LSU Tigers: Tharold Simon

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.

LSU camp: Early lessons 

August, 9, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is done with a mere three days of August camp and already we've learned some things about this team.

1. The offensive line might shuffle: Right tackle Vadal Alexander was hobbled in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and rumors were, he was being seriously challenged for his starting spot by redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins.

Little has happened at camp that would suggest otherwise after Alexander missed Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices and Hawkins was running with the starters at right tackle. The Hawkins-as-a-starter scenario is looking more and more plausible.

LSU's top offseason storylines

May, 2, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- At LSU, the offseason is not the same as a "slow" season.

The Tigers are always good for offseason news and, as recent events tell us with the off-field arrests of Jeremy Hill and Tharold Simon (on his way to the NFL), the news isn't always good.

Things never get boring on the bayou. Here are five storylines to look out for prior to LSU starting August camp.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Shuey
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJeremy Hill's arrest and suspension puts LSU's offensive fortunes in flux.
1. The Hill issue: LSU's leading rusher from the 2012 season has been suspended from the team indefinitely after being charged with simple assault following a bar fight, an arrest complicated by the fact that Hill was already on probation.

The questions are many. Does Hill face a serious legal problem given his probation? If he does, will he still be available at the start of the fall semester?

If he doesn't face a serious legal issue, might he face a discipline issue from Les Miles and, if so, what might that be?

The Tigers have just four scholarship running backs, including Hill. Losing him before the first August practice could hurt LSU's power running identity.

2. The Leslie situation: What might cushion the blow of either losing Hill or seeing him serve a lengthy suspension would be improvement to the Tigers' sometimes anemic passing game.

That's where junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie comes in.

The Hinds Community College sophomore needs to finish coursework at his junior college to be eligible to join the Tigers this summer. If he makes it, the hope is he gives LSU the big, downfield threat it's looking for. LSU has plenty of experience back at receiver, but all of the top receivers are around 6-foot tall. Leslie would add something the Tigers currently lack.

The hope was that Leslie would graduate at the end of the fall of 2012 and join the team in the spring semester. That did not happen and he had to return to junior college to finish his degree requirements. Reports from his juco have been good, but Leslie still has to finish.

3. Scheduling: LSU seems to be in the minority in being unhappy with the SEC schedule format.

The Tigers are stuck having to play an annual game with Florida as its "permanent" cross-division rival while the other SEC West kingpin, Alabama, gets to play Tennessee, which has struggled in recent years.

LSU's preference would be to eliminate the permanent cross-division rivalry or, possibly, add a ninth SEC game. Neither idea seems to have much traction as the conference members, for the most part, are content with their league schedules. But LSU will try again in both fronts at the SEC spring meetings later this month.

4. Youth is ready?: We usually think of a new recruiting class beginning to compete for playing time in August.

In reality, it starts much sooner than that. Eight members of LSU's recruiting class enrolled in spring and several made pushes to be on the two-deep. The rest of the class will be on campus in June, ready to go through the offseason workout program.

By the start of August camp, we might already have an idea who is ready to push for time based on what we're hearing about their offseason work.

5. Pursuing the 2014 class: Given an unusually strong year for talent in Louisiana, LSU has a legitimate chance at a No. 1 recruiting class nationally.

The Tigers entered May with nine commitments and are on the short list for several uncommitted players in the ESPN 150. Starting with LSU's late-May "Bayou Picnic" for top prospects and continuing with a pair of summer camps in early June and mid-July, the Tigers will have a series of recruiting events that traditionally have yielded the Tigers dividends in its recruiting classes.

This year, LSU will hope to use the camp to land some big names from the state and the region in a year where Louisiana has the nation's top prospect (running back Leonard Fournette) and its top offensive lineman (tackle Cameron Robinson), among several other top recruits.
It was a huge weekend for LSU football.

It was also a bit of a black eye for Tigers football.

On the same weekend LSU set an NFL record with six defensive players drafted in the first three rounds and a school record with nine players total getting picked, the Tigers also had two players arrested -- their leading rusher and a draft prospect two nights before he was picked.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Hill's arrest over the weekend was the latest in a series of disturbing events involving LSU football players.
For as much as LSU makes news with the talent it possesses, it seems like it spends as much time being discussed lately for off-field behavior of its players. After a weekend where LSU should have been celebrating its prolific production of pro talent, the Tigers are instead dealing with questions yet again about player conduct.

Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, is the one dominating the headlines Monday.

Already on probation after pleading guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile, Hill was arrested Saturday night after allegedly punching someone outside a bar near LSU and subsequently has been charged with simple battery. He was suspended from the team indefinitely by coach Les Miles on Monday.

His arrest came two nights after former Tigers cornerback Tharold Simon was arrested on several charges, including public intimidation, in a dispute with police in his hometown of Eunice, La. Despite the arrest, Simon was drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks.

(Read full post)

How does LSU produce so many NFL draft picks?

Recruiting is one good answer. Another is development.

The Tigers set an NFL draft record with six defensive players picked in the first two days (top three rounds), finishing with a school-record nine players drafted overall.

The Tigers did it with a mix of players: several who were highly regarded coming out of high school and lived up to the hype, and a surprising number of players who developed their talents after coming to Baton Rouge, La.

Of the nine Tigers picked, five were not ESPN 150 picks coming out of high school.

Here are LSU's draft picks, broken down by player, round drafted, team, recruiting year, star rating (if applicable) and ESPN 150 status
  • DE Barkevious Mingo, first round, Cleveland, 2009, (no star ratings in 2009 class or earlier), not in ESPN 150
  • S Eric Reid, first round, San Francisco, 2010, 4 star, No. 72 ESPN 150
  • LB Kevin Minter, second round, Arizona, 2009, No. 133 in ESPN 150
  • DT Bennie Logan, third round, Philadelphia, 2009, not in ESPN 150
  • DB Tyrann Mathieu, third round, Arizona, 2010, 3-star, not in ESPN 150
  • DE Sam Montgomery, third round, Houston, 2009, No. 26 in the ESPN 150
  • CB Tharold Simon, fifth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, No. 91 in the ESPN 150
  • DE Lavar Edwards, fifth round, Tennessee, 2008, not in the ESPN 150
  • RB Spencer Ware, sixth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, not in ESPN 150
BATON ROUGE, La. -- There's a new wrinkle to the Russell Shepard saga.

The blue-chip, dual-threat high school quarterback turned underachieving college receiver was worked out by NFL scouts Wednesday during LSU's Pro Day at, of all places, defensive back.

"Never played there in my life," Shepard said. "About six teams asked me to work out there. I thought I did pretty good. Like they told me, it's added value."

[+] EnlargeRussell Shepard
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireRussell Shepard showed his versatility at LSU's pro day, working out for several teams at defensive back.
Shepard gave NFL teams reason to look for places he might fit. He excelled during physical testing, joining a list of LSU players who had good days.

Shepard ran a 4.5 electronic 40-yard dash and also had a 38.5-inch vertical leap, results that do not suggest a player who struggled to get involved in LSU's offense in his four years and was so marginalized, he was not invited to the NFL combine.

He wasn't the only Tiger to test well. Running back Michael Ford ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and had a 39.5-inch vertical leap, both results slightly better than his combine results. Linebacker Kevin Minter ran a 4.67 40 and had a 34.5-inch vertical leap, both significant improvements over the combine.

"We were at home," Minter said. "Makes all the difference."

Here are some other notables:

  • Defensive end Barkevious Mingo did not participate in testing, but like former teammate Tyrann Mathieu got involved in position-specific drills.
  • Defensive end Lavar Edwards ran a 4.78 and hit 21 repetitions in the bench press, looking like the next LSU player who might be drafted after not starting for the Tigers.

(Read full post)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's only going to look like an all-comer's combine.

LSU's Pro Day on Wednesday will feature a whopping 28 participants, the result of a year where the Tigers sent 13 players to the NFL combine. Among the players will will participate is former LSU player Tyrann Mathieu.

Of the 28, 21 were members of LSU's 2012 team, while seven more participants were members of past LSU teams and are trying to catch the interest of teams as free agents.

Fans can watch the event live on ESPN3 at 1 p.m. ET.

Here are the players who are participating, according to LSU:

2012 team members: DE Chauncey Aghayere, K Drew Alleman, TE Chase Clement, DT Josh Downs, OT Josh Dworaczyk, DE Lavar Edwards, OT Chris Faulk, RB Michael Ford, DT Bennie Logan, C P.J. Lonergan, DB-KR Tyrann Mathieu, DE Barkevious Mingo, LB Kevin Minter, DE Sam Montgomery, S Eric Reid, WR Russell Shepard, CB Tharold Simon, RB Spencer Ware, P Brad Wing, DT Cleveland Davis, TE Tyler Edwards

Past Players (last year at LSU): OG Will Blackwell (2011), LB-DB Karnell Hatcher (2011), OL T-Bob Hebert (2011), QB Jordan Jefferson (2011), QB Jarrett Lee (2011), DS Alex Russian (2011), RB Charles Scott (2009).

