By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Possessing four #1 cornerbacks heading into 2021, DBU Miyagi Corey Raymond has enough top drawer options to make Saban purple and gold all over again with envy.
But getting any answers from Raymond himself proves more challenging than trying to find someone who owns a VCR.
I'll spare you the drama: we already know LSU's two starting cornerbacks this season, not withstanding injuries etc: All-American junior Derek Stingley Jr and sophomore All-American Eli Ricks....the two best corners in the country.
6 CATCHES ALLOWED
3 FORCED INCOMPLETIONS
2 INT RET TDs
2 TDs ALLOWED
Eli returns from his 4 interception, 2 TD return debut campaign, showcasing every facet of the unfathomable abilities which made him the #1 CB of the 2020 class.
The fact Corey Raymond was able to persuade California's best corner to move across the country to Baton Rouge was something incredible altogether, while keeping him happy for his sophomore year and staving off numerous transfer talks proved to be an even bigger feat.
While out for Spring football as he deals with a minor injury from last year, Eli Ricks remains enrolled at LSU, he's committed and he's ready to destroy all comers in 2021 for an even better year...yet can he top his under-appreciated monster debut?
Only allowing two touchdowns, pulling off gutty solo tackles on the edge as well as inside the red zone, or batting down 5 passes, Ricks was an authority out there...an executioner...a Tiger Legend in only his first season wearing purple & gold...
The former Mater Dei & IMG superstar will certainly receive less targets throughout 2021 as quarterbacks ignore him and Stingley both...however, maintaining his concentration for 60 minutes and making the most of every target will separate Ricks from the rest.
Watch for Eli's ascendancy as he elevates his game under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones, a man who's already endeared himself to his players as much as he's loved by the fanbase.
DEREK STINGLEY JR
Many Tiger fans were mystified, frustrated and a little unfair concerning Stingley Jr's 2020 season, beginning with the midnight medical emergency on the Eve of week 1, his ankle injury sustained from a collision against the first down marker vs Missouri, how the defensive staff refused to place Stingley Jr on Devonte Smith until the Heisman winner already had 200 first half yards, or why a corner who finished his freshman year with 6 interceptions drew blanks in the INT department in 2020.
The truth is: most of these obstacles were beyond the control of Derek Jr.
Our defense was abysmal last year...to the point that watching Pelini's 2020 defense makes you feel as if you've just been castrated... and frankly, if not for a plethora of solo Stingley tackles, Pelini's W.O.A.T unit allows even more yards, touchdowns and humiliation.
Sadly, no individual player's greatness could remedy a festering "collective unconsciousness" so terrifying that Daronte Jones reportedly brought sage into his office (aka Pelini's old haunt) to cleanse the room.
The worst part about being horrible as an entire defensive unit?
It tends to always get your best players hurt.....
Derek wounded his ankle after making yet another flying last man tackle up the sideline, crashing right into the steel chain hanging around the base of the first down marker (which a sideline judge inexplicably dropped into his path).
Still, as LSU Odyssey's in depth 2020 profile shows, Stingley only surrendered 12 catches and just a single touchdown, the Smith posterize-ation; in addition, Derek Jr allowed a mere two red zone catches, one of which he turned into his play of the year: a touchdown-saving forced fumble & recovery on Auburn's Seth Williams (he later recovered Jay Ward's punch-out off Alabama WR / Louisiana defector Slade Bolden).
It was a quiet year full of many downs for Stingley Jr, a testing semi sophomore slump which would've seen his maturity as a player grow.
Through 2020's gauntlet, Sting became a stronger tackler, a more well-rounded corner, he improved upon his opposition completion percentage and is now poised to learn from the harsh lessons of his second year wearing purple and gold...the preamble to his final campaign.
I expect Derek to have a monster year...in what should surely be his final outing as a Tiger...though his last stand may not only take place on defense...
(we discuss that in another piece on LSUODYSSEY.COM)
I felt Sting was illustrious throughout 2020 anyway, yet the three letters INT mean everything for a DB of his stature and I feel 2021 could be a moment in which #24 returns to the INT category fully blazing.
Derek & Eli are without a doubt the two best cornerbacks in America...and they just happen to both be here at LSU.
Enjoy these two while you still can...it's unbelievable cornerback play of the likes we may never see in tandem for quite some time.
Playing "like an All-American" across the final stretch of 2020, according to Coach Orgeron (as well as this author), the Georgia-native's rise has been meteoric, though it was only a matter of time.
Dealing with a torn meniscus for the first part of the year (including having to re-aggravate the injury when called upon to fill in against Mississippi State), Ward was in and mostly out of the lineup, however he still managed quality reps, even leading the Tigers in broken up passes (3) and even registering a monstrous quarterback hit during Week 1's 623 yard destruction, all while playing on one leg.
