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Q&A with Mike Detillier Part 2: LSU Defensive and Special Teams
Posted 12/1/17 Continued from Part 1
Scott: Let’s start this segment on LSU’s defense with your thoughts on potential early departures of Donté Jackson and Kevin Toliver. Where do you project them, and do you think it would be in their best interest to return?
Mike: Well, Orgeron said it, so that tells me they have hinted strongly they are seriously considering leaving. He didn’t mince any words about looking for guys to replace them. Both play the ball well in front of them, but late in the year both struggled at times finding the ball in flight in man coverage and especially on the deeper throws. Jackson will just blow-up the workouts in the off-season with his speed and leaping skills. Toliver has great size for a cornerback.
I would be surprised to see them being picked in the top-50. Jackson, I would say very late 2nd into the 3rd round. Toliver, depending on his workouts, I would say mid-3rd to early 4th round.
You can’t convince anyone who has made up their mind to leave early to stay, no matter how they project. Everyone has different reasons to leave early and sometimes it is to help their families and sometimes people don’t like to hear it, but for some they are going to school to get their PHD in football. But both guys have to take a long look at this and understand where they will be drafted. They may be getting some bad rating advice. But to be honest, I think both really believe they are ready for the NFL now.
Scott: Heading into this season, you said you were more concerned with LSU’s secondary than you were the defensive line, and I think that line of thought proved to be spot on. What are your thoughts on next year’s defensive backfield?
Mike: It’s the biggest concern again for me in 2018 on defense, especially if Jackson and Toliver leave. That’s again a big hole there at cornerback. Greedy Williams really played well this season. He has outstanding ball skills and his foot work and eye-hand coordination are outstanding. It looks to be one of the freshmen this year – Kary Vincent or Jontre Kirklin – who would project to the starting spot and the other to the nickel, along with Xavier Lewis. Now, a freshman like Patrick Surtain, Jr. could come into play here, if he signs on with LSU.
And at safety, Grant Delpit got better once he knew what he was doing. You have to know what to do on every play, not just some. They are going to miss John Battle. He was a good player and smart player for them. Eric Monroe is in the mix and I know Coach O really likes Todd Harris, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience. Interesting to see what occurs with JaCoby Stevens, also. Very talented athlete. There is talent there, but not a lot of playing time experience other than Greedy and Grant in the secondary. I know Coach O says the halfback spot keeps him up at night for 2018, but for me it would be in the secondary, again.
Scott: One thing seems pretty certain: LSU will return a ton of talent on the defensive line. With Rashard Lawrence and Ed “Rougaroux” Alexander returning, and assuming Tyler Shelvin and Braiden Fehoko gain eligibility, this unit should be scary good in my opinion. You agree?
Mike: Pete Jenkins told me in the summer that he thought this unit, if they could stay healthy, would be really good in 2018. He knew there was going to be a learning curve and Lawrence is an All-SEC player. Rashard is a special defensive lineman and we all saw when he was healthy what he meant to the team and how big of a loss it was when he was out of the lineup. Alexander is a stud in the middle. Big-time run stuffer and he gets a solid push pass rush-wise from the interior. The coaches have raved about Fehoko. Braiden has been a two-year starter and he has that special combination of size, strength and is super quick off the line of scrimmage. Glen Logan also had his moments and he is just going to get better. Glen is a big man who can run the field.
And the coaches think highly of Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas, especially with a year in the weight-room with Tommy Moffitt. Both guys are good technicians and very aggressive.
Tyler Shelvin has to watch his weight and get in better condition. He’s very talented and he’s a huge man, but too huge.
That’s a strong defensive front unit. And they have put a lot of emphasis on landing defensive linemen. It’s the defensive version of the “skill” position today. But that looks like a strong unit. That is the thing to watch this recruiting season and also in 2019, the defensive linemen they can recruit. Coach O has recruited and coached 11 first-round pick defensive linemen and he has an eye for those players.
Scott: Of course, a big question is what effect defensive line coach Pete Jenkins’ retirement will have on this group. No doubt Jenkins is a D-line guru and worthy of his reputation as a legendary coach. Talk a bit about the job he’s done at LSU and the unit’s progression under his guidance.
Mike: Pete’s the very best in the game and some of his methods are old-school, but it works and he makes the players believe in them. I’m sure he will be around a little bit when fall drills happen. Great technical coach. One of the very best ever in college football. And he has passed those over to Dennis Johnson. Legendary defensive line coach and a mentor to Orgeron.
Scott: Any concern about Dennis Johnson taking the reigns as D-Line coach?
Mike: Oh no. “Meatball” has learned under Pete and also worked with Coach Orgeron and he is a former defensive lineman himself. Dennis is a very strong motivator, has excellent rapport with the players, and is one of the best recruiters on the staff. His ability to relate to the top defensive line prospects are key and he is a good teacher. Again, you want to land the next batch of Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan-type players to LSU.
Scott: Interesting that we’re five questions in on the defense and I’m just now asking you about Arden Key. I think I know the answer to this but will ask anyway… Do you see any remote chance of him returning for his senior year? And based on the year he had, do you think it would serve him well to return?
Mike: No, he’s not returning. Key is going pro. He’s going to be a first-round pick provided he keeps out of any kind of trouble. He is a gifted pass rusher and the pros covet those type players and I think he will wow them in the workouts.
