LSU Tigers: Noel Ellis

Today, we continue our break down of each position group in the SEC by looking at an area of defense that has a lot to prove after last season.

We’re talking, of course, about the secondaries.

Maybe it was that they were young and inexperienced. Maybe it was a case of so many quarterbacks being the opposite. But whatever it was, the league’s defensive backs should have a chip on their shoulder after the beating they took in 2013.

With that said, let’s dig into which programs are poised to rebound and sport the best secondaries in the league.

Secondary position rankings

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesOle Miss safety Cody Prewitt is the leader of an experienced, talented Rebels secondary.
1. Ole Miss: Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We’re probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league’s top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on.

2. Florida: The Gators have plenty of issues. Defensive back is not one of them, however. Despite losing Cody Riggs to transfer and Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson to the NFL, Florida has plenty of talent remaining in the secondary. Only a sophomore, Vernon Hargreaves III is arguably the best corner in the SEC. If either Jalen Tabor or Duke Dawson emerges opposite him, you’re talking about a good one-two punch. And with three experienced safeties to lean on -- Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole -- coach Will Muschamp should like what he sees from the secondary as a whole.

3. LSU: Getting Jalen Mills to safety would have been huge. But with his status up in the air, LSU must move on. It's still DBU -- Defensive Back University -- and thankfully for coach Les Miles, he’s got plenty more to work with. Ronald Martin has experience at safety, along with Corey Thompson, who missed the spring with an injury. At corner, LSU is in good shape with Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson in position to start, not to mention Jalen Collins, a former Freshman All-SEC choice in 2012. And since this is LSU and someone always emerges from nowhere, be sure to keep an eye on Jamal Adams. The former No. 2-rated safety in the ESPN 300 didn't enroll early but should have every chance to play as a true freshman. If Mills is able to return and some the young talent on LSU's roster develops as expected, the Tigers could have an argument for the top secondary in the league.

4. Alabama: Talent and experience. Alabama has one but not the other, and you can probably guess which. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Deion Belue are all gone. That fourth spot in the secondary? It was never settled to begin with. Getting Landon Collins back at safety, however, is huge, as the former five-star prospect has All-SEC potential. But who starts opposite him is up in the air with Nick Perry coming off an injury, Jarrick Williams entrenched at nickel corner/star and Laurence "Hootie" Jones early in his development. At corner, Alabama’s hopes are pinned to two freshmen -- Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey -- along with a slew of unproven prospects such as Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Bradley Sylve.

5. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen loves his defense heading into this season, and considering what he has at defensive back it’s easy to see why. The Bulldogs are in the enviable position of having five legitimate SEC-caliber players at both safety and cornerback. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun are two rock-solid corners, and Will Redmond is a good third off the bench. Kendrick Market and Deontay Evans might start at safety today, but Jay Hughes is back from injury and Justin Cox could very well be the most talented of the bunch after transitioning from corner this spring.

6. Auburn: The Tigers secondary was atrocious for most of last season, surrendering 260.2 passing yards per game through Jan. 1 (No. 104 nationally). Really, it wasn’t until the BCS title game that we saw some fight out of them. So was that first half against Florida State a mirage or a glimpse of the future? Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has to hope it’s the latter. With Jonathon Mincy at corner, Jermaine Whitehead at safety and Robenson Therezie playing the star, he’s got some experienced parts to build around. Meanwhile, juco transfer Derrick Moncrief has the look of an impact player at safety. If Joshua Holsey is back to 100 percent, Johnson will have a better deck of cards to play with than last season.

7. Georgia: The good news is that the two main culprits from last season’s heartbreaking loss to Auburn -- Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons -- are gone. The bad news is that those same players were expected to start this season. Throw in the loss of Shaq Wiggins and you’re looking at Georgia, under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, essentially starting over in the secondary. It’s not all bad, though. There might not be much depth at cornerback, but veteran Damian Swann is a good place to start. And the same can be said of safety, where Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger have some experience.

8. Tennessee: The Volunteers have one of the deeper secondaries in the SEC, returning all four starters, but it’s a group that received its fair share of criticism last season after giving up 283 yards per game. There’s still talent back there, though, with safety Brian Randolph and cornerback Cameron Sutton. In particular, Randolph led the team in interceptions (4) and finished second in tackles (75), and though he missed the majority of spring due to injury, he’s expected back for fall camp. At cornerback, freshman Emmanuel Moseley arrived in January and could make a push for playing time after a strong spring.