That heroism paid off: it was no wonder when his meniscus recovered so did Ward's playmaking, his stabilized knee finally enabling the DB to maximize his seemingly boundless athletic range.
Thanks to a two week layoff due to Covid, Jay regained his health and began making plays, first by blocking the game-tying field goal vs Arkansas (preserving LSU's much-needed 27-24 win) then saying enough is enough vs Bama when he punched the ball out of Slade Bolden's hands (providing the Tigers defense their only highlight and red zone stop of the night), before pulling off a magical red zone interception vs Florida and finally, capping off a tyrannical climax by picking off two passes vs Ole Miss, one he took to the house.
Now entering 2021 boasting a fully healthy knee, Ward should be on the field as much as possible and I wonder how creative Raymond & Jones could get in trying to squeeze Jay into the team...or is Jay going to play safety as LSUODYSSEY.COM first reported?
Well, thus far during Spring camp, Ward has trained exclusively alongside Daronte Jones' safeties group...a huge development...
"Nudie" McGlothern may have stood on the sidelines for much of the first part of the season, yet when the Houston All-American caliber CB featured for LSU, he supplied strong secondary play, tough tackling and a nose for the football.
Despite being relegated behind superstar Derek Stingley Jr, fellow freshman sensation Eli Ricks and soon-to-be All-American Jay Ward, regardless McGlothern routinely announced himself in such few reps:
Opposing quarterbacks went 1/5 when throwing red zone targets McGlothern's way (including his first snap from the bench vs Florida) earning 3 PDs on the campaign and 9 total tackles (8 solo) across 7 appearances, registering statistics in 3 games (Ole Miss, Florida and Arkansas), although the one completion was a Trask touchdown pass vs Florida.
Against Arkansas he wrapped up 3 solo tackles, posted 4 total (3 solo again) vs #6 Florida and throughout his cameos, Dwight stayed at the forefront of LSU's young defensive talent, still only just scratching the surface of his otherworldly talents.
Dwight is only going to get better, but will he be able to see the field for a sustained amount of time in 2021, what with Stingley, Ricks and Ward already taking up spots at corner?
Could we see McGlothern unleashed as a weapon in the return game?
Indeed, that would be exciting if we get to see him back there; Dwight could even move back over to wide receiver if LSU needed him, such is his versatility and all-encompassing football powers.
Also...look at Dwight...he's massive...he's a towering citadel of DBU retribution....
Good luck against this guy...
I hate to say this, but after impressing mightily throughout 2019's title run (to the point most analysts went overboard and said he had to start over Eli Ricks), Flott was egregiously disappointing throughout much of 2020...I hate to put blame on one Tiger, although when watching the film, there can be no doubt:
LSU lost games due to our DBs' repeated blown coverage and Flott was a central part of that...I hate to say it... yet here we are, with his reps on repeat....we became so accustomed to seeing the back of his jersey I began to think his regular technique was with his back to the defender....
All jokes aside, Cordale Flott has a lot to improve, I will not just sit back and pretend his serial blown coverages didn't happen...his secondary play was ghastly last year....in fact, I've never seen a single DB torched so much in a single season....ever.
By the end of the Alabama game, Flott had allowed 7 TDs while surrendering 0.87 TDs per game, led by 2 back-breaking scores vs Saban's unit.
It went beyond a mental thing for Cordale last year....he couldn't shake it off...we're not just talking about touchdowns, #25 allowed an innumerable amount of big gains...beaten right at the line, turned inside out on the scissor routes (receivers running Flott directly into Derek Stingley Jr on more than a few long passes and touchdowns).
Though it was due to his inability to cover slot receivers which hurt LSU most:
Simply put, Mac Jones, Connor Bazelak, K.J Costello and Bo Nix just ignored Ricks or Stingley on the outside and went right at Flott continuously...and why wouldn't they?
It became too easy...he was a liability in behind....but he wasn't alone...no way...
Look at Miss State: with 14 minutes and 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter, our DBs allowed three different receivers to post 132 yards simultaneously from only 5-6 catches...an abject, pants-soaking embarrassment...
Flott will take solace in the fact that Eli Ricks allowed a bad touchdown vs Miss State himself, Jay Ward was beaten in the corner of the end zone against Ole Miss, Stingley gave up the catch of the year....so....let's be very clear, although Flott was the second least reliable DB on the team (just in front of Darren Evans), I actually feel Cordale could pull a complete 180 shift for 2021.
