by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Rebuilding their roster throughout this past winter & spring, LSU's secondary coaches Robert Steeples & Kerry Cooks brought in an astounding 7 defensive backs via the portal, former Rajun Cajun Mekhi Garner, ex Arkansas tandem Joe Foucha & Greg Brooks Jr, Oklahoma State's All-Big 12 CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse, former Buckeye Sevyn Banks, UGA National Champion Daran Branch and finally, Mcneese veteran Colby Richardson all joining over an extended 3 month period.
So, now I wonder:
Which transfers will solidify starting jobs at corner, nickel or safety? Greg Brooks Jr appears to be the favorite at nickel, Joe Foucha solidified a safety spot throughout spring, Mekhi Garner impressed enough to be considered a top tier candidate at CB, meanwhile Bernard-Converse's injury, Sevyn Banks' late arrival and Colby Richardson's last second move from McNeese all point to concerns about depth.
Despite some outside questions about their ability to replace Ricks, McGlothern or Flott, Brooks Jr forced 4 turnovers in his first 5 LSU practices;
Garner appeared to lock down his side of the field vs top competition at WR, while both Banks or Bernard-Converse claim enough ability & experience to make a barnstorming push for starting jobs.
An equally important question would concern where LSU's pre-existing secondary members fit in:
Led by Thorpe Award contender Jay Ward (team leading 5 INTs over the last 2 seasons), Major Burns, Sage Ryan, Jordan Toles, Damarius McGhee, Matthew Langlois, freshman LT Welch and Todd Harris, a group returning 9 career interceptions & a few forced fumbles between them...despite a lack of overall experience concerning Ryan, McGhee and Welch;
Ward and Burns we've seen start & thrive recently; and though Harris is the most experienced, he has suffered the longest injury history of any LSU defensive back.
Leading LSU as a program concerning interceptions, Jay Ward is a definite reliable and highwater mark for LSU's secondary room. Trusted and known by defensive coordinator Matt House since 2015, the former Kentucky defensive coordinator will lean on Ward's experience, example and toughness at the backend.
Called an "NFL cornerback" by Brian Kelly during LSU Odyssey's spring visit, Mekhi Garner appears to have secured the trust of his coaches thus far, only beaten on a handful of plays all spring.
Aside from his excellent coverage abilities and pedigree, Garner is also a solid tackler on the edge, proving more than capable of locking down his side when witnessing his wrap up tackles one on one vs large targets like 6'7 tight end Kole Taylor.
Now, the mystery lies in where LSU's existing pieces and transfer additions will fall into place around those two key pillars.
Perhaps LSU will favor different formations, skill sets and a variety of players vs different opponents.
We should see Matt House working closely alongside DBU bosses Steeples and Cooks to polish their approach, weighing their options' attributes.
We could see LSU utilizing cover 3 to fit Ward, Burns, Foucha or Ryan on the field together, as well as plenty of nickel based packages, definitely offering Greg Brooks Jr or Sage Ryan equal opportunities to shine in a difficult role.
Which fringe DB will make a push for major minutes in 2022? Toles, Branch, Banks, Harris, Richardson, McGhee or true freshman Laterrance Welch?
Can Jarrick Bernard-Converse push Garner for a starting spot, or will JBC partner him on the opposite flank?
Where is the biggest weakness for DBU?
At corner or safety?
Is this shroud of mystery & uncertainty surrounding DBU's 2022 prospects blinding us all from the actual depth of talent Kelly's staff just acquired?
Or are there real holes that must be addressed?
How Robert Steeples & Kerry Cooks set up their secondary will dictate the performance of LSU's defense; an immaculate front seven is nothing without security at the back.
Steeples & Cooks will need to choose wisely. Although I believe, due to LSU's depth of hungry talents and strong coaches, DBU will be just fine in 2022 and beyond.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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