productive college players.

But signing a talented player is only the first step. A coaching staff must also excel at developing talent, which LSU frequently accomplishes since every All-American was not a coveted recruit.

Let's look at how LSU's recent Associated Press All-Americans graded out as high school prospects:

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFormer LSU star Odell Beckham Jr. has the type of speed the Jets are seeking in wide receiver prospects.
Odell Beckham
2013 third-team All-American (all-purpose)
ESPN rankings: 78 grade (three stars), No. 62 athlete in 2011
Evaluation highlights: “Beckham is an exciting athlete that displays some versatility and range as an offensive weapon. He is undersized, but very explosive and shifty with good change of direction and excellent overall instincts with the ball in his hands. ... We feel he would need to be a utility player and certainly has a chance to be an excellent return man.”
In hindsight: Not a bad call. ESPN's analyst pegged Beckham's athleticism correctly, as he developed into one of the nation's most electric receivers and return men. He turned out better than a three-star grade, however.

Kevin Minter
2012 second-team All-American (linebacker)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 133 overall prospect in 2009, No. 11 outside linebacker
Evaluation highlights: “Minter has a great blend of size, speed and toughness. He isn't tall, but has a thick build and carries his weight very well. He's physically ready to make the jump to the next level. ... He should give his future defensive coordinator the flexibility to play him in the middle or on the strong side.”
In hindsight: Good call. Minter had an outstanding junior season, ranking third in the SEC with 130 tackles and fourth with 15 tackles for a loss before jumping to the NFL.

Eric Reid
2012 second-team All-American (safety)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 71 overall prospect in 2010, No. 7 safety
Evaluation highlights: “Reid is a very gifted player that can really excel at the free safety position. He is an excellent field general that plays with confidence and possesses the necessary skills to run the secondary both physically and mentally.”
In hindsight: Good call. Not only was Reid good enough to rank among the SEC's tackles leaders in 2012, he became a 2013 first-round NFL draft pick and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for the San Francisco 49ers.

Brad Wing
2011 first-team All-American (punter)
ESPN rankings: 74 grade (two stars), No. 24 kicker in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “His long frame and good leg speed allow him to drive the ball 50-60 yards down field. His ability to hang the football is also impressive, with game punts in the 4.8 sec. range. ... Brad has some very good tools to build on. He should become an excellent college punter.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Wing was second in the SEC and 11th nationally in punting for the 2011 conference champs. He encountered problems later in his career, but they were not related to his football talent, which proved better than his prospect ranking.

Tyrann Mathieu
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 77 grade (three stars), No. 36 cornerback in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “Mathieu is an underrated defensive back with a good blend of range, athleticism and closing burst. ... Looks and plays taller on film than his listed measurables. ... Just when you think he is a bit-straight lined he will impress you with his lateral fluidity as a return specialist; overall just a very good, instinctive athlete who should only get better as he receives full-time positional coaching.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Mathieu was probably difficult to grade because of the freewheeling style that turned him into a college star. But he made possibly the biggest impact of any individual player on LSU's outstanding 2011 club, generating key takeaways and highlight-reel kick returns all season.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
AP Photo/James D SmithOur analysts correctly predicted a change to CB in Morris Claiborne's future. He starred at LSU in his new role and became the Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick in 2012.
Morris Claiborne
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 80 grade (four stars), No. 26 athlete in 2009
Evaluation highlights: “Claiborne is a bit of a secret in recruiting circles, but his talent level won't be kept at bay for long once he enters the college ranks. ... He works out of the QB position in high school and sees some duty on defense, as well. We feel he'll be a wide receiver, but in time cornerback could be where he finds the most success. ... Overall, we would be very surprised if this kid didn't have a very productive college career.”
In hindsight: Good call. ESPN's analyst was on the right track in projecting Claiborne's eventual college path, which is difficult when a prospect plays multiple roles in high school. He was possibly the nation's top cover corner by his junior season before becoming the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

Will Blackwell
2011 second-team All-American (offensive guard)
ESPN rankings: 79 grade (three/four stars), No. 15 defensive tackle in 2007
Evaluation highlights: “Blackwell is an athletic big man who displays good football intelligence. He has a good get off and does a good job of shooting his hands. He can create separation and read blocks. He is physical at the point of attack and displays the ability to hold his ground. ... As he physically grows, he has the tools to be a big, quick, disruptive presence in the trenches.”
In hindsight: Wrong position. The evaluation graded him as a defensive player, but some of the tools that made Blackwell a valuable offensive lineman emerge in the analyst's comments.

Sam Montgomery
2011-12 third-team All-American (defensive end)
ESPN rankings: 84 grade (four stars), No. 26 overall prospect in 2009, No. 2 defensive end
Evaluation highlights: “Montgomery got a late start in the game, but is an exciting prospect. He is green (only one year of football under his belt), but he appears to be a natural. Has excellent athletic ability and also shows a grasp of some of the game's nuances. ... Montgomery is an excellent prospect who has both immediate value and considerable upside.”
In hindsight: Good call. Natural athleticism helped Montgomery become a two-time All-American. He has yet to maximize those talents, but became a third-round NFL draft pick when he left after his junior season.

