Updated: Jul 29
It goes without hyperbole to say "this 2020 LSU secondary could be legendary": but why the hell wouldn't you include some bizarre adjectives to keep us all on our toes?
Should we just call them "a suitable unit containing equal parts experience and youthful exuberance"?
Should we use half-measures (like much of the sporting media) and just proclaim this crew "Derek Stingley and ten others"??? "Derek Stingley & Friends Live @ The Fillmore East"? "Derek Stingley & The Confidante: Live '76: Stingley Alive Deluxe Edition"??
Here at LSU ODYSSEY, we make some interesting, intriguing and at times arrogant proclamations...but we never talk unless we can back it up 100%.
This "walk the walk" mentality became exactly what excites me most about our 2020 DBU class:
In the hands of many a scribe, words wouldn't be able to do this unit justice...but yet again, you've come to the right place.
LSU's 2020 secondary could be more dangerous for SEC quarterbacks than Harvey Weinstein opening a daycare or Mark Hamill's acting ability...
The hyperbole is earned when most of the returning squad just won a national championship, led the highest performing section of our 2019 defense and ranked 2nd in defensive pass efficiency (19 incompletions and 1 interception from Tua, 17 errant passes and a fumble off Trevor Lawrence).
The returning DBs picked off 5 passes from 7 Top 10 quarterbacks, contributed 5.5 sacks (only 6 less than 2019's defensive line total) and smashed opponents in the backfield for 13.5 tackles for loss...and those statistics would've been far more outlandish had Mo, Cor'dale and Jay Ward took part in additional snaps or if Todd hadn't gone down during week 3.
Aboard the U.S.S DBU Raymond, where wayward passengers such as Nick Saban are forced to walk the plank and stowaways like Jimbo Fisher get fed to the sharks, you only need a few glances at the assembled DBs to grasp the world-beating potential:
Future #18 and 1st Round pick Jacoby Stevens, Heisman / Thorpe candidate Derek Stingley Jr, high octane safety Todd Harris, 2020's #1 CB Elias Ricks, Bama defector Cor'dale Flott, seniors Lloyd Cole & Kary Vincent Jr, Mo Hampton Jr, Dwight McGlothern, Cam Lewis, Jordan Toles, Jay Ward, Raydarious Jones etc.....the names are as numerous as their skills, as plentiful as their potential....yet, many media pundits or FS1 Fundips wonder very much about the future of this 2020 LSU defense under Bo Pelini's Bayou resurrection.
Dave Aranda's 3-4 attracted adaptable NFL-ready athletes from across the country, while Pelini's championship defense (during LSU's blistering 2007 BCS title run) remains a historic benchmark for aggressive championship defense at LSU.
While Tigers fans were deliriously excited upon Pelini's return, many analysts or media members believed Aranda's recruiting was so solid there'd be an expected drop-off in talent collection once he left.
Instead, Pelini's reputation has already grabbed the hottest transfer defender of all time (Bednarik watch-list selection LB Jabril Cox) as well as sealing 2021 4 Star LB Greg Penn III....after only a few months, it appears Ed Orgeron has found the perfect marriage of grit and glitter through the fiery wonder of Bo Pelini.
His LSU tenure was nothing but special:
Over 40 games, Pelini's players created 4 official shutouts, 8 games allowing 3 points or less, gave up 10 points or less 16x, there were 26 instances where Pelini-D held teams under 20 and on only one bizarre occasion did LSU ever lose a game in which Pelini's defense held a team under 10.
Also, during that 2007/08 title-winning campaign, Pelini's last at LSU for 12 years, our defensive line may have been the centerpiece...however, that underrated 2007 secondary caught an LSU record 23 interceptions due to the all-encompassing old testament mischief of Dorsey and Jackson's legendary D-line.
Do any of these random statistics mean anything??
If you thought Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, Perry Riley, Craig Steltz, Chevis Jackson, Jonathan Zenon and Brandon Taylor were the perfect description of a defensive line and secondary working together in seamless cohesion, then just wait until Tyler Shelvin, Glen "The Joker" Logan, Siaki Ika, B.J Ojulari, Neil Farrell, Jaquelin Roy and Jacobian Guillory kickstart 2020 DBU to possibly bigger heights than 2007.
Do we feel LSU's defense will perform better than last year?
Yes...and Aranda's defense was a championship unit full of Delpit, Phillips, Queen, Chaisson, Fulton, Divinity...yet there were always ill-timed injuries, bizarre personnel changes, uninhibited formation tinkering as well as Aranda's "leverage obsessions" which exposed the weaknesses of certain players and masked / hampered the greatness or overall influence of others.
Or we can just say it like this: We didn't attack anyone...we reacted.
Dave Aranda was our Hall and Oates era...Bo Pelini is our Keith Richards...our Lemmy Kilmeister; Aranda was improv jazz with its twists, turns and vistas, but here comes the Pelini heavy metal ass-kicking insurrection.