9. South Carolina: You have to fear the unknown if you’re a Gamecocks fan. Brison Williams is a solid safety, but both of your starting corners from last season -- Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree -- are gone, and the senior you expected to be starting by now, Kadetrix Marcus, is trailing sophomore Chaz Elder on the depth chart. Rico McWilliams, the corner with the most returning experience, isn’t even a sure thing to start. A redshirt freshman, Ali Groves, is in line to start at the second cornerback spot, but keep an eye on two talented true freshmen who could play early: Wesley Green and Chris Lammons.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett has all-conference potential, but the Texas A&M secondary is filled with question marks.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies return plenty of experience in the secondary this season. That's good in the sense that they have a defensive backfield with a lot of SEC football under its belt but make no mistake, this unit has a lot of room for improvement. Cornerback Deshazor Everett is the best player of the group and could be headed for an all-conference season, while junior corner De'Vante Harris continues to grow as a player. The safeties -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt -- must show improvement this season after last year's performance. The nickel position is open and a number of candidates could step in, including sophomore Noel Ellis or junior Devonta Burns.

11. Missouri: Much of the attention has been paid to reloading on the defensive line after the departures of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but Missouri should be fine there. The real concern, however, is the secondary, as three of last year’s starters (E.J. Gaines, Randy Ponder and Matt White) are gone. Getting Braylon Webb back at safety is huge, but he’ll need help. Ian Simon and Duron Singleton should vie for the second safety spot, and John Gibson and Aarion Penton are two of the more experienced options at corner. The wild card in all of this, though, is an incoming class that featured seven defensive backs.

12. Kentucky: With two of the better pass rushers in the league, one would think that Kentucky could force the opposing quarterback into throwing some interceptions. That didn’t happen last season. The Wildcats were dead last in the SEC with just three interceptions. Mark Stoops and his staff are hoping to turn that around this season, and they have plenty of capable bodies to work with on the back end. All four starters are back, five if you include nickel back Blake McClain -- who was third on the team in tackles as a freshman -- and junior college transfer A.J. Stamps might be the most talented defensive back on the roster.

13. Arkansas: Depth is going to be a concern for new secondary coach Clay Jennings, who is stressing turnovers this spring after the Razorbacks came in dead last in that category in the SEC in 2013. But in terms of front-line starters, he’s got some experience to work with, as every projected starter at safety and corner is a junior or senior. The most reliable of the bunch is safety Alan Turner, who led the team in tackles last season and should continue to play a pivotal role on defense. Another one to watch is cornerback Tevin Mitchell. It wasn’t that long ago that the 6-foot senior was an SEC All-Freshman selection. For Arkansas to take the next step, he’ll need to fulfill the early promise of his career.

14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were spoiled last season with four seniors starting in the secondary. You don’t replace the talent and experience of an Andre Hal and a Kenny Ladler overnight. And you certainly will have a hard time doing so when the entire coaching staff has changed. But such is new head coach Derek Mason’s task. The good news for him is that the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare as the entire second string of the secondary -- Paris Head, Jahmel McIntosh, Andrew Williamson and Torren McGaster -- returns after having played in a combined 50 games last season.

A&M finds success in Louisiana

November, 19, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When it comes to the presence schools have in their respective home states, few are stronger than LSU in the state of Louisiana.

The Tigers' success, conference affiliation and game day atmosphere are just a few of the unique advantages for natives of the Pelican State.

[+] EnlargeDarian Claiborne
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesTexas A&M freshman Darian Claiborne (48) took over the middle linebacker job before the fourth game of the season.
Port Allen (Louisiana) High School head coach Guy Blanchard vividly remembers the emotions of one of his players, Darian Claiborne, when LSU took a tough loss early in 2012.

"When Darian was in January of his junior year (of high school) and LSU lost the national championship game to Alabama, you would have thought his best friend died the next day at school," Blanchard said. "He was a big LSU fan. You can't grow up in Southeast Louisiana and not have some kind of attachment or an eye on the prize, however you want to say it, [to LSU]."

Claiborne, a true freshman, is now the starting middle linebacker for No. 12 Texas A&M, which heads to Death Valley on Saturday to play No. 22 LSU. But Port Allen is fewer than seven miles from the LSU campus, so it's understandable how he could have envisioned a future with the Bayou Bengals.

