Spring Primer: Secondary

White returns for year two at LSU (USA Today)

With the start of LSU spring practice rapidly approaching, TSD previews its final position grouping - the secondary. There aren't many questions at cornerback, but the Tigers are preparing to start a new at safety.

Even with a brief postponement, the return of LSU football is still very close at hand.

The Sports Information Department announced Thursday morning that the Tigers' first spring practice will be pushed back from Friday to Saturday, a move that will allow Les Miles and other LSU coaches to attend memorial services in West Monroe for longtime Rebels' coach Don Shows.

When LSU does hit the Ponderosa Saturday, it will mark the first of 15 practices leading up to the annual spring game. In advance of all the action, TSD is taking a look at every position on both sides of the ball, previewing where the Tigers stand and discussing the biggest storylines. Already we've examined the following position groupings:

Quarterback
Offensive Skill Positions
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers

Today we'll turn our attention to the team's defensive backfield.

WHO'S BACK

CB: Jalen Collins (R-Jr.), Dwayne Thomas (R-So.), Kavahra Holmes (R-So.), Tre'Davious White (So.), Rashard Robinson (So.)
S: Ronald Martin (Sr.), Jalen Mills (Jr.), Corey Thompson (Jr.), Rickey Jefferson (So.)

- For the first time in several years, LSU didn't lose any underclassmen in the secondary to the NFL Draft. But that doesn't mean the Tigers were without attrition. Gone from last season's roster are starting safety Craig Loston, who exhausted his fifth and final year of eligibility, as well as Derrick Raymond, a reserve corner, Jerqwinick Sandolph, a reserve safety, and Micah Eugene, who spent time as the team's nickel and dime back the past two years.

What's surprising is that while LSU lost all that depth, the Tigers will return three of their four starters in the defensive backfield from the 2014 Outback Bowl … and none of them are seniors. Back are a pair of rising second-year cornerbacks, Robinson (6-1, 163) and White (5-11, 177), and Mills (6-1, 189), a converted safety entering his third year with the program. All indication from Miles this offseason points to Mills sticking at safety, where he moved the final few games of 2013 to shore up a hole in the back and also to make room for Robinson, a more natural corner, to see more time on an island. Expect this trio to lead the way in the secondary this spring and emerge as starters again.

As for who steps into Loston's spot from a season ago, there are three primary candidates from the group of returning players (five-star safety Jamal Adams will join this mix in August). They are Jefferson (5-11, 199), Martin (6-1, 218) and Thompson (6-2, 212). Thompson would seem to have a leg-up as he was the preferred option of the three in the middle of last season before Mills moved back. He is, however, coming back from a knee injury that kept him out of the bowl game. Jefferson, a sophomore, is probably next in line, but his start in the Arkansas game showed he has a lot of growth still in front of him. Martin, a rising senior, is the most experienced option for position coach Corey Raymond, but it is fair to wonder if his time has passed as several younger options began to lap him last fall.

The remaining three players coming back to LSU's secondary are all cornerbacks: Collins (6-2, 195), Holmes (6-2, 184) and Thomas (6-0, 181). Of this trio the one destined to make the biggest impact in 2014 is Thomas, who came on strong toward the end of last season, supplanting Eugene as the primary nickel back en route to totaling five pass breakups and three sacks, tied for second-most on the team. Rounding out LSU's depth at corner are Collins and Holmes, in that order. Until more new bodies flood the secondary this summer, and possibly even after that, Collins has a chance to feature as the sixth DB on the field in dime and Mustang packages.

WHO'S NEW

CB: Ed Paris (early enrollee, Fr.), Russell Gage (Fr.)
S: Jamal Adams (Fr.), John Battle (Fr.), Devin Voorhies (Fr.)

- Of the above additions in the secondary, only Paris (6-0, 198) is an early entrant. The Arlington, Tex., native, who will don No. 24, steps onto campus with a lot of acclaim, as he was a four-star prospect and the nation's seventh-best corner, per Scout.com. It's difficult to forecast that Paris will leapfrog either Robinson or White for a starting job, but it's very reasonable to expect the frosh will compete with Thomas and the other cornerbacks for time in nickel and dime packages. Especially with no more Eugene in the fold, there's a role that one would think – before a single practice begins – has Paris' name on it. He'll have a chance to stake his claim to it beginning this spring.

The other four freshmen listed above won't take to the Charles McClendon Practice Facility until August, but this should give a good view of what LSU's total depth in the defensive backfield will look like in 2014. As for the updated sizes on those four, as given by LSU: Gage is 6-0, 175; Adams is 6-0, 207; Battle is 6-0, 179 and Voorhies is 6-1, 197.

SPRING STORYLINE

How good can Mills be at safety with a whole offseason of training at the position?

- Funny thing is that none of us will know the answer to this question until Aug. 30, 2014, when the Tigers line up opposite Wisconsin in Reliant Stadium. But this spring will be the first chance to view Mills' progression playing in the final line of defense. For all of the uproar over his mishaps and communication gaffes at cornerback last fall, Mills was celebrated for his performance in the final two games playing safety. And that was done in a spur-of-the-moment, impromptu fashion.

Now armed with the knowledge of where he'll play, it'll be intriguing to see how Mills develops with months of preparation time. The consensus has been that safety is a more natural position for the rising junior, but that has to translate permanently and consistently from a good theory to something that can be put into practice between the lines. Plus, as the resident old dog in the secondary (he's younger than Martin but has played a lot more), Mills will be relied upon heavily for barking out orders, positioning and a lot more, virtually the quarterback of the defensive backfield.

His maturation process from being a talented guy to the guy at a new position starts in earnest this spring.



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