If you want to watch first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis do his work, look no further than the strong safety position on the Tiger roster.
While sophomores Brandon Taylor, Karnell Hatcher and Ron Brooks battled out the spot in the spring and fall, it was not to fill a void left from graduation nor an NFL draft pick.
Rather, Harry Coleman found his home elsewhere on the LSU depth chart. Though the Baldwin-native had started 13 straight games at strong safety last fall, Chavis had different plans for Coleman’s final year with the team.
During his stay as defensive coordinator at Tennessee, Chavis made a habit of turning out aggressive units that thrived on speed. With Coleman moved to outside linebacker, Chavis had found just that.
While former LSU co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto started Perry Riley at strong side linebacker in 2008, Chavis opted to switch the junior to the weak side. Riley said that he has loved the switch. One better, it opened room for Coleman to move down from strong safety - where he has stayed since the final week of spring camp last April.
“I am playing the SAM, and basically I have to cover the flat and curl routes,” Coleman said. “Sometimes man-to-man, picking up backs and tight ends; I sometimes even cover a slot receiver, but not as much.
“When we go against two-tight ends, I cover one of the tight ends,” he continued. “Against the pro-set, I have the strength call and play the run first and pass second. Three-wide and I take the third receiver to the strength, sometimes the slot guy. Against four-wide, depending on the call, I usually drop back in zone.”
A stranger to the linebacker calls just three months ago, Coleman is now able to riddle off the playbook without batting an eye.
“Kelvin, Perry and Jake just made it easy for me,” he said. “They pushed me and stayed on me. Coach Chavis brought me along, too. He is pleased, but every day there is something new that we can work on or do. I always ask, and he always brings it.”
The grade back from Riley is a passing one.
“[Coleman’s] been doing great,” Riley said. “He’s always been a big hitter, so it wasn’t going to be a problem for him coming into the box and making tackles. He’s working on getting off the big offensive linemen now, but once he gets that down he’s going to be great.
“The most important thing for a football team is to have depth, where if someone goes down you have someone who can fill in and you’re not going to miss a step.”
Without having lined up at linebacker since his senior season at West St. Mary’s High, the sixth-year, college senior said that - despite progress made - there is still a ways to go on a number of fronts.
“Coach Chavis is still working with me at fighting off blocks, becoming a better tackler, ripping the ball out, getting to the ball and all that,” Coleman said. “He stresses everything.”
From his safety spot in 2008, Coleman led the team with 71 tackles - 42 solo to go with 29 assists. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound linebacker said much of the same should be expected this fall.
“I just wanted to be in the contact and in the mix,” Coleman said. “I think [linebacker] is easy, because you are not the last line of defense anymore. You can cut it loose, because the safeties and corners got your back.”