But Texas A&M’s staff developed a strong relationship with Claiborne, a three-star prospect. Furthermore, the Aggies made a strong impression and made it clear they wanted him while LSU didn’t officially extend an offer. The Aggies’ diligence paid off because Claiborne has played a key part on the A&M defense.

In recent years, Texas A&M has had success recruiting the state of Louisiana. Texas is and will continue to be the home base for Texas A&M recruiting for good reason -- it's fertile recruiting ground that most colleges attempt to pick from, because of the vast number of players and caliber of talent the state produces. But Louisiana is also known for producing high-caliber recruits as well and head coach Kevin Sumlin has made sure to make "The Boot" part of his recruiting footprint.

Currently, the Aggies have nine players that are from Louisiana on the roster and all of them are on the Aggies' two deep. Some of them have been recruited by the current staff, others are holdovers from the previous staff, but all of them currently contribute on the field.

All nine are defensive players and five of them are regular starters: Claiborne, defensive back Deshazor Everett, defensive ends Julien Obioha, safety Floyd Raven and defensive end Gavin Stansbury. The others have played key roles: true freshman cornerback Noel Ellis has seen significant time in recent weeks and is the Aggies' future at the nickel cornerback position. Cornerback Tramain Jacobs started six games this season while the Aggies' dealt with injuries in the secondary and has been a reliable rotation player among the cornerbacks. True freshman linebacker Shaan Washington has found his way onto the field in a special teams capacity but also saw time at linebacker early in the year and defensive tackle Ivan Robinson has been a part of the rotation at his position when healthy.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett, another Louisiana native, was recruited my Mike Sherman's staff but has been the Aggies' most reliable defensive back.
There's no doubt the Aggies have received bang for their buck with the "Louisianimals," the term former Texas A&M center Patrick Lewis coined for his fellow Louisiana products last season. Claiborne and Everett have been arguably the Aggies' best defensive players this season. Everett has done whatever the Texas A&M coaches have asked, whether it's playing safety while Raven was injured or going back to his traditional position of cornerback, while playing with a broken thumb early in the year. Claiborne got the starting job at middle linebacker -- which is not his traditional position -- before the fourth game of the season and hasn't let go of it.

Stansbury has emerged as a playmaker while Obioha and Raven have each been a steady presence at their respective positions.

Even when he was at Houston, where the Cougars put their primary focus on their own city, Sumlin's staff would travel across the border to recruit talent out of Louisiana. But in the SEC it's a different story, because the caliber of player Texas A&M is searching for is often the same that LSU is trying to keep in state.

With the Tigers being the signature program in Louisiana, it makes it all the more difficult to pull a kid out of the state when LSU wants him.

The Aggies are experiencing that in their early SEC years. In this recruiting cycle, the Aggies are going after some of Louisiana's finest, like ESPN 300 athlete Speedy Noil and ESPN 300 defensive end Gerald Willis III. The Aggies are also trying to make inroads with the top 2015 prospects from the state, like receiver Tyron Johnson.

All have LSU offers and the battle for Noil and Willis III has been hotly contested and will be until signing day approaches.

But the Aggies have found success in recruiting prospects from the state that might have been overlooked or not as heavily pursued. If those players continue to play like Claiborne, the in-state powerhouse will start taking notice.

"Yeah, we've run across them at times," said LSU coach Les Miles of seeing A&M recruiting in Louisiana. "We recognize some of the [players] that they have there, and we wish them the very best. It's an opportunity to play in this league, and we're for that."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When players like Tyrann Mathieu, Anthony Johnson and Odell Beckham star for LSU football teams, you better believe LSU fans don't take it for granted.

All three are from New Orleans, which, as a metropolitan area, has not been the most loyal Louisiana city to the Tigers.

NEW ORLEANS -- When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in 2005, it looked like a game-changer, maybe even a game-ender, for the city's storied high school football history.

Many of the city's schools never re-opened. Others came back as shells of their former selves -- even under different names with different missions. The traditional Catholic League broke apart as some schools struggled to rebound. The future looked bleak.


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BATON ROUGE, La. -- How deep is the football talent in Louisiana?