Scott: How much of an issue do you think last spring’s mysterious absence will have on his draft stock?
Mike: Slightly hurt him and the pros already know the reason. He just has to be honest with them. There are players in the NFL and some drafted very highly with similar issues. Can’t cover it up and you have to prove to them you are over the off-field issues. I think for the pros they are more worried about him keeping in top shape than any off field issue. The NFL is about being there and production. He has got to prove to them all is well with him physically and no off-field issues.
Scott: Let’s talk about another major talent, Devin White. What a year he’s had and the best news is he’s only a sophomore. You know, when I think back to the mistakes he made in high school and the way many Tiger Fans thought LSU should not recruit him because of it, it makes me realize the importance of giving kids a chance. He’s proven to be a high-character guy and man can he play.
Mike: He’s a freak of an athlete and he is an All-American type performer. Phenomenal speed and athletic ability and while he may take a false step at times he is so fast he can shift himself back in position and make the play. Tremendous in coverage also. Maturity is different for everyone and people today, once they get to a certain age, forget about the stuff they did when they were younger. Devin White is a man out on the field.
Scott: Are you as surprised as I am that White was not even a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award? And what do you think of his All-America chances?
Mike: Yes, but that a lot of times is almost a popularity contest. So I wasn’t surprised. I think he gets some All-American recognition, no question. He is one of the signature defensive players in the SEC right now.
Scott: Before moving on to special teams, give me your general thoughts on Year 2 of Dave Aranda’s defense. I sure hope LSU can hold on to him for a while.
Mike: Dave fought through some injuries and I think what will bother him is the “splash” passing plays when a defender was close and couldn’t find the ball. He is going to have to adjust, like with most coaches, to this fast tempo style that you see a lot, but after a rough patch the defense really played well. Injuries happen to every team. It’s not an excuse, but it does matter who is playing out there. “Next Man Up” is great for high school, but it doesn’t apply to college and pro football. It does matter who is playing and who isn’t. Aranda is one of the best around and he doesn’t seem to want to be a head coach at the college level. Now, one day the pros will come a calling for him to be an assistant, but he is the biggest recruit for Orgeron to keep on the staff and I fully expect his return in 2018.
Scott: Come January, when the NCAA allows a 10th assistant coach, LSU will bring in a special teams coach. My question is, how much more can LSU get out of its current place-kickers with a dedicated special teams coach?
Mike: Most of these special teams coaches have never kicked a ball in their lives. Greg McMahon can help him with technique, but Greg has worked with both this year, just not on Game Day. I would try to bring in a guy that has kicked in college/pros to work with McMahon as a consultant. Kickers are a different breed as to how you handle them and I would like to see Coach O reach out to a former kicker to help with the group and be a consultant to McMahon.
Scott: With DJ Chark moving on, who do you foresee being LSU’s punt return guy?
Mike: I think the first guy would be Derrick Dillon. He has tremendous open-field running skills. Now, lets see how well he can catch it cleanly. Drake Davis may get a shot here, too, and I would also like to see how well former Lutcher QB and now Tiger DB Jontre Kirklin could handle those duties as a punt returner.
Scott: Honestly, I’m disappointed that we’ve never really seen what Donté Jackson could do in the return game, but I understand that ball security is a big issue. If he ends up leaving early, do you think LSU will have missed an opportunity to see what he can do with the ball in his hands on offense or special teams?
Mike: They gave Donté every chance to be the return man, but he had issues as you pointed out with ball security and catching it cleanly. You certainly couldn’t take away the impact D.J. Chark had as a return man. He averaged 11.7 yards per punt return and brought two back for TDs and had some others brought back due to penalties. The staff wanted it to be Jackson but if you can’t do it in practice cleanly you aren’t going to do it in a game cleanly.
Scott: Ok, now let’s conclude this thing with a few rapid-fire questions and answers... Team’s biggest improvement over the 2015 team?
Mike: Linebacking group… They had talent and a lot of depth from the young freshmen. Next year having Devin White coming back along with Tyler Taylor, Jacob Phillips, Patrick Queen, Mike Divinity, Ray Thornton and K’Lavon Chaisson. This unit was as thin as typing paper and all of a sudden it’s a strength for the team.
Scott: The single area where LSU must improve in 2017 to compete for a championship?
Mike: Quarterback, but offensive line play is a 1B.
Scott: Lastly, the most pleasant surprise this season.
Mike: Russell Gage was fabulous as a special teamer. He is a pro player as a back-up wide receiver, but he is a core special team performer for whoever selects him. But I would select Greg Gilmore. I don’t know where this team would have been without him in 2017. With 51 tackles, 9 tackles for losses, 6.5 quarterback sacks… that’s a strong statement and he was excellent versus the run. Biggest surprise in 2017 was Gilmore.
Scott: Thanks, Mike. It’s always a pleasure and I know DandyDon readers appreciate your contributions.
Mike: Thanks so much, Scott. I always get a great response when answering these questions. You do a fantastic job with your work on covering LSU and I know it’s a lot of time and effort. I certainly encourage the folks to help out funding your site. It’s well worth the price and outstanding stuff each day. Thanks again.
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Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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