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2009 LSU Preview - Defense
LSU S Chad Jones
LSU S Chad Jones
Posted Jun 29, 2009 2009 Preview - LSU Tiger Defense

LSU Tigers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN LSU Preview | 2009 LSU Offense
- 2009 LSU Defense | 2009 LSU Depth Chart
- 2008 LSU Preview |
2007 LSU Preview | 2006 LSU Preview

What you need to know: The defense wore the LSU uniforms, and it had several players that were part of the team that won the national championship in 2007, but it didn't look like LSU. The pass rush was spotty, the secondary was a sieve, and there weren't nearly enough big plays all across the board. Welcome to 2009, and welcome to John Chavis, the former Tennessee defensive coordinator who's going to have this ultra-athletic group flying around. The line loses three starters, including Tyson Jackson, but it might be more productive with pass rushing terror Rahim Alem in a full-time role and Drake Nevis about to become a star on the inside. The linebacking corps is loaded with Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard, and possibly top-tackling safety Harry Coleman flanking Jacob Curtera, who should be an all-star caliber defender in the middle. The secondary has speed and experience, but someone has to pick off a pass now and then and there has to be more production against the better passing teams.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Harry Coleman, 71
Sacks: Rahim Alem, 8
Interceptions: Chris Hawkins, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Perry Riley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior SS Chad Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Drake Nevis
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Rahim Alem
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Riley, 2) Alem, 3) Nevis
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Team Speed
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Proven No. 2 Pass Rusher

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Who's going to replace Tyson Jackson and his bulk at left end? Chancey Aghayere won't bring the size of Jackson, but he'll be a better pass rusher. Jackson made 4.5 tackles for loss, but the 6-4, 269-pound Aghayere has the speed and the athleticism to came out in opposing backfield. A great recruit, he might not be a top run defender right away, but he'll get to the quarterback.

Ready to break out on the other side, in place of Kirston Pittman, is Rahim Alem, a next-level athlete who was a pass rushing specialist last year as a key reserve and made eight sacks with 11.5 tackles for loss and 29 tackles. Now he'll have the job all to himself. He started one game against Alabama, but was part of a rotation throughout last year and was a blur into the backfield earning first-team All-SEC honors. The 6-3, 254-pound senior is smart, experienced, and worth seeing double teams on every snap.

The one returning starter to the defensive front is Charles Alexander, a 6-3, 310-pound senior who came off a knee injury to start eight games at right tackle making 24 tackles with a sack. While he was fine, he wasn't the aggressive interior pass rusher and he wasn't the rock against the run he was before the injury. He got a sixth year of eligibility and now he's as healthy as he has been and he's ready to be the anchor up front at left tackle.

6-1, 294-pound junior Drake Nevis has the look of the team's newest superstar tackle. After serving as a spot starter, he made 16 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, showing off a quick first step and good toughness in the rotation, he'll get the start at right tackle where he should be fantastic. There will be plenty of plays made against the run, but his worth will be as an interior pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: The team's top defensive recruit this year was Chris Davenport, a 6-4, 318-pound block of granite who was out for most of his senior hurt, but was still considered among the nation's top tackle prospects. Very big and very active, he was a man among boys in high school and has the body and strength to be a factor right away somewhere on the interior.

Someone will take Al Woods on the second day of the 2010 NFL Draft. The 6-4, 323-pound senior has the size, the tools, and the potential to be a key rock in the rotation. He came up with a monster spring and the light might have finally gone on after making 11 tackles in ten games. He's the type of player who'll get drafted, will be solid in an NFL camp, and will bounce around the league, making a lot of money along the way, for seven years. Now, if he can be more disruptive, he'll create a bigger buzz.

While sophomore Sidell Corley isn't as big as Tyson Jackson, at 6-3 and 274 pounds, he's a big end who can do a lot of the same things. The sophomore wasn't able to see too much action, playing in just two games and making a tackle, but he'll be a part of the rotation both inside and out working mostly at left end to add more bulk to the equation.

6-4, 269-pound junior Lazarius Levingston has yet to do much of anything despite seeing a ton of playing time, making just nine tackles last year, but he came up with two sacks and four tackles for loss. "Pep" has the size and he has the burst to do a variety of things on the right side, but he has to start producing more when he's on the field.