This is where Pelini's defense separates itself from Aranda's units of the last few years: philosophically, there won't be too many "schemes" within our defensive system...this is about match-ups, not 4-3 vs 3-4...instead, we'll see the few guys capable of taking over a game (Stingley, Stevens, Damone Clark, Tyler Shelvin) given time and space in which to make plays, just as on offense....
Shelvin can now be seen in his more familiar and best role as a three-technique DT, leaving behind the pondering of 0 nose tackle play. Despite his gap-clogging and protection-disrupting role on Aranda's defense the last two seasons, Shelvin still totaled 39 pocket disruptions and entered the backfield 33 times...if Shelvin can produce that kind of hell bent for leather, full frontal pressure, assisting the edge-rushers and gap-filling linebackers on their way to the quarterback, our secondary will become the prime beneficiaries....and with playmakers in each quadrant of the back-end, Raymond's 2020 DBU could very well grab an interception during every game this season.
It's all about the defensive line...imagine the amount of interceptions Fulton, Stingley, Stevens and Delpit could've produced backing an attack-minded front last year?
While Bill Johnson's unbridled defensive line excites Tiger fans all over, taking over much of the pre-season attention, this swaggering secondary appears triumphant heading towards a collision course with the SEC's weaker quarterback lineup.
Kyle Trask, Bryce Young / Mack Jones, J.T Daniels, and Auburn's Bo Nix all better watch out: not only is Stingley a better player than he was a year ago, 2020 DBU returns 13 of LSU's 17 total interceptions from last season...
Additionally, the core returning DB masters Stingley, Stevens, Cam Lewis, Jay Ward, Vincent Jr, Cor'dale Flott and Mo Hampton defended 40 passes on the dot, Stingley forcing 20 extra incompletions himself from his magnetic coverage.
2019's elite group were a blockbuster unit, mostly made up of young stunners surrounding Grant Delpit, Todd Harris and Jacoby Stevens.
But once injuries hit Delpit, Fulton or Harris, we witnessed 2019 freshmen like Cor'dale Flott announce himself when he batted a Tua pass during the 3rd quarter vs Alabama, blanketing Ole Miss and Arkansas with glove coverage, as well as performing admirably vs Texas; Jay Ward, another debutant looked solid vs Mississippi State and Oklahoma, using his statuesque height to defend a pair of Jalen Hurts' passes during the semifinal; strong safety Cam Lewis even put up some good game tape vs Alabama in the red zone....but it was the arrival of Maurice "Mo" Hampton which caught the eye of many fans:
Now a sophomore, Hampton replaced a banged-up Grant Delpit in the starting lineup vs Arkansas, producing 6 tackles (3 solo), defended a pass and displayed such trusted speed and tracking ability the freshman was utilized in many single high safety scenarios.
The Tigers baseball star also saw much of the field vs both Oklahoma and Clemson, clocking Jalen Hurts viciously after a Pyrrhic first down run by the former Bama quarterback.
Boasting elite upperclassmen, including the two best defensive players in America (Stingley & Stevens), a group of tested / trusted / proven sophomores (Flott/Ward/Jones/Hampton) and a tidal wave of highly touted freshmen (the #1 CB in America Eli Ricks and fellow top 5 CB prospect Dwight McGlothern), this squad could definitely pass the 2007 mark of 23 interceptions.
Traditionally, corners have always been shorter, however DBU Chief Corey Raymond has put an emphasis on length, valuing the extra few inches of range in guys like McGlothern, Ricks, Jay Ward and Stingley (all 6'1+).
The DBU Miyagi is able to foresee those brilliant passes over the shoulder, the Bama receiver turning with the ball's orbital invitation coming nigh at hand...suddenly, the slightest fingertip brushes the cascading pass ever so slightly, a diving member of DBU recovering nicely, the Bama receiver flailing out at the air as he crashes to the ground in torrential cacophony...these are the extra efforts which decide games...
That's what Corey is looking for...guys who fight, young men who'll scrap and work to get an extra inch or an additional centimeter on a pass...DBs who willingly aim a pointed index finger at the best opposition receiver across the field and say "he's mine!"
The overall length of Raymond's DBU disciples combines well with their bountiful pace, the fastest being the blinding speed of track superstar Kary Vincent Jr, the nickel / safety / corner hybridized machine ripping 4 interceptions out of the air on our run to the title.
Vincent will be in heavy contention alongside Todd Harris and Mo Hampton for the free safety job, although picking a winner from the trio is impossible: my heart tells me Todd Harris, my brain tells me Kary Vincent Jr, but my soul yearns for Mo' Mo Hampton....rotate em?
Corner Raydarious Jones is another speed merchant, a returnee from 2019's championship team and another experienced sophomore. Due to #28 seeing less of the field, Jones may also be LSU's most incomplete sophomore, experiencing more trials than triumph as a freshman, although he still produced flashes of a runaway star...Jones is a complete wild card and I love the player myself.
This summer, every position is up for contention with many candidates beginning to rear their heads among the familiar faces of the 2019 regime:
One of those champions is Todd Harris, a seismic free safety who's ACL tear emotionally gutted the fan base, the coaching staff and the players following the jurassic Joe Burrow phenomena unleashed upon Northwestern State, only 3 games into the season.
