LSU has turned DBU into a prestigious institution.
Louisiana State University has earned the title of "Defensive Back University." The run of defensive backs under Les Miles has been nothing short of spectacular. DBU has become a mantra the Tigers secondary takes seriously.
In 2011, LSU became the first school to have a pair of cornerbacks named Associated Press first-team All-Americans. Those two, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu, were also recipients of the Jim Thorpe Award and Chuck Bednarik Award, respectively. Patrick Peterson won both awards in the same season the year before.
LSU has had seven defensive backs selected in the past three NFL drafts, three of which were in the first round. Two of those three, Peterson and Eric Reid, have already made a Pro Bowl.
LSU's defensive backs could be yearly labeled as the most talented unit in the country. But over the past two seasons, DBU has lost a bit of its luster.
|Passing Yards Allowed by LSU since 2010|
|Conference||Total||Conference/Total SEC Rank|
|2010||159.3 ypg||169.8 ypg||1st/1st|
|2011||150.1 ypg||171.4 ypg||3rd/4th|
|2012||219.4 ypg||206 ypg||6th/6th|
|2013||229.1 ypg||197.5 ypg||7th/4th|
The Tigers gave up 229 and 219 passing yards per game in conference play in 2013 and 2012, respectively, which puts them in the middle of the pack of the SEC.
Those numbers are not atrocious, yet they are not elite, either.
The Bayou Bengals secondary suffocated opponents the two seasons before. LSU held its conference foes to under 160 yards per game in 2011 and 2010.
LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said after the spring game that it is time for the current defensive backs to make their mark on history.
"It's a tradition we have to live up to. Guys like Corey Webster, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and guys like that, they came before us, made DBU," said White. "We want to be like them."
LSU fans should expect the Tigers to join the ranks of the elite again this season. Honors classes will be back in session for DBU in 2014 for a variety of reasons.
LSU's secondary had a good deal of playing time under its belt before the 2013 season began. But the Tigers did not play that way.
The defensive backs often had coverage breakdowns in the secondary that were exploited. The lack of communication cost them dearly in big games.
White says he expects those to go away now with the current crop of sophomores and juniors.
"We now have experience under our belt...We have so many concepts in our defense, we have to know how to play everything," said White. "We have to understand what the linebackers and defensive line are doing. That is making me more confident in my game."
White said he feels the unit is more cohesive than last season's. If that is the case, expect the big mistakes to go away.
Defensive coordinators have the freedom to do more when cornerbacks can lock down receivers on the outside. LSU has two shutdown threats who have All-American potential.
White and Rashard Robinson both started games as true freshmen last season. Once the duo shook off early jitters, it became a menace on the outside. The Tigers also have serviceable backups in early enrollee Ed Paris and seasoned veteran Jalen Collins.
A big reason why LSU's corners were so magnificent in 2010 and 2011 was their aggressive coverage tactics. The Tigers were fearless against the other team's receivers, often standing no further than a yard or two from the receiver pre-snap.
White said after the spring game that the corners' technique has begun to look more like that.
"We have gotten more physical and aggressive at the line of scrimmage," said White. "The tradition around here is to play bump-and-run coverage and get in the receiver's face to throw off their timing."
LSU has the personnel and experience on the outside to be special. This will free up more opportunities for the Tigers to make game-changing plays by forcing the quarterback to hold on to the ball longer.
For defensive coordinator John Chavis' system to run at maximum productivity, he needs at least six defensive backs who can contribute consistently.
Chavis loves running packages that call for one or two extra defensive backs, which is also known as the nickel or dime. Mathieu and Ron Brooks were dynamite playing these positions in 2011, but LSU has since not found a consistent playmaking threat there.
The Tigers might have finally found their answer for nickel and dime defensive backs.
Sophomore Dwayne Thomas was productive playing the role in limited snaps in 2013. Thomas finished with three sacks, which include his game-winning forced fumble against Arkansas.
Jalen Mills could be another playmaking threat. Though he made the move from corner to safety, do not be surprised if Chavis moves him to the dime on 3rd-and-long. Mills also raked in three sacks when asked to play the position, highlighted by a crucial fourth-quarter sack against Florida.
Chavis needs to find playmakers who can wreck havoc in the backfield while also having the ability to play man coverage on slot receivers. The nickel and dime can be a headache for a quarterback's pre-snap read.
Corey Raymond's Third Season
Former LSU defensive backs coach Ron Cooper left after the stellar 2011 season to coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former LSU defensive back Corey Raymond replaced him and has yet to replicate the success Cooper had.
Raymond is a great coach who should now have himself acclimated in his role. He has more than enough talent at his disposal to produce All-SEC-caliber defensive backs.
Raymond's No. 1 goal this offseason is finding safeties he can trust. The Tigers started six different safeties in 2013, which partially explained the secondary's poor alignment and erratic play.
The pressure is on for Raymond to have the secondary be more consistent. He is in no danger of losing his job, but the spotlight will be brighter on him now more than ever.
The SEC lost some great quarterback this offseason. Alabama's AJ McCarron, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and South Carolina's Connor Shaw are all NFL-bound.
Rules favor the offense, which gave the magnificent quarterbacks from last season an even bigger advantage. Expect the crazy passing statistics from last season to come back to earth in the SEC.
LSU does play three of the better quarterbacks returning in the conference. Auburn's Nick Marshall, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace all had some success against the Tigers.
Marshall, Prescott and Wallace are brilliant playmakers, but LSU should have them figured out for next season. The Tigers will also get to play Prescott and Wallace in Tiger Stadium.
The conference's signal-callers are not on the same level as last year's. The Tigers should not be eviscerated like they were at times, especially on the road.
Better Pass Rush
LSU's pass rush was not good last season.
The Tigers defensive ends combined for only 9.5 sacks. Twenty-three players across the country matched or did better than that on their own. The Tigers averaged 3.2 pressure plays (sacks, hurries or tackles for loss), which is their lowest mark since 2010, according to Matthew Harris of The New Orleans Advocate.
LSU returns most of its top defensive ends from a season ago. Danielle Hunter had a spectacular spring, raking in two sacks and two quarterback hurries in the spring game. Jermauria Rasco, who led the team in sacks, should be better as well.
The defensive line as a whole should be better at pass rushing after a sluggish 2013. If not, expect more struggles in the secondary.
The Tigers in 2010 and 2011 were not good or even great in the secondary.
They were legendary.
No one should expect the current Tigers defensive backs to challenge for the Heisman. Getting back to elite status in anything is an arduous task. But the bar has without a doubt been lowered, which should be unacceptable for the current group.
White believes LSU will get back to its glory days next season.
"I am 100 percent confident in all the guys we have here now," said White. "We are eager to learn, always in the film room, we can always get better. Like coach Raymond said, we can never have too much knowledge."
The DBU mystique and the professional success of players such as Peterson excite recruits. LSU's top 2015 commitment, cornerback Kevin Toliver II, has DBU on his Twitter page. In the video below, fellow 5-star corner Kendall Sheffield says he looks up to Peterson.
LSU cannot afford to lose the DBU mythology.
White, Robinson, Mills, Paris, Collins, Dwayne Thomas, Ronald Martin, Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams are all capable of being superb playmakers. The depth chart is plentiful to choose from for Raymond, but he will need some players to step up and become stars.
LSU certainly has the talent to be great. If the Tigers secondary can even come close to replicating its success in 2011, it can lead Les Miles back to the SEC Championship Game.