Consider this: Every football bowl subdivision (FBS) conference in the nation has had a least two Louisiana players sign letters of intent with its member schools for the 2013 recruiting cycle, according to the ESPN database of recruits.


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LSU gets commit from loaded HS

February, 24, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Donnie Alexander is used to being surrounded by high-end college talent.

Playing for Louisiana Class 4A state champion New Orleans Edna Karr, Alexander played on the same team as 2013 ESPN 300 prospects Standish Dobard (Miami (Fla) signee) and Noel Ellis (Texas A&M) and 2014 watch list prospects Gerald Willis III and Speedy Noil.

Count Alexander among the high-end Karr prospects.

Donnie Alexander
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comNew Orleans linebacker Donnie Alexander committed to LSU on Sunday, becoming the fifth 2014 commit for the Tigers.
The 2014 linebacker was offered by LSU on a weekend trip to Baton Rouge. After returning home and talking it over with his mother, he decided to pull the trigger and commit.

"LSU's the school I always wanted to go to since I was small," he said. "I didn't really want to wait."

The name may be an unknown to fans, who were perhaps expecting one of the 12 Louisiana players on the ESPN Watch List to be the next to commit.

Truth be told, Alexander was surprised, too.

"I was (surprised)," he said. "I really wasn't expecting it. They like my speed. They like that I'm a good tackler. They like that I make plays."

In that regard, he is perhaps comparable to 2013 signee Duke Riley, who share's Alexander's smaller build, but speed that will allow him to be versatile in areas like pass coverage.

"I think I do have good coverage skills," he said. "I get good drops and I'll come up and stick a slot receiver."

And he knows how to win. Karr went unbeaten in 2014, beating a talented Monroe Neville team for the 4A title.

"At Karr, we strive toward winning and being successful young men," he said. "That's what our coaches preach to us. Now that we've won, we have to maintain, don't let it get to our head."
In Louisiana's prep football playoffs, a 21 seed (New Orleans/McDonogh 35) made the Class 4A semifinals, a 22 seed (Kendell Beckwith-led Clinton/East Feliciana) made the Class 3A semis and three teams seeded 21 or lower made the Class 2A quarterfinals.

Considering that the five enrollment classes have 32-team fields, one might say this was the year of the upset.

The Superdome
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiState champion are traditionally determined in the Superdome in a one-weekend event that began in 1981.
Until now.

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Taking your questions on LSU football and recruiting:

Do you think the talks with Arkansas were ever serious for Les Miles? Did Miles use it as leverage for more money?

Miles used the word "sincere" to describe his dialogue with Arkansas over its job opening. That's probably a good word choice because it reflects that Miles took it seriously and listened, but falls short of any suggestion that Miles was ever anywhere near leaving Baton Rouge.

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Leonard Fournette is now in off-season mode. The dream's long over for Jeryl Brazil and countless others.

But for 20 Louisiana teams and many of the state's top prospects, semifinal week brings them within one game of their ultimate goal as high school football players from the Pelican State: A chance to play at the LHSAA/State Farm Prep Classic in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

In Louisiana, state championship games in five enrollment classes are played in the Superdome over two days. This year, the Classic is Dec. 7-8. The matchups will be determined in packed prep stadiums around the state on Friday. Here's a brief look at the matchups:

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Thanksgiving brings prime-time matchups 

November, 21, 2012
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In the Louisiana High School Athletic Association football playoffs, Thanksgiving weekend is the time the state's football playoffs shift gears. With each of the five classes down to eight teams, the quarterfinals usually give football fans plenty of intriguing matchups for fans after Black Friday shopping is done.

This year, fans will miss some top prospects. Jeryl Brazil's Loranger team was upset by Jennings last week while Darian Claiborne's Port Allen team was knocked off by Brusly, spoiling a would-be Brazil-Claiborne showdown in Class 3A.

But most of the state's best players are still alive, some in potentially tight matchups Friday. Here are the best ones.

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As Louisiana's high school football playoffs reach their second week, the matchups get better in the five classes, each whittled down to a field of 16 remaining teams, many who feature some of the state's top prospects. In Class 5A, West Monroe and Scott/Acadiana meet in a matchup of traditional powers. In 4A, Neville meets Breaux Bridge in a rematch of an epic semifinal matchup last year. Here are the top games involving major prospects this week: Class 5A

No. 16 Geismar/Dutchtown (8-2) at No. 1 Metairie/Rummel (10-0): Dutchtown has plenty of talent, including Mississippi State commit Shelby Christy at wide reciever. It was surprising to see the Griffons slip to the No. 16 seed. It's a tough draw for the top-seeded Raiders, led by dual-threat quarterback Damian Williams, who sports a Kansas State offer.

