LSU Tigers: Kevin Minter
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.
“It’s a natural thing when you lose the number of people that we lost. It’s natural for some people to think, ‘Well, they’re going to be down a little bit.’ But we don’t think that way,” said Chavis, entering his fifth season as LSU’s defensive coordinator. “We’re going to work to be the very best that we can be, and certainly if we reach the potential that we have in terms of the quality of the players, then we’re going to be fine.”
Yes, the Tigers will be young and will face an extremely difficult schedule, but an infusion of talent up front -- including early enrollee Christian LaCouture at defensive tackle and ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower -- gives LSU’s coaches hope there won’t be a big drop-off after losing Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Lavar Edwards to the draft.
“I like what we’re getting out of our veterans there,” LSU coach Les Miles said after Friday’s practice. The young guys are stepping to the front, and they seemed much more polished even from when they arrived.”
As with all young players, however, the trick is preparing them for the physicality, speed and knowledge base necessary to compete at the college level.
“When you have 92,000 people coming in, you’re not really going to have a lot of time to think,” LaCouture said. “I just want to make sure I have everything down when we go through that process and make sure I’m ready for Week 1.”
The freshmen are merely role players filling secondary roles on the depth chart for now, though. Now is the time for players like Barrow to seize the spotlight after Kevin Minter’s starmaking 2012 performance helped him become a second-round draft pick. And for Johnson and Ferguson to make good on their enormous potential now that the aforementioned big-name defensive linemen are in the pros. And for young cornerback standouts and a deep linebacking corps to perform at a high enough level that the Tigers can sort out their questions with the rotation up front.
Johnson is the No. 15 prospect for next year’s draft on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s most recent top 32, and even if the two-deep figures to be loaded with underclassmen, LSU has enough of a veteran presence from players like Loston, Barrow and Ferguson to help the Tigers remain a defensive force even while replacing so many major contributors.
“I come to work every day with the No. 1 goal of getting this defense ready to compete in the SEC. These guys are ready to compete,” said Chavis, whose units have finished 26th, 12th, second and eighth nationally in total defense since he arrived at LSU in 2009. “But everybody saying that we’re going to drop off, well, we don’t expect that, and we’ve got to work hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
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.
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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.
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.
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. -- For the first time since the disappointing loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU will be in action for public consumption Saturday when the Tigers play their annual spring game at Tiger Stadium.
Like many teams in college football, most of the Tigers' preparations are done behind closed doors. For the public, there is no access to practices. For the media, there are a mere 10-15 minutes of open practices most days. For students, there's Thursday's open practice (4 p.m. with student ID).
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If you see LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow's first name and wonder how to properly pronounce it, just remember, it rhymes with "machine."
As in, "Lamin, the Tackling Machine."
That might be appropriate for the rising senior linebacker coming off a junior year in which he eclipsed the 100-tackle mark (104), finishing second on the team behind potential NFL first-round draft pick Kevin Minter. Many expected Barrow, who accumulated his numbers playing on the weak side, to move into Minter's spot at middle linebacker, a position that, in recent seasons, been manned by future NFL players like Minter, Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera.
That, however, hasn't happened, at least not yet as LSU experiments with junior D.J. Welter, who has never started a game for the Tigers, in the middle. It doesn't mean that Barrow won't be the linebackers' leader in a way that Sheppard and Minter clearly were.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- D.J. Welter struggled as a student so much that he missed all of the 2012 season because he was academically ineligible.
That has not stopped him from progressing so much as a student of the game of football that he might end up being LSU's starting middle linebacker.
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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."
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.
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).
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.
It looked, however, like it might have been something else, like a symbolic black eye that came from a jab thrown by Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, or from a hook fired by a couple of surprisingly early departures from his team to the NFL, part of a whopping 13 NFL departures after a 10-3 season.
At any rate, Miles looked ready to put the pink eye, and any symbolic black eye, behind him as LSU begins drills on Thursday.
Here is what we learned from Miles on Wednesday:
Miles confirmed that Collins, now a junior, will get his chance to slide over to tackle, but added that redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins will get a look at the position as well. If Hawkins proves to be the better tackle candidate, Collins would move back inside.
Miles said if Collins indeed wins the left tackle spot, senior Josh Williford would be the likely choice to start at left guard. Junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika came to LSU at 370 pounds, Miles said, and is more likely to play on the right side, where Trai Turner returns as the starting guard, Miles said.
2. Lamin Barrow gets first shot at MLB: Miles also indicated that Barrow would get the first shot at the vacant starting middle linebacker role, a spot vacated by Kevin Minter's early NFL departure.
Miles said Barrow " can do the job outside," where he excelled with 107 tackles at weak-side linebacker last season. If one of LSU's six Class of 2012 linebacker recruits or another veteran -- Miles mentioned junior D.J. Welter -- steps up at middle linebacker, Barrow can easily move back to his weak side spot.
3. Bolden, Maclin out: Miles said quarterback Rob Bolden, who made news when he transferred from Penn State to LSU last summer following the NCAA fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, will not participate in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in the off-season.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU fans, do all the early defections to the NFL have you down?
Does Chris Faulk's early exit have you baffled? Does Brad Wing's departure make you depressed?
Never fear. LSU still has star power and reason to believe it will remain a serious SEC contender. Here are eight stars returning you can feel good about as spring practice begins:
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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.
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?