Demonstrating wisdom beyond his years, Todd didn't see his 2019 season as a lost effort.
When LSU kicked the eternal Jude Law out of every traditional 21st century Tigers villain, Harris wasn't just along for the ride, #4 was grinding and motivating his teammates as Shelley Mullinex and Dr. Bankston helped the free safety rehabilitate his knee.
Once the Freight Train of Saban Stain rode all the way to the Superdome, Todd was reunited with the purple and gold, dressing alongside his brothers for the 2020 CFP National Championship game.
It's widely rumored Harris gained 14+ pounds of muscle mass during his time on the sidelines (although we only see an official weight gain of 4 lbs); however, one look at 2020 Harris and you can tell the young man is packing on the weight and shredding the fat into muscle like a skilled surgeon, now sporting the bulky physique of a savage phantom lord.
We just went Full Harris on your ass...that's right.
Can Todd gain the starting free safety spot back from Kary Vincent Jr or Mo Hampton Jr?
Could he wrestle the spot away from two high quality players, one thoroughly experienced juggernaut and the other a rising superstar?
Or will Pelini, Busch and Raymond devise a rotation in which Kary's speed is utilized as a free safety or an extra corner against slot threats etc (Kary played corner his first year at LSU), Mo Hampton dropping deep while Jacoby Stevens blitzes or crawls up to the line from strong safety, almost as an extra linebacker.
There's Cam Lewis, a strong safety who's ability to play promising coverage (as well as throttle an opponent into submission) places the Monroe-native as a wrecking ball for Safeties Coach Bill Busch to call upon.
Will Jacoby Stevens' potential usage as a line of scrimmage pick pocket and a quarterback prophet (ala last year) mean Stevens may in fact become an auxiliary linebacker?
Watch 2019's games...Jacoby is at or near the linebackers on at least 65% of all snaps....
How will Jacoby's multiplicity alter our coverages and blitz schemes?
Pelini won't mess around with a guy as talented as Jacoby Stevens...he will set Stevens free, no matter what coverage or position change must be arranged to make it happen...even the very personnel within our linebacking corps, wherever Stevens can affect the quarterback most is where he must play...if that's SAM linebacker rather than Strong Safety, then I'm all for the change....but we feel he's fine in his "undefined" strong safety role due to the multiple safety, triple corner formations deployed to match spread offenses, thus ensuring Pelini assigns another safety with the task of covering Stevens' vacated role in the secondary.
Will our young guys be able to adapt to these expansive coverage duties?
As tempting as it may be, do not look to our 2007 or 2019 teams for the answers...this 2020 squad will be a completely different animal....but look to those years for excitement, building a bridge to what could be a dream season against all odds, analytical, environmental and social.
Regardless of the hype, the love, the truth...these guys need to be ready for the storm comin' their way: every quarterback on the planet wants to dethrone and destroy DBU...and as national champions, we constantly dawn a target on our backs.
Since Stingley will be receiving such a tiny amount of targets, especially early in the year, our new corners must be ready for showtime immediately.
DBU Readiness is all about being able to block out the madness, the mistake you made the play before last, the stupid pregame talk from Florida or that flag against Mississippi State that just reaaaally pissed you off...
DBU Readiness means you throw it all away, focus on the task at hand, stay grounded by the present and then you take command of your opponent.
Coaches Corey Raymond and Bill Busch's DBU contains more certified wizards than Hogwarts, harnessing depth so excessive the roster makes Robert Frost's ravings appear cheap; a unit so full of viscerally explosive / action-packed playmakers it'd sicken John Woo himself.
2020 looks to be a fascinating campaign for DBU, especially when we openly wonder: Will our 2020 defense perform like the 2019 offense? Shredding records, defiling all before them with rampant pestilence??
We will see Eli Ricks start at cornerback opposite Derek Stingley Jr:
Ricks is just too special, he's inherently competitive and viciously dominant in the air...despite being a freshman, Ricks has the tools to deliver an echo of what Stingley accomplished during 2019.
Expect Ricks to make the position his own...
Many will receive playing time as Raymond, Pelini and Busch utilize a heavier rotation at the back-end, surrounding a core four of Stingley and Ricks at corner, Jacoby Stevens at strong safety and Mo Hampton Jr at free safety.
I would be shocked if this secondary weren't dominant...and so would you...but some tailspin existentialist crisis is unlikely to happen.
There's too many leaders and players of character within the secondary: a mixture of experienced veterans & seasoned youth who both tasted the vibe & bled the sauce at the Superdome together.
This won't be the last time we discuss this secondary...this is only the first in a flurry of DBU obsessed pieces on the heels of the season.
You can rest assured...
Either way, with such an entertaining collection of players, coaches and fans, LSU's 2020 defense, specifically 2020 DBU, will be must-see-TV.
Buckle up....make sure you've got your chin strap on...don't forget your mouth guard...some heads are about to roll...
BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
WEAR A MASK, DAMNIT
COPYRIGHT 2020 UNINTERRUPTED WRITINGS INC LLC