LSU Tigers: Brandon Taylor

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings got the first chance to work with LSU's starting offense when the Tigers opened preseason practice on Monday.

Now he must somehow retain that honor once the full team begins practicing together later this week -- and that won't be easy with freshman quarterback Brandon Harris breathing down his neck.

"Anthony threw the ball real well. He knew the offense like the back of his hand," wide receiver Travin Dural said after working with Jennings and the first-team offense in Monday morning's practice. "I'm not sure how Brandon's going to do, but I have a lot of confidence that he's going to do real well in the afternoon. And then when we come together, it's going to be pretty good. They're going to show that ability and one of them's going to emerge as the starter."

LSU's team split into two groups on Monday, as it will for each of the first four days of practice, with one group composed largely of starters and a handful of freshmen working out in the morning, while a collection of mostly reserves and the remaining freshmen practices in the afternoon.

LSU coach Les Miles said on Sunday that LSU's two quarterback contenders, sophomore Jennings and early enrollee Harris, will practice with both groups in the first four days before the Friday's first full-squad practice.

Neither quarterback was available to speak to media members on Monday.

Harris practiced with the afternoon group on Monday -- as did several other blue-chip signees in the nation's No. 2 recruiting class like tailback Leonard Fournette and receiver Trey Quinn. Among the freshmen who practiced with the varsity group in the morning were safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Clifton Garrett and receiver Malachi Dupre.

"Once they come in and they do 7-on-7 [in summer workouts], they kind of get a feel for things, but this is really what's going to tell the tale," running back Terrence Magee said. "We're just as intrigued at seeing them play as the coaches are, and to get out there and teach them and help them because we had guys before us that were the same way, ready to see us play and bring [us] along. For me, when I leave, I want to be able to look back at some of those young guys and say, ‘I helped him get to where he's at.' "

New No. 18: With that attitude in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Magee was wearing a new jersey number, 18, when he practiced with the varsity on Monday morning.

LSU made it official on Sunday night that the senior running back would be the next recipient of the coveted number, following a vote to determine the most deserving player. The Tigers have a tradition each year in which they select a leader who best represents the team on and off the field to wear No. 18, and this year, it will be Magee.

"The No. 18 really isn't significant of all the leaders that we have on this team, from every senior that we have on the team, from La'el Collins to Jermauria Rasco to even some of the younger guys like Kwon Alexander," Magee said. "They wear their number and they're still leaders on this team. It's not going to change my mindset or how I do."

Magee breaks a streak of three straight seasons where a defensive player had worn No. 18. Linebacker Lamin Barrow wore it last season, following defensive tackle Bennie Logan and safety Brandon Taylor in previous years.

"They really showed me what it means to wear the No. 18," Magee said. "They represented it well and laid the foundation for me to continue the tradition. It's a tremendous honor and I'm very excited that the coaches thought enough of me to pick me."

Fournette's debut: Believe it or not, Fournette didn't take his first handoff at LSU 99 yards for a touchdown -- although maybe it's just because that first handoff came in a simple position drill.

Seriously, though, the heavily-hyped tailback -- as well as the other members of the touted recruiting class -- had even the veterans curious about how they'd look in practice.

"I might go out there and peek when they practice this afternoon ... just see what I'm going to be going up against in a couple days," linebacker D.J. Welter said with a grin.

Thompson, Rasco back; Mills practices: Safety Corey Thompson and defensive end Jermauria Rasco both practiced Monday with the starting defense after missing spring practice while recovering from offseason surgeries.

Thompson wore a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, but seems to have recovered most of his mobility.

"He looks good. He's doing better," safety Ronald Martin said. "Hopefully he gets back up to 100 percent sometime during camp, but today he looked great out there."

A surprise from the afternoon workout was safety Jalen Mills' presence on the practice field. Mills has been indefinitely suspended since June following an incident where he allegedly punched a woman. East Baton Rouge district attorney Hillar Moore informed the Baton Rouge Advocate early Monday that he plans to charge Mills with misdemeanor simple battery, which is punishable with up to six months in prison or up to a $1,000 fine.

An LSU spokesman said Miles will address the junior safety's status with the team when he meets with reporters Monday evening. Running back Jeremy Hill sat out the first five quarters of the 2013 season after pleading guilty to a simple battery charge prior to the season.