Watch Out For ... Nevis. It's all there. He has the size, the want-to, and the NFL Combine skills to be a monster on the inside. He's not going to be Glenn Dorsey, but he has the talent to be the program's next all-star tackle as both a pass rusher and a run stopper.
The scheme. Play time is over. As if defensive coordinator John Chavis isn't going to whip this group into enough of a frenzy, there's Brick Haley, a former assistant for the Chicago Bears, who has the potential to make this group special. This year, the front four will get to pin its ears back and get into the backfield. 
Consistency. This should change with the new coaches, but considering there was NFL talent all across the line last year, it wasn't that big a whoop. It stonewalled some teams against the run, but there wasn't nearly enough pressure into the backfield and there were too many breakdowns. With three new starters, and Alexander the weakest of last year's starting foursome, this isn't a sure-thing.
Outlook: The line should come roaring back after a good, but not tremendous season. Alem and Nevis are about to grow into stars, while Alexander is a veteran who know what he's doing. The depth might not be fully developed or experienced outside of Woods, but there's size. It'll be a good front four that'll take over games at times.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: Step one is replacing Darry Beckwith in the middle, and the Tigers have their man in Jacob Cutrera, a 6-4, 236-pound senior who was a key backup over the last few years and got two starts finishing with 33 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. He had a tremendous spring showing great toughness and enough range to be the leader and the anchor of the corps to work around. He has been groomed for this job for the last three years and he appears to be ready.

Is Harry Coleman really going to be the starter on the outside? The team's leading tackler, who made 71 tackles with seven broken up passes, was tried out in the linebacking corps this spring and he might be the main man after showing tremendous toughness on the strongside and good range on the weakside. A monster hitter and strong enough to handle the job despite being 6-2 and 205 pounds, he's not starting from scratch having played linebacker in high school. As good as he is, he might move back to safety from time to time just to get all the linebacker prospects on the field.

6-1, 240-pound senior Perry Riley came up with a great season finishing third on the team with 60 tackles with an interception and 7.5 tackles for loss. The Chick-fil-A Bowl Defensive MVP will start at the Buck, or the strongside, as a major-league playmaker who projects to be taken around the fourth round next year. He has good enough speed to get by, and he's an intimidating hitter with the ability to be used as a pass rusher. With defensive lineman strength, he holds up well against the run.  

Projected Top Reserves: So where is Kelvin Sheppard going to be? The 6-3, 237-pound junior started five times last year on the weakside and finished second on the team with 64 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss, and he's too good to not be on the field somewhere. He has the skills with good strength to go along with tremendous speed, but his biggest key will be his versatility. While his best spot is on the weakside, he can play any of the three positions and could see action in the rotation in the middle. Wherever he is, he'll make a ton of stops.

6-1, 222-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Prater will start out in the middle and could end up seeing time at  the Buck. A nice weakside recruit for the program last year, he'll mostly be a special teamer this season when he's not working in the rotation with Curtera. He might be undersized, but he'll always find his way to the ball and he's tough enough to handle the workload if needed.

Sophomore Ryan Baker might be the team's fastest linebacker. The 6-0, 213-pounder was the gunner on special teams last season and saw a little bit of time in the linebacking corps, finishing with 16 tackles, and now he'll work at the Buck in a rotation with Riley. When he's on defense he'll be used as a shot-out-of-a-cannon pass rusher.

Watch Out For ... Coleman. Is he really going to stick at linebacker? It's not like the position is a problem area, and he might just end up moving around wherever needed. Where he lines up he'll be expected to be a major playmaker and a disruptive force.
Tacklers. If Coleman is a linebacker, the corps will have the team's top three tacklers from last year in Coleman, Sheppard, and Riley. The linebackers don't miss many plays and they'll be all over the field doing a variety of things under the new coaches.
Pass coverage. It's not a glaring problem, but it could stand to be better. The addition of Coleman would help change that up in a real hurry, and it would be nice if there were more broken up passes and tighter coverage on short to midrange plays.
Outlook: The position should be the star of the show. This isn't the most talented linebacking corps LSU has had, but there are producers all across the unit with Curtera about to blossom into a force and with Coleman, Sheppard, and Riley all possible all-stars. This could end up being the team's biggest strength as the season goes on.
Rating: 9

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: If Harry Coleman really does move to linebacker, it'll be up to 6-3, 214-pound junior Chad Jones to try to equal the production after having a good year. A key spot starter so far, he saw time in dime packages and always came up with good hits making 50 tackles with an interception and seven broken up passes. Also a great baseball player, starring for the Tigers as an outfielder, too, he should now make more of an impact on the football field and he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.

Trying to take over at free safety for Curtis Taylor is 5-11, 175-pound sophomore Ron Brooks. A nice talent, he was originally a corner able to use his sub-4.4 speed to be a part of the mix and as a key special teamer. While he made 18 tackles, he didn't do anything when the ball was in the air. With his range and his speed, he should do far more with room to move and the ability to use his good hitting skills when he has a head of steam.

