Since we're already a couple of days into spring practice, we have a decent idea of what to expect. LSU returns three high quality players in the secondary in Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon, and Eric Reid. Craig Loston looks to be the clear starter at the other safety spot heading into spring. However, LSU will undoubtedly utilize a lot of nickel and dime formations just like they did a year ago. This enables Tyrann Mathieu to work on the inside, pressure the quarterback, and make a ton of plays. But in order for the coaching staff to feel comfortable going to nickel, some young guys have to step up. When Mathieu leaves his outside cornerback position, someone has to play there. A year ago, Tharold Simon was that guy, but now he's Mo Claiborne's permanent replacement.
So who are the candidates for that role this year?
Sophomore Ronnie Vinson looks to have the inside track. He has been running with the first team at cornerback through the first two days of spring ball (only because Mathieu was at a Maxwell Award ceremony). But logic says that he's currently next in line and would therefore get the nod when LSU goes to nickel or dime. Vinson came to LSU very highly rated and with a ton of potential. He definitely has athleticism and the ability to change directions quickly. He's a little on the small side. LSU lists him at 5'11", and that's probably a little generous, but he is put together well. He did not play a whole lot last year, recording just one tackle in seven games of work. But with the depth in LSU's secondary last year, I see no shame in that. It looks like Vinson will get the first crack at that third cornerback position, and he will have to prove to the coaches that he deserves to stay there.
A pair of redshirt freshmen will compete with Vinson for that spot.
Jalen Collins and David Jenkins both impressed during their redshirt season. They also both have ideal size, listed at 6'1". Jenkins has blazing speed while Collins has more of the overall package. Both guys will jockey for position on the depth chart, with Vinson and with each other. Both are also candidates to win the dime back spot which Ron Brooks occupied last year. These two guys are a big part of LSU's future in the secondary and will help continue the tradition that has been established at LSU for producing outstanding defensive backs.
At safety, Eric Reid and Craig Loston appear pretty entrenched at this point. Reid will be one of the leaders of the defense this season. The only real question about Reid this spring concerns his health. He was reportedly dealing with a back issue through the first couple of practices, but appears to be OK.
Even though Loston has been unable to win a full-time job up to this point, he has always played fairly well when on the field. His challenge has always been the mental side of the game. I see nothing wrong with his physical talent. Loston has also battled injuries consistently throughout his career. Should Loston falter or suffer another injury, then sophomore Ronald Martin may be next in line. Martin's redshirt was burned late last year, and he played very well in extensive time against Ole Miss.
Sophomore Sam Gibson and redshirt freshman Micah Eugene will also compete for time. Eugene is a candidate to compete for the dime spot as well. Eugene is a tad on the short side at 5'10" or 5'11", but he is very well put together and reminds me a bit of Brandon Taylor. Junior Rocky Duplessis also returns but will likely continue to be a mainstay on special teams and not truly threaten for significant playing time on the defense.
In the fall, Dwayne Thomas, Derrick Raymond, and Jalen Mills show up to compete for time at corner. Corey Thompson and Jerquinick Sandolph will compete at safety.
All in all, LSU's secondary is loaded with talent though probably not as much as in 2011. A position group typically does not get better when they lose three guys that will probably get drafted. But this remains one of the strengths of the team and one of the best secondaries in the nation.
1) Will Craig Loston hold down the strong safety spot and finally fulfill his enormous potential?
2) Who will emerge between Ronnie Vinson, Jalen Collins, and David Jenkins for the #3 corner spot?
3) Will any of the young safeties make a serious push for playing time?