BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU has stars embedded at each layer of its defense, but those players have been focusing on something a bit out of the ordinary this spring.
The likes of Arden Key, Davon Godchaux and even Jamal Adams are learning new positions or adapting to different roles on the LSU defense under first-year coordinator Dave Aranda.
On Saturday, the Tigers will hold their annual spring game, where they are hoping a season themed by change culminates with harmony.
“I feel like we’re all learning, but it’s all becoming second nature to us now,” said Key, a rising sophomore who has shifted from defensive end to outside linebacker.
“At the beginning of spring, it was kind of hard, but it’s all second nature now,” he added. “We’ve got great coaches in Coach O (Ed Orgeron) and Coach Aranda. He’s a mastermind. He’s going to dumb it down and make it as simple as possible. When the game gets here, it’s going to be rapid fire like the way we practice. Everything is going to be second nature. We’re going to fly to the ball. It’s easy now; we just need to get adjusted.”
With Key’s move to outside linebacker, his biggest point of emphasis has been learning to drop back in coverage. Apparently, the Atlanta native is a quick learner, as he picked off quarterback Brandon Harris during a scrimmage earlier this month.
While Key has been pushed outwards, Godchaux has shifted in.
The rising junior defensive lineman is being tested as a nose guard in the 3-4 defense for the first time in his playing career.
Orgeron came to Godchaux with the idea to plug him inside, and the Plaquemine (La.) product believes it’s been a catalyst for the entire front seven.
“I want to play any position on the defensive line to show that our defense has come a long way from last year,” Godchaux said. “At times, it’s hard. It’s rough, but you’ve got to be a man and do all the dirty work. Coach O put me up to the challenge. It’s going to be tough, grinding it out.
“Our defense is going to change our style … part of the plan is getting the O-line thinking too much and getting some free (tackles for loss), some free plays. We’re going to establish our dynamite defense, keep pushing and let everyone know that coming into the fall we’re going to have a dominant defense.”
Much of the mixing and matching has come within LSU’s front seven, but the secondary has not been is not immune to the change.
Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond hasn’t made too many adjustments, but Adams’ role has been altered a bit.
The rising junior safety has assumed a responsibility left behind by Jalen Mills, quarterbacking the defensive backfield and roaming a bit more in Aranda’s scheme.
“We’re reading a lot of things they throw at us,” Adams explained. “Being a quarterback back there, I’ve had to step my game up. I roam a lot more than I used to, but it’s the same defense that LSU has been playing, We’re really excited to get back out there and show the world our new defense.”
Running back Leonard Fournette, having already gotten a taste of the new defense, is still trying to figure it out.
Fournette played against Aranda when he was heading Wisconsin’s defense in the 2014 season opener at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Then a true freshman, Fournette managed 18 yards on eight carries, but hardly remembers what Aranda threw at him in the contest. Seeing the defense up close and personal throughout the spring and in a handful of scrimmages, however, hasn’t cleared up too much.
“It’s different because they throw a lot of things at you,” Fournette explained. “Sometimes, I get confused. That’s probably their main goal — to get us confused. There’s a lot of movement with Jamal Adams and you see a lot of things, but every day I try to catch on to what they’re saying and what it means.”
On Saturday, Fournette will try to find some clarity in Aranda’s defense as it is unveiled for the first time.