You might have to carve out some time to engulf yourself in this piece as I attempt to run through the entire assemblage of cornerbacks on the LSU roster entering the season. LSU has earned the label of “DBU” over the past decade thanks to a slew of ultra-talented and ultra-productive defensive backs in the program’s recent past. This season there are plenty of guys who had many a star hung by his name exiting the prep ranks, but as far as players with a reputation entering the season, not so much. That probably doesn’t worry Corey Raymond or Les Miles. What should are the final four games of the 2012 season. What should be a relief to you, the reader, is that this piece will be the final one that brings up those four games. Yes, they were after LSU had lost its chance to play for a title, and yes LSU won three of them, but to say the defensive back play was suspect in those games would be accurate. With Tharold Simon out of the picture, there will be new roles for some of the returners. And you can bet that a freshman or two will sneak into the rotation. Buckle up. This one won’t be short. But with Casey Pachall, Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron and Bo Wallace on the schedule, this may be the most important position on the roster.
The Departed: Tharold Simon- NFL Draft
They’re Back: Jalen Mills (6’0”, 185, Soph.); Jalen Collins (6’2”, 195, Soph.); Dwayne Thomas (6’0”, 175, rFr); Derrick Raymond (6’1”, 175, rFr); Kavahra Holmes (6’2”, 180, rFr)
Who’s New: Tre’Davious White (5’11”, 170, Fr.); Jeryl Brazil (5’9”, 181, Fr.); Rashard Robinson (6’1”, 183, Fr.)
What We Know: With Tharold Simon entering the NFL, Jalen Mills becomes the No. 1 guy at corner. If you would have told me that this time last year I wouldn’t have believed it. Mills showed up in Baton Rouge with a chip on his shoulder and took fall camp by storm. He’s undersized, but he’s as physical as any corner on the roster and has more confidence than them all, too. Before he had surgery during spring ball, Mills brought that swagger to practice every day, something missing from the days of Peterson, Claiborne, Mathieu and Brooks. Those guys knew they were good and acted like it (in a good way). Mills plays that way, and he’s the personality in the group. The confidence was partly here on arrival, but his play on the field helped cultivate it as well. Mills started all 13 games for the Tigers and played well from the outset. His 53 tackles were fourth most on the squad, and he added in a pair of picks, too. Both were thrown right at him, but he was in position. Mills is a good open field tackler and a good cover man. He’s never been matched up with a No. 1 wide out for four hours, but if you ask him about it he’d tell you no one in the country can make a play on him.
Jalen Collins played his first full year last season and showed flashes of brilliance out there. He’s got NFL size, speed and athleticism, but he’s still a bit raw. Last year Collins was the third corner, but he played outside in the nickel when Mills moved inside. He made 30 tackles and nabbed a pair of interceptions, but both interceptions were gifts. Manziel floated him one in College Station, and a deflected pass found him against Ole Miss. Collins’ best plays were his pass breakups, especially a play against Idaho when he blanketed his man and leapt to tap the sideline pass over to Ronald Martin who hauled it in and scored. That’s the type of athlete Collins is. As is the case for any freshman, Collins had his mishaps, but the skills and tools are there for sure.
Somehow Dwayne Thomas earned a redshirt last season. All I know is this, when Texas A&M was trying to come back late in the game last year, Thomas was out there in coverage. After 100 snaps of football in the Texas heat, the DBs needed a breather, and Thomas stepped in. The O.P. Walker product didn’t record any statistics, and LSU says he only played in four games. That means he qualifies for a redshirt year. It’s long been recognized on this site that I think Thomas is a player. He doesn’t have any of those tools I talked about in the Collins paragraph, but he’s a true corner. Thomas has loose hips and is a natural in using his hands. He has a way of staying in front of guys. He’s also got pretty good hands in terms of catching the ball. After a year in the weight room, Thomas has gained a little bit of weight.
To me, these last two returners are just about one in the same. Derrick Raymond and Kavahra Holmes are freakish athletes who are still learning to play defensive back-- Raymond because he barely played high school football, and Holmes because he was a receiver. There just aren’t very many guys on rosters around the country who stand north of 6-feet and can run with track stars. These two can. Both have a tendency to play a little stiff, and neither has excellent hands. But that’s what redshirts and coaches are for.
Don’t worry, gang. There’s a new Shreveport presence in the secondary. Tre’Davious White showed up this summer, and he’s been tearing it up. The Green Oaks alum torched the U.S. Army All-American Game in January and skyrocketed up recruiting rankings to a 5-star. He dealt with the best of high school wide outs over in San Antonio and locked them up. He also showed out as a returner. White doesn’t have great size, but he’s a bulldog with plenty of skill to go with it. He’s nowhere near his potential as a corner, but he’s already pretty good. White’s skill set fits perfect in the slot.
