How do the 2012 LSU Tigers replace the top defensive back in college football last season?
That's a question that has to be on every LSU fan's mind heading into the 2012 campaign, and the answer just isn't that simple.
Morris Claiborne was dominant last season for this LSU team, starting all 14 games while totaling 51 tackles, six pass breakups and six interceptions. He was a consensus first-team All-American and was the recipient of the annual Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the best defensive back in college football.
The thought of replacing a guy like that isn't one that Les Miles wants to think about, but it is a reality.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they still have another All-American in that defensive backfield in Tyrann Mathieu, who was also a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011. Both Mathieu and safety Eric Reid are returning starters for this Tigers secondary, but who else will round out that starting unit?
Do the Tigers have any young studs waiting in the wings to fill in for Claiborne?
Let's go ahead and break down five cornerbacks who could see action for the LSU Tigers in the upcoming season.
Bleacher Report style!
The LSU Tigers lose last year's Jim Thorpe Award winner, but they still have a Heisman Trophy finalist returning in their defensive backfield next season.
Must be nice, right?
Tyrann Mathieu isn't as dominant in coverage as Morris Claiborne was during his time at LSU, but there isn't a better defensive playmaker throughout all of football than the Honey Badger.
In 2011, Mathieu tied for the team lead in tackles (76), forced six fumbles, recovered four of them and scored touchdowns on two. He also ran back two punts for touchdowns while finishing second nationally in return yards average (17.2) and third in total punt return yardage (429).
Mathieu will have the challenge of taking over that No. 1 corner spot now that Claiborne has moved on to the NFL. However, make no mistake about it, this kid is up for challenge and should continue to shine in the spotlight.
Patrick Peterson won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2010 and Claiborne in 2011.
Don't be surprised if Mathieu completes the LSU hat-trick in 2012.
He's that good.
From the outside looking in, Tharold Simon is a mirror image of Morris Claiborne.
They both have great height, both weigh just under 200 pounds, both have exceptional speed and, most importantly, both are great cover corners who have the ability to go up and make plays.
Of course, Claiborne is the better of the two, but with more experience Simon has the skills to be right up there in no time.
As of now, Simon is projected to be the second starting cornerback in this LSU defensive backfield, opposite Tyrann Mathieu. This former 4-star recruit saw solid playing time in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, actually starting two games last year and recording 10 pass breakups and two interceptions.
Don't be surprised to see Simon have a breakout junior year and work his way into the conversation of the best defensive backs in the SEC this season.
Jalen Collins is a young kid whom Les Miles and the LSU coaching staff have high expectations for in the upcoming season.
Collins arrived in Baton Rouge in 2011 but was redshirted last season because the Tigers were so loaded at the defensive back position.
Like Simon, Collins has great size for a cornerback, standing at 6'3", 185 pounds. He was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school in Olive Branch, Miss., and is currently listed as a second-string corner coming out of LSU's spring camp.
Keep in mind that LSU will still use Tyrann Mathieu at nickleback, which worked so well at times last season. When the Tigers do that, Collins is the guy who is expected to step into that other cornerback spot.
This kid has all the intangibles to be a big-time player in this secondary. Now all he needs is some playing time.
Much like Jalen Collins, David Jenkins was also a big-time recruit out of high school, but he was forced to redshirt last season because the Tigers were so deep in the defensive backfield.
This season, Jenkins will be looked at as a regular contributor in this secondary, serving as the primary backup to starter Tharold Simon.
Jenkins has good size standing at 6'1", 195 pounds, but his best attribute on the football field will be his blazing speed.
Jenkins was a track star in high school and uses that speed to stick with faster wide receivers. With so many talented wide receivers featured in the SEC this season, Jenkins speed could really pay off for this LSU team.
Because LSU is so loaded on the defensive side of the ball, not many true freshmen are expected to receive much playing time for LSU in 2012.
However, one freshman who does have the chance to see the field this year in Baton Rouge is cornerback Dwayne Thomas.
Thomas was a 3-star prospect and the No. 14-ranked cornerback in the 2013 national recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.
He has good size and speed but needs to add some more bulk to his frame. That should come within time once he hits the college weight room and gets on LSU's team workout plan.
Les Miles wasn't pleased that he missed out on 5-star prospect Landon Collins, but Thomas should take that as a challenge to prove to his coaches and the LSU faithful that he is the next great defensive back to wear the purple and gold in 2012.