"We've just got to keep getting better, keep helping each other get better as a whole, keep trying to [be] cohesive and get better as a unit like we are," Martin said. "And once [Mills] comes back, if he comes back, I hope he does come back, he just steps back into what we were doing this spring and just continue to grind."

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'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:

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.

 

 

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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Ready or not, Simon now elder statesman 

August, 17, 2012
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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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LSU's Bennie Logan wears No. 18 well

August, 16, 2012
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For Bennie Logan, getting to wear the No. 18 for his junior season at LSU amounts to an affirmation.

[+] EnlargeBennie Logan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBennie Logan will be wearing No. 18 this season, which is traditionally given to the player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger both on and off the field.
Not that he needed much more positive feedback for his play at defensive tackle. He is a pre-season All-SEC pick and many project him to be a first-round NFL draft pick after this season.

But getting to wear the No. 18 represents something more for Logan, a country kid from the small town of Coushatta, La., who was raised with a down-home work ethic.

"To me, it's the coaches, faculty, my teammates all recognizing the hard work I do," Logan said. "It feels good that the hard work pays off."

The No. 18 has become a quirky tradition at LSU. It started when quarterback Matt Mauck wore No. 18 in LSU's 2003 national championship season. After his departure, he passed it to fullback Jacob Hester. It then went to tight end Richard Dickson, running back Richard Murphy, then last year, to safety Brandon Taylor.

The symbolic passing down of the number to a player deemed "deserving" has turned into a tradition. Head coach Les Miles said the honoree is picked through a process with feedback from players, coaches and support staff.

(Read full post)

With spring football and the NFL draft in the books, here are five things to know about LSU's secondary:

[+] EnlargeEric Reid
Butch Dill/Getty ImagesEric Reid (1) might be taken in the first round of the NFL draft in 2013.
1. LSU's still DBU: For the second straight year, LSU had the NFL draft's first selected defensive back when cornerback Morris Claiborne went No. 6 overall to the Dallas Cowboys a year after Patrick Peterson went No. 5 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.

Claiborne, safety Brandon Taylor (third round, Chargers) and cornerback Ron Brooks (fourth round, Bills) became the first trio of LSU defensive backs to be selected in the same draft since the 1960s, when the AFL and NFL held separate drafts. And LSU has had defensive backs selected in six straight drafts, including first-rounders Claiborne, Peterson and LaRon Landry (No. 6 overall pick in 2007 by Washington).

So LSU's place as a producer of NFL-quality DB talent has never been stronger. Already, ESPN's Todd McShay has projected safety Eric Reid as a first-rounder for next year. So don't expect the NFL-quality defensive backs coming out of Baton Rouge to end any time soon.

(Read full post)

Eight sign as undrafted free agents

April, 30, 2012
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Only five of LSU's NFL hopefuls made it into the seven rounds of the NFL draft, but plenty more were involved in a flurry of free agent activity during the weekend.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Lee
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe San Diego Chargers signed former LSU QB Jarrett Lee to a free agent deal.
Following the draft's conclusion Saturday night, NFL teams began contacting valued undrafted players about signing free agent contracts. To date, eight LSU players have joined the professional ranks as undrafted free agents, the school announced Monday morning.

Several of those players will be joining their draft pick counterparts. Both center T-Bob Hebert and tight end Deangelo Peterson signed with the St. Louis Rams, who drafted defensive tackle Michael Brockers 14th overall Thursday night.

After San Diego drafted Brandon Taylor in the third round Friday night, the Chargers signed quarterback Jarrett Lee to a free agent deal. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also picked up multiple LSU products, as they signed both linebacker Ryan Baker and quarterback Jordan Jefferson to contracts.

Defensive end Kendrick Adams signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and guard Will Blackwell signed with the Carolina Panthers. Fullback James Stampley has been invited to a free agent tryout with the Seattle Seahawks.

LSU has two picked in first round

April, 26, 2012
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When the Dallas Cowboys drafted LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday, he became the latest to prove that where one is ranked on the recruiting boards in high school does not predict where one will eventually be on draft day.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brockers
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMichael Brockers used his time at LSU to emerge as a premier defensive tackle.
In fact, a disconnect between how players are ranked -- and even what position they’ll eventually play -- is what marks the early picks in LSU's NFL draft class. Of the two LSU players picked in Thursday’s first round and the ones who might go in the second round, two were unheralded and only one plays the position he was projected to play coming out of high school.