Remember two paragraphs up when I talked about how fast Raymond and Holmes are? Brazil is faster. Like, the fastest 18-19 year old in the country, winning the national 60-meter run in New York. As a junior he broke Trindon Holliday’s state record in the 50 with a 6.25. And he plays football. Well. I saw Brazil embarrass a really good U High team last fall, and he didn’t slow down after that. As a quarterback he proved too agile and fast for high schoolers and took games over with his talent. What does LSU do with guys like that? Put them on defense. Though he probably could have been a good running back, the Tigers will use him at corner. Brazil played some corner in high school, but most of that just comes from raw ability. Corey Raymond will have to do some molding here, but the clay is plenty warm.
Rashard Robinson is another kid with a phenomenal skill set. A native of Avery and Patrick Peterson’s Pampano Beach, Fla., Robinson brings more of that speed. His comes in a 6-foot-1 frame that plays even longer. I still remember Robinson demanding that Adam Henry send one of the LSU receivers out to face him during July camp last summer. He’s a fiery kid with an edge to him. As of right now, Robinson would be considered skinny, but that’s obviously fixable. These three newcomers are a pretty gifted bunch.
What To Expect: Mills becomes the No. 1 guy this year, and I think that’s a challenge he relishes. I also don’t think it’s fair to compare the kid to Morris Claiborne or Patrick Peterson. “Go-to” wide receivers killed LSU last season as the fivesome of Ryan Swope (A&M), Chad Bumphis (MSU), Donte Moncrief (OM), Cobi Hamilton (Ark) and DeAndre Hopkins (Clem) averaged 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers. That’s an average! Much of that work was done against Tharold Simon, and four of those guys are off to the NFL, but those numbers are still pretty wild. Mills is almost the least of the concerns on defense. I think he’ll come to play every week and do a really nice job in coverage. I’d expect a handful of interceptions, maybe three or four. He’s a good player who now has seen what there is to see in the SEC.
Collins actually made more highlight reel plays than Mills last year. Maybe that’s because he’s a little bit more athletic, or maybe teams targeted him a little bit more. Either way, I think he sees a hefty number of targets this year. Claiborne and Simon handled that really well as the No. 2 guy in 2010 and 2011. It’s a tough spot to be in, though. With his speed and length, Collins has a little more room for error than Mills does, and he uses that well on the deep ball where he made a few plays last season. To be honest with you, Collins worries me a little bit. He looks great in pads, but he’s still not quite a dominant No. 2 like LSU has had on elite past defenses. Of course, I haven’t seen him in a summer which can really change things.
I think Thomas’ playing time hinges on just how quickly White comes on. Athletically White is the superior player, but Thomas has been in the program for a year and is a really cerebral player which may give him a leg up as camp kicks off. In fact, Thomas and White are probably the sharpest two kids in the secondary. I don’t think Corey Raymond or John Chavis would bat an eye about putting Thomas in there against TCU, but I think his playing time diminishes as White picks it up.
I’ll lump Holmes and Raymond in together again. I just think there are better options right now at the two corners and two nickel/dime spots. Certainly Collins and Mills will be out there, and I think Thomas, White and Eugene are better looks on the inside. The good news is that Holmes and Raymond are just freshmen. The ceiling for those guys is Ron Brooks. Special teams for a little while and then mold into an experienced reserve who can play nickel and corner if injuries occur. I’d expect some special teams for these guys, but don’t expect them out there for meaningful action unless those injuries show up.
As I mentioned, I think White is in there early. Word from campus is that he’s as developed as Claiborne at this time, and he’s going to draw those comparisons throughout his career. He’s an “under the radar” commit from Shreveport who happens to play the same position and share a bloodline. It’s unfair to ask a freshman defensive back to do too much off the bat, but if they’re good enough then then play at LSU. We’ve seen that now. I expect White to have a role in early season games, and by the time November rolls around he’ll be a key piece of the defense.
Whereas White is somewhat polished as a natural corner, I don’t know that Brazil is yet. He’s a freak out there, but I’m not sure he knows exactly what to do. For that reason I don’t see a ton of meaningful time for Brazil on the defensive side this season. In time, he could be great. I also think he’s a kick returner before this thing is over. Just give him a year to pick up things like technique and scheme.
Robinson needs time in the weight room, and he’ll get plenty of it. Guys like Claiborne and Simon showed up thin and ended up really strong kids. Some of that needs to take place for Robinson to become an SEC corner, but man does he have some things you need. His arm length and straight line speed are phenomenal. Corey Raymond has to be so excited about these three guys.