Alabama, LSU form NFL pipeline

May, 20, 2013
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Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com recently wrote suggested that an NFL roster comprised exclusively of Alabama and LSU players wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

As he points out, according to a listing on ESPN.com, there are 49 players from LSU in the NFL and 41 players from Alabama.

In reading that piece, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation I had with former Alabama offensive line coach Joe Pendry just prior to the first Alabama-LSU game in 2011. Pendry retired following the 2010 season and had served as offensive coordinator for both the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans in the NFL before joining Nick Saban at Alabama.

Realizing how much talent would be on the field that night at Bryant-Denny Stadium, especially on defense, I jokingly asked Pendry how anybody would score.

He estimated that somewhere around 18 to 20 of the 22 defensive starters would end up playing in the NFL.

Looking back, he was dead on.

Of the 22 defensive starters that night, 16 were selected in the NFL draft. Six other defensive players who played in the game were also drafted. That’s a total of 22 players. Two other players that went undrafted spent last season on NFL practice squads.

We’re talking high-round draft picks, too. Of the 22 who were drafted, 14 went in the top three rounds.

Moreover, as many as seven other defensive players from that game who are still in school are likely to be drafted in either 2014 or 2015. Among them: Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and safety Craig Loston of LSU.

So, the final tally of defensive players from that game (some played on special teams) who were either drafted or have spent some time on an NFL roster will likely end up being 30-plus.

No wonder those two teams played eight quarters that year, and only one touchdown was scored between them.

Here’s a rundown of the draft picks from that game on defense:

ALABAMA
LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. -- GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney answers your questions:

From: Biff (Chicago): Do the recruiting coaches feel any advantage in having someone like Lavar Edwards, who wasn't a starter his senior year, get drafted into the NFL? Does it give them valuable ammunition for getting four- and five-star rated players to know that at LSU you don't have to be a starter to be an NFL player?

[+] EnlargeJames Carpenter
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU defensive end Lavar Edwards was a fifth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans.
Gary Laney: You'd better believe LSU will use players like Edwards to sell the program's player development ability.

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As LSU prepares to begin spring practice March 14, GeauxTigerNation will take daily looks at aspects of the spring camp. This is the sixth in the series:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- In four years, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has not yet had a unit allow an average of 20 points per game. No defense has allowed more than than an average 328 yards a game, not more than 307 yards an outing after his first season.

Can he maintain that kind of quality?

Maybe, but if he does, it will be through perhaps his best rebuilding job to date at LSU, one that starts this week when the Tigers begin spring practice.

John Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will put his impressive track record to the test this offseason.
LSU returns starters at just four positions on defense and enters spring trying to revamp a defensive line that lost all four of its starters and six of its top nine players.

On paper, one might argue that it's the biggest challenge yet for Chavis at LSU.

One might disagree at first blush. When Chavis arrived in 2009, he was replacing Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory after the Tigers were perceived to have given up too many points and too many big plays in an 8-5 season. Many looked at the departures as a purging, of sorts, of the defensive problems.

But looking back, that 2008 defense only allowed a reasonable 325 yards per game and 24 points per gam, and those totals were skewed by an offense that committed 20 turnovers, often leading to points for the opposition. That 2009 defense returned six starters, including four future NFL draft picks.

Chavis' first defense actually gave up more yards per game (just under 329) than the 2008 team, but allowed a touchdown a game fewer thanks in no small part to the elimination of big plays by the defense and turnovers on offense.

So this year's defense will have to replace more starters and have to live up to a greater expectation.

After his first year, Chavis' teams have been allowing at least 20 yards less per game than that first defense.

Three things will have to happen if LSU is going to continue its dominance under Chavis. LSU must:

  • Find playmakers on the defensive line. With all four starters gone, the Tigers will need a leader -- perhaps big-play tackle Anthony Johnson -- and some young talent to emerge. LSU has recruited well on the defensive line, but the talent is unproven. Young defensive linemen will have to make names for themselves this spring.
  • Find a middle linebacker. With Kevin Minter's departure to the NFL, the Tigers don't have an obvious choice to lead the defense from the middle linebacker spot. Lamin Barrow was a 100-tackle star on the weak side, but does his game fit that of a middle linebacker? If not, which of LSU's many young prospects will step up in Minter's spot?
  • Find a leader in the secondary. Eric Reid was a solid player, a good student and a natural leader at free safety. With Reid also in the NFL, does LSU have a leader in the secondary? Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Patrick Peterson are among the players LSU has had in the defensive backfield who came with leadership qualities. Can LSU can that from Craig Loston or one of the Jalens (Mills or Collins) at cornerback? How about from a new starter, potentially Ronald Martin?
Rob BoldenAP Photo/Gerald HerbertRob Bolden has the chance to become LSU's No. 2 quarterback entering 2013.
As LSU prepares to begin spring practice March 14, we'll take daily looks at aspects of the spring camp. This is the first in the series:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Spring practice can be looked at as simply 15 extra practices.