Take Michael Brockers, who was projected as a defensive end coming out of high school, but emerged Thursday as a first round pick as a defensive tackle at No. 14 to the St. Louis Rams. Or safety Brandon Taylor, who will likely go in the second or third round today after projecting as a cornerback by recruiting services out of high school.

Claiborne was an unheralded recruit coming out of Fair Park High School in Shreveport, La., in 2009. A high school quarterback, Claiborne became a dominant corner for his home-state Tigers, showing NFL scouts not just speed and good size, but impressively fluid hips and ball skills.

(Read full post)

NEW ORLEANS – Thoughts race through Tyrann Mathieu’s brain as his piercing stare finds the opposing offense’s huddle.

For only a split second his eyes wander, as he scans his surroundings. He checks to see what down it is. Glances at the yard marker to calculate the precise distance needed for the first down, then communicates with his teammates.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireHis game instinct and hours of study help Tyrann Mathieu make the most of his physical abilities.
LSU’s superstar sophomore cornerback finds some sort of order with his defensive comrades before fixing his eyes back on the huddle. In real time, it’s been only a matter of seconds, maybe shorter, but in Mathieu’s brain it’s been an eternity.

Before the unassuming quarterback even receives the snap, Mathieu already has a pretty good idea of where the ball is headed.

In fact, he knows before the huddle is broken.

The Honey Badger is well into hunter mode as he waits for the exact moment to strike.

Once the quarterback has the ball, he assumes it’s his decision on where to send it and how to avoid Mathieu, but usually it isn’t. Usually, the Honey Badger’s instincts direct him toward where the ball should go. If they fail, he’s usually too fast for anyone to notice.

“You kind of see the play before it happens and put yourself in position to make a play,” Mathieu said.

“Practicing plays and seeing it in real speed is one thing, but to know what formation they may line up in before the snap, just off down and distance, that gives you an advantage.”

For all the talk about how physically gifted Mathieu is, it’s his brain and his eyes that do the lifting. What you don’t see are the brain waves zipping around, helping him determine where to position himself. What you don’t see are his eyes zeroing in on a player, a part of the field or the ball.

Because of countless hours Mathieu puts in during game weeks meticulously dissecting each play, each player tendency, how long it takes for a quarterback to release the ball, what receivers’ favorite routes are and each trend of every team he faces, Mathieu has an acute sense of vision and exemplary timing that make him the nation’s most exciting – and feared – defensive player.

“Tyrann has an unusual view,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “His eye gets a little bit big and he says, ‘We’re fixin’ to do something,’ and generally it happens.”

Mathieu should obviously credit his ability to good genes, but he mostly attributes his mental advantages to his homework. While he can have a very big personality out on the field, Mathieu is quietly a nerd of the game. He puts just as much time into honing his ball skills and shaping his body as he does studying his opponents.

Junior corner Morris Claiborne couldn’t come close to counting the hours the two spend watching game film. It’s almost second nature for both to wander into the film room at odd times of the day.

Claiborne and Mathieu constantly pick each other’s brains for new material and not a film session goes by where both don’t learn something new about a player or formation.

Mathieu’s speed and athleticism played a major role in his ability to lead LSU with 70 tackles, grab seven takeaways, force six fumbles and defend nine passes this season, but he’d be nowhere without his awareness.

“Some people can make plays, but they don’t know actually what to do,” Claiborne said. “When you can put both of them together, it’s amazing.”

Another important ingredient in Mathieu’s game is his confidence. The Honey Badger feeds off his mettle. Mathieu said he tries to play within the defensive scheme as much as he can, but there’s no escaping his need for improvisation. If he thinks he can get to the ball, he’ll make a break for it.

“He thinks he can make every play,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said.

Added Mathieu: “The things you see, you have to believe in it. You can’t second-guess yourself. When you see something that looks familiar, just go ahead on and make the play.”

Mathieu’s array of talents will be put to the test one last time this season in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday — against an Alabama team he says he played poorly against the first time.

Mathieu didn’t exactly take what he wanted back on Nov. 5 … but the Honey Badger is a relentless animal.

“Oh, he always finds a way to get to the ball,” cornerback Brandon Taylor said.

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