Mailbag: Quarterbacks, anyone? 

March, 1, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gary Laney took your questions:

From Will (Houston): If Zach Mettenberger is going to be the starting quarterback, the big question is, who will be the No. 2 coming out of spring?


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DBs from SEC blanket combine

February, 22, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites took a look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Click here to read the entire predraft series. Today: Defensive backs and special teams.

LSU Tigers


The obvious acronym for Louisiana State University is "LSU." But to many, the Baton Rouge school gets the title "DBU" for its mass production of NFL defensive backs, from cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne to safeties like LaRon Landry. This draft will do nothing to harm that reputation. Three LSU defensive backs -- including the booted-from-the-team Tyrann Mathieu -- were invited to the NFL combine this week, a year after three (Claiborne, Ron Brooks and Brandon Taylor) were taken in the draft.

(Read full post)

LSU has 13 invited to combine

February, 7, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If there's any doubt why LSU will continue to land top-notch talent in recruiting, Thursday gave an answer.

LSU had 13 players invited to the NFL draft combine Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis, Ind., the most of any school in the nation. Among the 13, which includes ex-Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, only two were seniors. The other 11 left college with eligibility remaining.

It's one more than the total mustered by Florida State.

LSU set a record when 11 players opted to leave school a year early to enter the draft. That all 11 were invited to the combine affirms that the departures were legitimate. The combine only takes the players it deems most likely to have a chance to get drafted or make a team.

The 11 underclassmen invited were: defensive ends Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, linebacker Kevin Minter, defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, cornerbacks Mathieu and Tharold Simon, offensive tackle Chris Faulk, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing.

The two seniors were defensive end Lavar Edwards and center P.J. Lonergan.

There were 333 players on the list, 79 from the SEC. LSU was one of four SEC schools to have double-digits invited to the combine. Georgia had 11 players invited and Alabama and Georgia each had 10 invited.

History says LSU will have pros, busts 

January, 29, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- As LSU puts the finishing touches on its 2013 recruiting class, one might ask what to expect from the incoming class.

One way to judge is through history.

Looking at the last three classes to complete their eligibility -- and the first three that existed in the RecruitingNation era (starting in 2006) -- one can see some noticeable patterns.


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Is the three-year cycle sustainable? 

January, 9, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Around the nation, and to those who follow LSU from an arm's length, the news that trickled out from Nicholson Drive in the last week was alarming.

Vadal Alexander
Steve Franz/Getty ImagesVadal Alexander is one of five true freshmen that started for LSU this season, something that might become more commonplace.
The Tigers lost nine, count them, nine underclassmen to the NFL draft over the weekend, leaving the defense in a rebuilding mode and their deep stable of running backs an injury away from being dangerously thin.

It was called a mass exodus. Best we can tell, it set the record for the number of underclassmen leaving one school early for the NFL. Before they left, LSU figured to have 10 defensive starters back. After the early exits, it was down to four.

But understand this: It didn't shock those close to the program.


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After Ford, does LSU look for a RB? 

January, 8, 2013
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Jeremy HillNelson Chenault/US PresswireJeremy Hill will be the leading returning rusher on a stable of LSU running backs that suddenly looks thin.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The future of the running back position seemed to be figured out for LSU.

All five backs in the Tigers' 2012 stable were underclassmen. Freshman Jeremy Hill led the group with 755 rushing yards, meaning none of the three juniors had done enough to warrant leaving early for the NFL.

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With trio of departures, LSU DL has holes 

January, 7, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It looks like LSU will be starting over on the defensive line, as expected.

Sources told ESPN's Joe Schad that Tigers junior defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan will all leave the Tigers a year early for the NFL draft. Their departures will increase LSU's growing list of defections to eight, but they are hardly the most surprising on the list.

All three have been projected as first-round picks since last spring, so the feeling for most of the 2012 season was that it would be the last for the trio of juniors. With senior Josh Downs holding down the fourth starting defensive line spot for most of the season at defensive tackle next to Logan, that means LSU will be looking to break in an entirely new starting defensive line next season.

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