LSU Football

LSU's Returning Veterans Will Keep the Tigers Defense Elite in 2016

LSU DB Tre'Davious White
LSU DB Tre'Davious WhiteDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2016

The LSU Tigers are a recruiting machine, and head coach Les Miles pulled off a recruiting coup over the last couple of weeks.

In his own house.

The "Mad Hatter" got commitments from defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, defensive end Lewis Neal and defensive back Rickey Jefferson earlier this month to return to the program after flirting with the NFL draft. He then closed strong on Monday—deadline day—with the announcement that defensive back Tre'Davious White and linebacker Kendell Beckwith will also return to Baton Rouge.

"These are special guys," Miles said of Beckwith and White, according to a release emailed by the school. "They have a real fondness and enjoyment for this football team. They are leaders; Kendell makes all the calls from the Mike linebacker spot, and TreDavious wears No. 18, which has always been the mark of a leader.

"Decisions like this aren’t easy to make. These guys took their time, got all of the information necessary to make a real educated and quality decision."

As Trey Mongrue of KTVE NBC 10/KARD Fox 14 noted on Twitter, this is about as good as it can get for the LSU defense.

This is a reversal of fortune for LSU, which has seen 20 players bolt early over the previous three offseasons, according to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate.

"This is a windfall for us," Miles said. "For the first time, we return a big senior class. Anytime that you have a senior-dominated team, you recognize that you are going to play with leaders, and guys always play their best year of football when they are most mature."

LSU LB Kendell Beckwith
LSU LB Kendell BeckwithBob Levey/Associated Press

This group of stars, combined with young standouts such as defensive end Arden Key and corner Kevin Toliver II, as well as established rising junior safety Jamal Adams, should keep the Tigers defense elite under new coordinator David Aranda.

Think about where LSU is as a defensive program.

The Tigers gave up 347.2 yards and 24.3 points per game in 2015 under former coordinator Kevin Steele, and that was considered somewhat inadequate (as noted by SB Nation's LSU site, And the Valley Shook).

LSU head coach Les Miles (left) and DB Tre'Davious White (right)
LSU head coach Les Miles (left) and DB Tre'Davious White (right)Bob Levey/Associated Press

Pretty much every program in the country would kill for that to be a down year, and with so much talent coming back and Aranda—who produced a defense in the top three in the Big Ten in each of his three seasons at Wisconsin—on board, replicating and building on last year should be expected.

On top of the talent that's sticking around the Tigers defense, 4-star corner Saivion Smith and 4-star linebacker Michael Divinity have already enrolled, and Miles and Co. have seven more 4-star defenders committed to join the program later this year.

After a struggle to get in the backfield in 2014, LSU finished third in the SEC in sacks in 2015 with 34 behind Florida's 40 (in two more games) and Alabama's 52 (in three more games). The Tigers will get players responsible for 28 of those (80 percent) back, including Key—who lived in the Texas Tech backfield in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl despite not recording a sack.

Defense won't be a problem in Baton Rouge thanks to the stars returning to LSU. 

The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the offense, which is what will make or break the 2016 season.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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