The reality is, there's more to it than that. Where August practice is focused more on preparation for a season opener, spring practices are more about evaluation and improvements. There are always areas where new players need to step up. Here are four with something to prove this spring:


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LSU Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lamin Barrow, Josh Williford, Tahj Jones and Craig Loston will be looked at as old, old men next year when they enter their fifth-year senior seasons at LSU.

In a program that has made an art of the three-year recruiting cycle, they are only players left from LSU's 2009 signing class that was ranked No. 1 in the country by RecruitingNation.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesMorris Claiborne was picked No. 6 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, one of several former LSU standouts from the 2009 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1.
That they are gone doesn't reflect poorly on a class that already has three players in the NFL and at least five who are likely to be high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. For those who stayed four years, they enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, an SEC championship and a trip to the BCS championship game.

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LSU's best recruiting sleepers 

January, 22, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Whatever you do, don't try to out-evaluate LSU coaches.

LSU has been one of college football's premier producers of pro talent in the Les Miles era, and more often than not, the eventual high draft picks are players who were unheralded recruits. For every Patrick Peterson, who was everybody's blue chipper coming out of high school, there's a Morris Claiborne who was anything but that coming out of high school.

So when you look at LSU's recruiting results, don't focus on how many 5-star studs they beat everybody else for. Look for the guys like the ones below who went from unheralded to unstoppable:


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To gear up for 2013 national signing day, GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney will break down every commitment in the Tigers' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Ath Kendell Beckwith, Jackson, La./East Feliciana, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds


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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.

 

 
BATON ROUGE -- LSU already has a top 10 class, but this weekend the Tigers will be pitching to make it even better.



The Tigers will host a pair of ESPN 150 players on official visits with Maquedius Bain, a defensive tackle from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Priest Willis, a safety from Tempe, Ariz., both scheduled to be on campus this weekend.

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Beckham picks up big-play pace

November, 19, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- On a cool November day, LSU trailed and needed a pick-me-up when its sophomore punt returner fielded a kick, weaved through the defense, and scored a momentum-shifting touchdown to the delight of a nervous Tiger Stadium crowd.

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU is hoping that Odell Beckham Jr. can consistently be a spark for its sluggish offense.
“That may be the biggest momentum changer I saw,” LSU coach Les Miles said later, after his Tigers pulled away to win.

Question is, what game was he talking about? Was it last year when the Tigers used a Tyrann Mathieu touchdown to propel a comeback against Arkansas?

Actually, it was Saturday when Odell Beckham Jr. returned an Ole Miss punt 89 yards for a touchdown, tying the score in the fourth quarter in what was eventually a 41-35 LSU win over Ole Miss.

“If there was one game ball to be given in this evening, it is given to Odell Beckham,” Miles said.

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Sarkisian, Chavis primed for rematch

September, 3, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- On a beautiful, sun-drenched early September Seattle day in 2009, Steve Sarkisian coached his first game as Washington's head coach, beginning an unenviable task of turning around what had recently become a wretched program.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Steven Bisig/US PresswireLSU will face a tough test against Washington QB Keith Price on Saturday.
Opposite Sarkisian on the shores of Lake Washington that day, John Chavis was in his first game as defensive coordinator at LSU, tasked with turning around a defense that had grown unusually porous during an 8-5 2008 season, the worst season yet for head coach Les Miles in Baton Rouge.

If you were to judge from that day's outcome, one might believe it was Sarkisian who was headed for big success.

Sarkisian's Jake Locker-led offense piled up 478 yards and Washington hung close to the 11th-ranked Tigers, who prevailed 31-23, sending a downtrodden UW team to a 15th straight loss.

The two will match wits again Saturday in Baton Rouge and their stories have taken different turns since that day. It didn't take long for Chavis, the former Tennessee defensive coordinator, to make the Tigers' defense one of the best, if not the best in college football. Sarkisian has UW a long way from 15-game losing streaks, but at 20-19 in his fourth season, he is still got a ways to go to turn his team into a juggernaut.

Sarkisian, a former BYU quarterback who moved up the coaching ladder as an offense coordinator and quarterback guru at USC before going to Waashington, has replaced Locker, now a Tennessee Titan, with 3,000-yard passer Keith Price. Locker threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the 2009 game. LSU players are expecting Washington to try to similarly go after a young Tigers secondary with Price.

"We know Washington can throw the ball," said LSU safety Eric Reid after the Tigers' 41-14 win over North Texas Monday. "I know we can make those corrections and improvements [from the North Texas game]. We have to stay focused and I have to do better."

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Young DBs vulnerable? Don't bet on it 

September, 2, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you're looking for a vulnerability in No. 3 LSU's defense, you don't have to go much further than the scoring summary of Saturday's 41-14 win over North Texas:

"UNT: Brelan Chancellor 80 pass from Derek Thompson (Olen kick)."

Then, later:

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GeauxTigerNation writers Gary Laney and David Helman get you ready for the season with a daily breakdown throughout August of what LSU is facing in the fall -- from its opponents to its road trips to who it's recruiting. Today, in the final countdown, Laney and Helman give their predictions:

GARY LANEY

12-1, first in SEC West: LSU will be better on offense but maybe not quite as good on defense.

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