While I may have tallied the negatives, I also went hard after the positive evidence Flott gave us from last year:
The slot corner actually played extremely well against Texas A&M, batting passes on 3rd down, forcing incompletions with disciplined coverage and throwing himself around in order to complete smart tackles. In fact, early on vs the Aggies, Cordale smacked a Kellen Mond pass up into the air, unable to get to the falling pigskin as it hit the grass...despite all the crap he'd been through, Cordale was an inch away from a pick six in a tight 20-7 game where everything mattered.
Close...but no cigar...
Flott even punched the ball out of two opponents' hands during his wayward season, socking the ball out of bounds and the other on a play called back for a flag after a Travez Moore recovery...he shows a divine knack for that type of aggressive play and I want to see more from the young man: it's one of his more singular assets.
If he's turned on, tuned in and ready to geaux, which I've heard he most definitely is, then watch out for this young man...he's going to be ready for revenge, hoping to get a chance out there once again...and if he gets his opportunity, I'm backing him for success.
"Raydar" Jones hasn't received much playing time over the past few seasons (only 3 appearances, no statistics recorded in 2020), yet he still featured far more during the Joe Burrow blowout contests of his freshman year....most of his sophomore season remained anonymous...sometimes I'd ask what certain LSU fans felt about Raydarious Jones and they'd reply with a dumbfounded "who?"
Jones may be a bit undersized for Corey Raymond's usual mould of cornerback, however it speaks volumes of Jones' talents that the DBU Miyagi just had to have him.
Could this be the year we see Raydarious Jones explode?
Well let's put it this way...Jones has to seize any opportunity immediately if he is to stand a chance of finding playing time this year.
For instance, when LSU faced Mississippi State without a medically absent Derek Stingley Jr, his replacements were JUCO transfer Darren Evans (who'd already been massacred for two touchdowns) and an injured Jay Ward, but why did Corey Raymond refuse to deploy Raydarious Jones?
How come he wasn't given a chance?
The fact he wasn't tells me a lot...though it's a new season and since Jay Ward looks to be moving to safety part time, the door is slightly ajar.
Will it be enough?
Raydarious Jones simply has too many competitors in the way to get to the field unless major injuries take out some prominent Tigers.
Switching from his old number 34 to 28 for the first time in his LSU career, double senior cornerback Lloyd Cole returned this year already holding a National Championship, after only making a total of 4 appearances for the Tigers and only making a single showing through 2020, amassing 1 total tackle.
In those 4 appearances he has 4 total career LSU tackles (3 solo) after two seasons...and it's hard to see Cole reaching the field for significant minutes unless he stops his contentment with being cast as a "locker room guy and no more".
That's a perspective out there...he has to change that by getting nasty this Spring, really nasty and aim beyond himself.
It's up to Lloyd Cole to change his LSU mythology right here right now...I NEVER count a Tiger out, Lloyd! LET'S GEAUX!
After being roasted for numerous touchdowns whenever he appeared against Mississippi State, the jury seemed to make their decision about Evans' value & stick to that....how could anyone deny his poor performances, blown coverages or the obvious fact that the SEC was clearly too fast for Evans in year one?
Despite the attrition, Evans hung in there, took the punches and continued fighting, notching 6 tackles over a surprising 9 appearances...plus, his teammates had no room to be overly critical of his play...considering all the massive gains allowed by the likes of Harris, Hampton, Clark, Cox, Stevens or Flott....
Darren is back for year two and I'll make one solid prediction about his upcoming adventure with the Tigers:
Thanks to the encouragement of Defensive Coordinator Daronte Jones, I bet Evans will arrive far more prepared for the savagery of Week 1's bout vs Chip Kelly's UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
After the rise of McGlothern, don't count on Evans to iron out a huge supporting role, although expect Evans to find minutes at random points, hopefully becoming an excellent contributor.
Florida's Demarius McGhee, LSU's only 2021 freshman cornerback, won't be arriving on campus until after Spring football, yet it'll be interesting to see how important DBU Miyagi Corey Raymond feels it will be to feature the young DB.
Built from the same 6'2 lengthy mould Raymond looks for, McGhee was a nice response pickup immediately following Nathaniel Wiggins' decommitment, leaving LSU after a 4 month commitment to later sign with Clemson.
I'm not saying McGhee is capable of challenging all comers in Summer, especially after the later start, no...Demarius is a really raw talent right now who has plenty of weight and beef to gain, technique to polish and ball skills to harness before he takes on that mantle.
Time for Demarius to soak it all in and learn from Stingley Jr, Eli Ricks, Jay Ward, Dwight McGlothern and Cordale Flott.....still, any DB who's grabbed the undivided attention of Corey Raymond has to be one hell of a cornerback...
Watch his film...you decide.
#1 CB: Derek Stingley Jr
#2 CB: Eli Ricks
#3 CB: Dwight McGlothern
#4 CB: Jay Ward (moves back over from safety if required)