BATON ROUGE, La. — Replacing All-SEC safeties is just part of the spring routine for the LSU football team.
LSU has a Jamal Adams-sized hole in its secondary heading into 2017 and replacing a future first-round pick should be no easy task. But replacing Jalen Mills when he went down with an injury in 2015 didn’t look like an easy task either, until Adams and Rickey Jefferson stepped up and showed out. And before Mills, there was Ronald Martin. And before Martin there was Eric Reid. Before him? Tyrann Mathieu.
Adams, Mills, Martin, Reid and Mathieu were all named to All-SEC or All-America teams at some point in their times at LSU. And they replaced each other in rapid succession.
So, senior safety John Battle isn’t concerned about replacing Adams. It’s just the nature of the beast created by the LSU football team.
“It’s just doing the job and stuff will fall in,” Battle said. “Like Jamal had to go replace J. Mills and J. Mills had to go replace Eric Reid and Tyrann Mathieu. It’s just keep going, keep going. Step in and reload and get ready to play.”
Battle knows a thing or two about stepping in himself. When Jefferson broke a leg midway through the 2016 season, Battle assumed the next-man-up philosophy and started the Tigers’ last seven games. Over those seven games, Battle had 31 tackles and broke up three passes.
Six months later, Battle is one of LSU’s few steady points in a secondary that’s losing Adams, Jefferson, Tre’Davious White and Dwayne Thomas. Thought to be secure in his position as a starter, Battle assumed leadership responsibilities alongside junior cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Tolliver. As the only three defensive backs with significant experience heading into next season, Battle said those three have taken it upon themselves to dole out advice when necessary.
And when it comes to advice, Battle seems to be the right guy to ask.
“You’ve got to seize your opportunity and your moment,” Battle said he tells LSU’s younger defensive backs. “You can’t let your moment be too big for you when your time is called because guys get hurt, so sometimes those roles may come unexpected. You’ve got to be ready.”
As for some of those younger or less-experienced DBs, Battle was ready with some scouting reports.
- On early enrollees JaCoby Stevens and Grant Delpit: “Both of those guys are very athletic, very talented. Making the transition from high school to college ball, there’s going to be a little rough transition. But I think those guys are going to be ready in about a week or two.”
- On redshirt freshmen Eric Monroe and Xavier Lewis: “Both of those guys are doing a good job of transitioning from redshirting last year. They’re learning the playbooks and just taking in for what Jamal left, and Shaq and Rickey and Dwayne. They’re looking pretty good.”
- On converted cornerback Ed Paris: “Ed, since he’s been a corner, you know he can cover pretty well. He also has the size to play that safety. I’m excited to see what Ed’s going to do back there. I think he’s going to do a good job.”
This is going to be a year of change for the LSU defense. The Tigers aren’t just replacing strong players in the secondary. Kendell Beckwith, Duke Riley, Lewis Neal, Davon Godchaux and Tashawn Bower all also must be replaced. And defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has said he wants to install more complicated schemes and plays to build off the basics he taught last season.
Battle said he noticed this a bit through two practices, with the team installing a handful of plays here and there. But for the most part, those plays don’t affect the safeties too much.
“Our job is to cover and not let anybody score or get deep. It’s pretty simple for us,” Battle said. “We’ve just got to make simple adjustments here and there. We added some new plays in there, but it’s pretty much the same thing. We’re just tweaking. Looking at what we did bad and what we did good and just putting some new things in.”
Though it might seem bizarre to think LSU’s secondary did things badly last season, Battle said correction has been a focus. In particular, Battle said he believed last year’s secondary relied too much on athleticism and not enough on mentality and technique.
The athleticism is still there, he said, but this year’s focus is to use the two in concert. And if LSU succeeds at doing this, you’ll be reading a similar story next year.
Just add Battle’s name in front of Adams.