On to the second safety spot in the Tiger defense, one that will not be occupied by Eric Reid for the first time in a couple of seasons (save Tyrann Mathieu’s effort against Arkansas). Reid was an exceptionally talented player who made a ton of plays during his LSU career. He made plays against the run and pass all the while taking on a big time leadership role, especially after Brandon Taylor graduated. But Reid certainly had his lapses. The Ole Miss and (yes, I know) North Texas games come to mind. As Reid departs early, it’ll be up to three really athletic players to offset the blow. Again, talent is in supply here, but these guys have some experience to gain.
The Departed: Eric Reid- NFL Draft
They’re Back: Ronald Martin (6’1”, 202, Jr.); Micah Eugene (5’11”, 190, Soph.);
Who’s New: Rickey Jefferson (5’11”, 187, Fr.)
What We Know: Ronald Martin showed enough early in his career to have the redshirt lifted from his back in the 2011 Ole Miss blowout. Athletically, he’s as gifted as any player on the roster. Those basketball skills translate to the secondary when used appropriately. Martin has bulked up to over 200 lbs., and he’s still a great jumper. With Reid and Craig Loston as juniors on the 2012 team, Corey Raymond and John Chavis still found a way to get Martin on the field. He played in every game last year and made five tackles four different times. He finished the year with 35 stops and two picks, one of which he returned to the house. Martin possesses great ball skills when it’s in the air. He’s more adept at going to play the ball than strictly a man. In his playing time, Martin has spent more time 15-18 yards from the line of scrimmage rather than up with the linebackers in run support. He is, however, plenty capable of making a tackle.
When Tyrann Mathieu was suspended, it took virtually no time to determine who would take his role as a blitzing nickel back. That guy was Micah Eugene. In high school Eugene was just a play-making rover who always showed up around the ball. He’s not overly big, fast or athletic. He’s got enough of all of it to be a contributor. Last year he lined up off the defensive end and fired at the quarterback on more than 50 percent of his snaps. He did that well early, collecting a pair of sacks against Auburn. I think teams took note and accounted for him as a pass rusher much more often after that. He had just 1.5 sacks the rest of the way. He made 29 tackles last year in his first season of action.
Rickey Jefferson’s name will follow him on his journey through LSU. He’ll be Jordan’s brother until he makes a name for himself. This time last year Jefferson didn’t really have a position. He was just an athlete who looked natural at both wide receiver and defensive back. He’s just really smooth. An injury sidelined him as a senior in high school, but LSU took him in. Jefferson will start his career at safety though he’s a little bit smaller than recent safeties in Baton Rouge. The Dutchtown product has good speed and good leaping ability, and his hands are good enough to play wide receiver. That’s also a change from recent LSU safeties. Like Martin, Jefferson has excellent ball skills. I haven’t seen enough to know just how well he tackles, and that’s a big deal at safety. There’s no one behind you.
What To Expect: This will be Martin’s chance to grab a starting spot. In the time I’ve seen Martin on the field, he’s done nothing to suggest that he can’t handle this role. He’s made great plays on the ball and made tackles when called upon. This year that load increases, and I think he handles it well. I expect him to get his hands on the ball four or five times this year and make a play to change a game. That’s the type of athlete he is. I think he takes over the centerfield role which will allow Loston to help out against the run, something he can do very well. It looks to me like this will look a little bit more like the 2011 safety tandem of Taylor and Reid. Taylor, the older guy, was all over the line of scrimmage. Reid, the younger guy, hung deep and made some plays in the back. As I wrote in the earlier piece, I think Corey Thompson plays a little bit like Martin did last year, but for starters it’s Loston and Martin.
Eugene hasn’t played much safety, but he’s battling for that opportunity right now. I think the addition of Tre’Davious White will take away some nickel time for Eugene. I’m also not certain how much coverage they want Eugene in. Right now I think you’ll see Eugene in dime situations where he can try to get into the backfield and foul things up. He may play some safety, but I think he may be the fourth option there. Expect a heavy special teams dosage for the sophomore who is still improving as an all-around defender.
Jefferson has gotten rave reviews from summer workouts. His ball skills are something new to this position in a sense. That skill attracts eyeballs and changes games. Jefferson is raw in terms of the position, but you wouldn’t know it because of how smooth his looks on a field. I don’t anticipate the learning curve being all that steep. My biggest concern is tackling. Jefferson is not big, and he hasn’t been a guy who has done a ton of that. I’d expect to see him working on that a ton this fall. Look for lots of practice squad time this year from Jefferson who has excited the coaches a little bit with his early performance.