A great player is gone, and arguably one of the biggest names and faces of the LSU football program.
More important than that, though, the Tigers players are coming to grips with the loss of a friend.
And that’s still very raw.
“Tyrann was loved on this team because he was a good guy,” LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo said Saturday as the players spoke to the media for the first time since LSU coach Les Miles announced Mathieu’s ouster.
|Barkevious Mingo: 'We have the same goals for this season as before.'|
“It’s a tough thing to deal with. We’re sorry it happened and we’re going to miss having him around because of what he meant to us as a person, but we have to keep moving on. We have the same goals for this season as before.”
Topping that to-do list, of course, is taking another shot at winning a national championship.
And while losing the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is a blow to those chances, Mingo said the defense doesn’t intend to let it be a fatal one.
As soon as the news of Mathieu’s exit started to sink in, Mingo said several of the older Tigers gathered the young crew of defensive backs charged with taking his place to let them know they believed in them.
“Young guys have to step up,” Mingo said. “That always happens in this program, even when guys get hurt or other guys get replaced. We reminded them that they have to step up, and that a lot of us played as true freshmen. They know they’ve been put in a spot to make plays for this kind of defense.”
Jalen Mills got the first taste of that Saturday by working with the first-unit defense in Mathieu’s place in LSU’s first full-blown scrimmage of pre-season camp. Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins also figures to be in the hunt for a starting job, although he missed the scrimmage with an undisclosed injury.
Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger said he targeted Mills and the other young defensive backs as much as he could Saturday.
“We’re going to go after them every day to try and make them better,” Mettenberger said.
“We’re going to pick on those young guys and see what kind of toughness they have and see if they can handle the pressure. If we keep picking on them now they’ll be more ready for the season.”
How the young defensive backs blossom and develop the next three weeks will also affect their readiness for the season.
With three starters back on the defensive line, anchored by Mingo and Sam Montgomery – regarded as one of the best defensive end tandems in the country – Kevin Minter in place as the middle linebacker for a second season and Eric Reid in charge of the secondary from free safety, the Tigers stack up as one of the top defenses in the country.
With or without Mathieu as far as Mingo is concerned.
“We’re in good hands,” Mingo said. “That’s one of the great things about this program. Our coaches recruit great players. As good as Tyrann was, we have players close to him or maybe even better than he was in some ways.”
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A look at how LSU replaces Mathieu
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