No. 9 Monroe/Ouachita Parish (9-2) at No. 25 Ruston (6-5): The Monroe area, which won three of last year's five state championships last season, showed its toughness again last week when Ruston upset No. 8 seed South Lafourche, creating an all-Northeast Louisiana second-round match. Ouachita features three-star receiver and Washington commit Caleb Tucker at linebacker and Taijuan Thomas and 2014 ESPN Watch List member Cameron Sims at wide receiver.

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Games to watch for Louisiana recruits 

November, 1, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Saturday will be a who's who of Louisiana's top prospects in one place when LSU hosts Alabama at Tiger Stadium.

The night before, the state's best high school players will be scattered throughout the state, closing their regular seasons, many playing games with strong district-championship and postseason ramifications. Here are the best games involving players headed for major college programs:

Geismar Dutchtown (7-1) vs. Baton Rouge Catholic (6-2): The championship will be on the line in District 5-5A, which includes the largest city and suburban schools on the south side of Baton Rouge. Dutchtown, the alma mater of LSU's Eric Reid and Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Landon Collins, has another SEC-level recruit in Mississippi State commit Shelby Christy.

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Games to watch for Louisiana recruits 

October, 25, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The dream prospect matchups of the non-district schedules are over, and now Louisiana's top teams and top prospects are coming down the home stretch of their regular seasons.

That doesn't necessarily make for compelling blue chip vs. blue chip matchups, but what you have are a lot of top prospects playing big games for their teams this weekend. With LSU off, here are games LSU fans might want to check out around the state this weekend:

New Orleans/St. Augustine (6-2) at Metairie/East Jefferson (6-1): When you think of high school football, you think of "Friday Night Lights." There haven't been many Friday nights this year for St. Augustine and RB Leonard Fournette in urban New Orleans, where a scarcity of stadiums has had the Purple Knights playing many Thursday and Saturday game. This week, the Friday lights will shine on Fournette, one of the top players in the 2014 class, when St. Augustine heads to suburban Metairie for a huge District 10-4A game.

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Hurst taken off LSU depth chart 

October, 17, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU offensive tackle Alex Hurst is to return to LSU any time soon, you wouldn't know it from the depth chart.

Hurst no longer appears on the depth chart released Tuesday by LSU. Freshman Vadal Alexander is listed at the starter at right tackle, and sophomore Elliott Porter, also the backup center, is listed as the second-team right tackle.

Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk, who started at left tackle last week after Hurst left the team for undisclosed personal reasons, is listed as the starter at left tackle, backed up by junior Chris Davenport.

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Weekend prep preview: Louisiana 

September, 20, 2012
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The games roll on in Louisiana high school football. Although LSU is out of town on its first road trip of the season, there will still be plenty of games between many of the Tigers' best commits and prospects to watch out for.

Hahnville vs. St. Augustine: Hahnville is not at the powerhouse level it has been in recent seasons, but that's not the main motivation at work. St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, a 2014 prospect, might be the best tailback in the state. The Purple Knights will be a stiff challenge for the Class 5A talent at Hahnville, and it should be a chance for Fournette to showcase himself and shed some light on why LSU and Alabama are gunning for his talents.

Edna Karr vs. Salmen: A juicy battle between two of the top teams in Class 4A. Karr was the runner-up at this level last year, and Salmen beat the Cougars in overtime last September. This should be a fun matchup, as the Cougars boast a plethora of BCS-caliber talent like Miami commit Standish Dobard and Texas A&M commit Noel Ellis -- and that doesn't include 2014 talents Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis. The Spartans boast one of LSU's top commits in wide receiver Chuck Baker.

Westlake vs. Winnfield: Undefeated Class 2A Winnfield goes up against undefeated Class 3A Westlake on Friday night in Winnfield. This should be a good test for Winnfield defensive end standout and 2013 LSU commit Michael Patterson, who is one of the commits that Tigers fans have seen and heard the least about. It's also an early chance to take a look at 2014 tight end Jacory Washington -- an early target for LSU.

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