One man down, the next in line steps up.
That's the company line at LSU where championships are expected. That's also the primary lure for top high school prospects from around the country. They all know that they'll be seen in primetime television and all anticipate that they could be playing in THE big game at season's end.
LSU has produced seven cornerbacks that reached All-American acclaim during their careers in Baton Rouge. That is more than any other position the program has turned out of that caliber. Offensive and defensive linemen exceeded that number, but that was more of a collective position than a single spot.
It's been well chronicled by now how much they are going to miss Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu. Someone is going to have to step up and seize the baton. One that's been passed from Patrick Peterson to Mo Claiborne (and Mathieu) and must now go to the next in line. But who is next and how are they going to transition into those big shoes to fill?
Well, it will take some adjustment, but who knew how good Claiborne and Mathieu were going to be in 2010? That's right; you've got to take a leap of faith at some point.
Mega-sized CB Tharold Simon is one that all eyes are on now. The rangy 6-foot-4, 193 pounder out of Eunice seems to possess the skills and ability to be the next "great" one. He is already considered one of the best cover corners in the SEC.
Most of Simon's playing time came in nickel and dime situations where he ranked 3rd in the SEC with 10 pass breakups in 2011. He recorded a pair of interceptions on the season with one an acrobatic beauty against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. His other pick came in the opener against Oregon. He recorded a career-high eight stops against a physical Mississippi State offense and totaled 42 total tackles on the year. He appears on the verge of greatness.
Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins is a prime candidate to start on the corner. He has good size (6'2-185) like a safety, yet has the hips that allow him to quickly transition to the man-to-man responsibilities of an upper tier cover guy. He has good feet and balance, while displaying good break on the ball and good ball skills.
Collins just needs game day experience. Defensive coordinator John Chavis likes him and thinks that he can be special. He received the Most Improved award during recent spring drills. The former 4-star recruit out of Olive Branch, Mississippi has shown a knack for blocking field goal attempts. Collins draws a resemblance to former Tigers corner Corey Webster, who has enjoyed a long career and two Super Bowl wins with the New York Giants.
True freshman Jalen Mills (6'0-185) played his high school football at national power DeSoto High School in Texas. He was hounded by Baylor, Pittsburgh, Houston, Tulsa, UTEP and Virginia in the 2012 recruiting class. His skills remind me out former LSU standout Travis Daniels who has spent the previous seven seasons in the NFL.
Interestingly, Daniels had his redshirt status removed in the 2003 SEC Championship Game against Georgia. It was his first action of the campaign. Despite being thrown to the wolves, he responded admirably as a young player when the "next man up" was needed.
True freshman Dwayne Thomas (6'1-175) out of O.P. Walker in New Orleans is an extremely confident talent with a bit of that "Honey Badger swagger" on the field. He believes in his skills and playmaking ability. He has a good reach and break on the ball. He was one of the better players on an excellent prep defense and now is poised to make a first-year impact in the SEC.
One place that the LSU defense will miss Mathieu's talent is in the slot, where he matched up well and was allowed to take advantage of his ability to use instincts to cause turnovers.
This is a sort of guess on my part, but a current safety, redshirt freshman Micah Eugene (5'11-190) might he the right man for that slot spot. A two-way star at Acadiana High who looks like more of a strong safety, he can flash some corner skills, especially with his physicality, in the slot.
Schematically, the Tigers will probably begin the season employing more of a soft zone with the corner opposite Simon and give safety help over the top. There won't be as much drama that way when the opposition challenges the young pups.
The Tigers can also minimize mistakes by allowing the inexperienced cornerbacks to play as on the boundary, cutting back on the margin of error. The new players will not have as much area for which to be held accountable.
In zone blitz packages, by dropping the extremely mobile defensive ends (Sam Montgomery and KeKe Mingo, in particular) into pass coverage, Chavis can allow his youngsters to feel that they have plenty of help around them.
Be patient, Tiger fans. Once the new arrivals sprout their wings, you'll soon forget about bumps encountered during their anticipated "baptism of fire."
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