BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU football training camp is approaching. SEC Country is counting down the days until camp with a position-by-position preview of how the Tigers stack up this season.
Last week we kicked things off with the offense. This week it’s time to look at Dave Aranda’s defense. Next week? Football will be here.
Junior safety Jamal Adams put himself in rarified air last season, joining Tyrann Mathieu and LaRon Landry in the conversation of most dominant safeties in LSU football history. But just like Mathieu and Landry before him, Adams moved on to the NFL, going to the New York Jets with the sixth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Without Adams, the Tigers have a hole to fill. That’s 76 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 pass breakups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble erased from the stat sheet.
But there’s no need to fret. Adams was a transcendent talent, but talent isn’t something the 2017 LSU safeties are lacking.
The returning starter
Recently reclassified junior John Battle will be the veteran presence in LSU’s safety corps in 2017. Battle played in all 12 games and started seven a year ago, recording 39 tackles with four pass breakups. This included a season-high 8 tackles versus Florida and 2 pass breakups against Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl.
Battle isn’t as talented as Adams, but his experience makes him invaluable on a young LSU defense and his 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame makes him a versatile option at either strong or free safety.
The late-blooming natural
Throughout the spring, Battle worked alongside senior Ed Paris. A converted cornerback, Paris has 17 tackles and a pass breakup in his three seasons in Baton Rouge.
Paris was the No. 3 safety in the country when he was recruited, playing both cornerback and safety during his time at Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas. Upon arriving at LSU, he was classified as a corner. But late last season, Paris made the switch to safety, a switch that caused LSU football coach Ed Orgeron to call Paris “a natural.”
If Paris’ fluid hips and cornerback instincts translate in the game the same way they do on the practice field, he’ll be a gifted option in the defensive backfield. But there’s a host of younger players trying to take that job from him.
Here come the freshmen
Just as it did at inside linebacker, LSU signed three safeties in its 2017 recruiting class. Five-star JaCoby Stevens and 4-stars Grant Delpit and Todd Harris were the core of the signing class, giving LSU a fearsome threesome for years to come.
Stevens and Delpit were both early enrollees, so they each had the opportunity to learn Corey Raymond and Aranda’s defensive sets a few months early. Delpit in particular stood out, leading Orgeron to say earlier this week that he has a chance to start. At 6-3, 191, Delpit looks every bit as massive as he is, and he plays with a linebacker’s intensity.
That’s not to undersell the equally massive Stevens, who is 6-2, 214 pounds, a player who earned his 5-star rating and has the chance to develop into an Adams-esque enforcer if his physical skills catch up with his instincts. And it’s not to devalue Harris, a Plaquemine native who was an Under Armour All-American and turned down Alabama to come to LSU.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more talented group of freshmen safeties in the nation. In fact, there are probably more than a few teams in the nation who would take Stevens, Delpit and Harris over their safeties regardless of age.
Don’t forget about Eric Monroe
He’s often overlooked because of the players older and younger than him, but LSU also has redshirt freshman Eric Monroe to call on. Monroe was the No. 3 safety in America for the recruiting class of 2016 but took a redshirt last year waiting behind Adams.
Just like Paris and Delpit, Monroe is a Texas native, one who shined in the talent-rich city of Houston. As a senior at North Shore High School, Monroe recorded 3 interceptions.