Why the LSU Tigers' Secondary Play Is More Important Than Defensive Front
It is no secret that LSU's 2011 SEC Championship team was loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball.
But as scary as this may sound, the Tigers' defense has the chance to be even better in 2012.
LSU returns six starters on the defensive side of the ball, four of which have already been projected as first-round draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. That group includes cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and safety Eric Reid, both of whom are among the best players in the country at their respected positions.
But as good as Mathieu and Reid are, is it enough to boost the Tigers' secondary after the loss of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor to the NFL?
Michael Brockers was the only defensive lineman from last year's team to be selected in the draft, but does that mean that the secondary should be the primary focus of this defensive unit, as opposed to that outstanding LSU defensive front?
Let's go ahead and break down five reasons why this LSU secondary will be more important than the defensive front in 2012.
Bleacher Report Style!
SEC Wide Receivers
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In a conference that is generally known for its hard-nose running style on offense and dominant defenses across the board, the SEC is unusually loaded with talent at the wide receiver position this season.
Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee), Tavarres King (Georgia) and Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) are all among the top wide receivers in college football. They all have the ability to stretch the field and should cause match-up nightmares for opposing defenses.
This right here is why LSU's secondary play is more important than the defensive front, because it is their job to keep these big-play wide receivers in check.
This could be a changing of the guards where we see SEC teams air it out more this season, and it is up to LSU's defensive backfield to make sure that this defense maintains its dominance.
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LSU's defensive front seven should be great this year, especially that dominant defensive line.
But don't expect guys like Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Anthony Johnson to play on special teams.
On the other hand, most of the players in the secondary will be playing on special teams, including, of course, Mathieu, who is the most electric return man in college football. He can break open a game at any moment and is a true weapon for this team.
We saw at times last season when LSU's offense would go into hibernation and it would take one of Mathieu's electrifying returns to help ignite the offense. That is why this secondary is so very important to this year's LSU football team.
Replacing the Mainstays
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The Tigers return a ton of talent and experience on the defensive line, and while there is a lot of talent returning in LSU's secondary, there isn't a lot of experience.
Gone are former starters Claiborne and Taylor, who had five years of starting experience between the two of them. Also gone is Ron Brooks, who was valuable with his ability to fill in at the other corner position when Mathieu would be used as a pass rusher in nickel situations.
Juniors Mathieu and Reid have the talent to lead this secondary, but how will Craig Loston and Tharold Simon do in their new starting roles? Could it hurt the Tigers that there isn't a single senior starting in that secondary?
These are all questions that will need to be answered this season. It will add pressure to this secondary and make people realize how very important this group will be in the 2012 season.
Lack of Depth
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LSU can come at you with a number of looks on the defensive front.
They have a ton of talent on the defensive line, with great ends and a ton of depth on the interior.
At the linebacker position, the Tigers did lose two starters this past season, but they have two upperclassmen ready to fill those voids in addition to an absolutely loaded freshman class at linebacker. It is possible that as many as three freshmen could see playing time at linebacker in 2012.
But it's a bit of a different story in the secondary.
The Tigers' return two starters in Mathieu and Reid, and then they lack experience everywhere else in that unit. Simon saw some playing time last season, but he has yet to be a starter. Loston is loaded with talent, but injuries have prevented him some seeing the field much during his time in Baton Rouge.
LSU needs their starting secondary to stay healthy this year because of the lack of depth behind those starters. Therefore, the play of this unit is crucial in the upcoming season.
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Simply put, the SEC is loaded with talent at the quarterback position this season.
Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray are three of the top-10 quarterbacks in the nation, and all three could very well be first round draft selections in 2013.
Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers and Alabama's A.J. McCarron aren't far behind.
The point here is that it is vitally important to have solid play from your secondary when constantly going up against this type of talent at the quarterback position on a week-to-week basis.
Having a solid pass rush is important, but having players in position to take advantage of rushed throws is even more important.
The Tigers have just that.