Senior Chris Hawkins started every game last year at left corner finishing with 50 tackles with a team-leading three picks and 12 broken up passes. At 6-1 and 184 pounds he has excellent size to go along with the speed to stay with any speed receiver in the SEC. He has 4.5 wheels, cut-on-a-dime quickness, and the potential to earn all-star honors if he improves a bit from last year. While he makes his share of plays, he'll give up big passes here and there. 

After starting the final two games of last year, 6-1, 205-pound sophomore Patrick Peterson is back at right corner as part of a rotation with Jai Eugene. He's still learning the job after making 41 tackles and a pick as a true freshman, but with good speed to go along with his size, he has the tools to do more. He was one of the team's top recruits last year and will eventually do more either as either the team's shutdown corner or as a top safety. He can do it all and will be used in a variety of ways. 

Projected Top Reserves: LSU is full of phenomenal athletes, but Jai Eugene stands out even be the program's high standards. He started 11 games last year and ended up making 35 tackles, but he didn't do nearly enough against the pass considering he's experienced and has the skills to do far more. At 5-11 and 191 pounds he has decent size to go along with excellent speed. One of the team's most popular players, he'll do whatever is needed from playing right corner or working in nickel and dime packages.

6-1, 212-pound Danny McCray has done it all for the Tigers and will be plugged in where needed. While he can work at corner, he's better at strong safety and in nickel situations with 147 career tackles making 53 last year, good for fourth on the team. He has great pop and is a sure tackler, and while he'll push for starting time behind Chad Jones, he'll make a bigger impact as a versatile all-around defender. 

Safety Craig Loston was one of the nation's elite defensive back recruits and was a big win for the program. The Houston native could've gone anywhere, but he's the cousin of QB prospect Russell Shepard and joined on as a top prospect on his own. If he's not the best safety recruit in America, he's in the top three with 6-2, 193-pound size and corner speed. A tough, willing tackler with everything you'd want in a safety, he has next-level skills right now.

Watch Out For ... Harry Coleman. The teams' leading tackler at free safety last year will still see time in the defensive backfield as the team's top backup at the position, even though he'll work mostly at linebacker. If he's really gone, then it's time for Brooks and Jones to grow into steadier all-around defenders.  
Speed. LSU is never short on speed in the secondary. The backups might be faster than the starters, and the starters can stay with any receiving corps in college football. Corners in the SEC are always fast, but having safeties with the kind of wheels that LSU's has is rare.
Pass defense. Granted, the pass rush wasn't as good as it should've been, but the secondary didn't exactly help the cause. Troy, Ole Miss, and Arkansas bombed away late last year, and now the Tiger DBs have to prove they can make things happen. Seven interceptions by the secondary isn't going to cut it.
Outlook: Considered the team's biggest weakness going into last year, the defensive backs weren't awful, but they weren't great. There's a ton of speed and a ton of experience returning, but there has to be more big plays from the corners and steadier play from the safeties. With versatile options to play around with, the coaching staff should be able to tinker the combination throughout the year.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Josh Jasper got a little work last year hitting two short field goals, and now he'll get the task of replacing Colt David, who had a good, but not great season hitting 16-of-21 field goals. Jasper has a big leg and will get plenty of chances from beyond 40 yards.

The punting was strong last year, but junior Derek Helton should be ready to step in with Brady Dalfrey gone after averaging 36.1 yards per kick last year for Fort Scott CC. He got to school early and showed he can handle the work, and while he might not put 22 inside the 20 like Dalfrey did, he has a bigger leg and should air it out more often.

Trindon Holliday is a special kickoff returner averaging 22.6 yards per try after averaging 26.2 yards per attempt two years ago. He gets avoided at all costs, but when he gets his chances, he's deadly. He greatly improved the punt return game averaging 13.3 yards per try after the punt return team struggled two years ago. 

Watch Out For ... Jasper to be fine. David blasted four of six kicks from beyond 50 yards, and Jasper has the same type of leg. It might not be that consistent, but he can kick. He should be reliable enough to be counted on in any situation.
Holliday. One of the fastest players to ever play college football, he can be devastating whenever he gets the ball on the move. He's a game-changer who can score from anywhere on the field.  
Certainty at kicker. The kicking game was a major plus last season, and while Jasper and Helton are expected to be good, it's asking a lot to be as good as David and Dalfrey were.
Outlook: As long as the kicking isn't a liability, the special teams will be terrific. Holliday is an elite weapon, while the coverage teams should be solid after allowing just 8.5 yards per punt return and 17.6 yards per kickoff return.
Rating: 7.5