BATON ROUGE, La. — Arden Key isn’t much of an impressionist.
But when Kevin Steele’s name came up Monday afternoon, the LSU linebacker couldn’t help but try his hand at mimicry. Trying his hardest to feign a deep southern accent, Key leaned back and said “Why, guys?,” a line Key said players still yell at one another for laughs on the practice field to this day, more than nine months after Steele left Baton Rouge.
Now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, Steele worked as LSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2015, leading the Tigers to the No. 17 rush defense and No. 25 total defense in the country. And with Key and the LSU defense set to look across the field and see their former coordinator on the opposing sideline this weekend when LSU visits Auburn, Key couldn’t help but look back and remember Steele’s defining characteristic, which wasn’t so much what came out of his mouth, as it was what he put in his mouth.
“Coach Steele used to dip and we always used to ask him for a little dip or something,” Key said. “We loved Coach Steele. We asked him (for some dip) but he never gave it to us.”
According to Key, Steele’s go-to brand of chewing tobacco was Copenhagen. And his go-to brand of coaching was teaching the tactics.
“He did a lot of stuff well,” Key said. “I’d say (the thing he did best was) lining us up and learning how to break down the offensive opponent and lining us up to be the best and then learning how to defeat our opponents.”
When asked about facing his former assistant, LSU coach Les Miles brought up the same point, saying that he expects Auburn’s defenders to be lined up correctly and make tackles that some other teams may miss. Miles added that he understands why Steele left the Bayou for the Plains and harbors no ill will, but admitted that he was “relatively shocked” when Steele gave him the news.
One thing that probably won’t be shocking is the look that Steele’s defense will give the LSU offense. Some of LSU’s offensive players seem to be operating under the assumption that while the personnel may have changed, the principles of Steele’s defense aren’t all that different at Auburn than they were at LSU.
In particular, tight ends Foster Moreau and DeSean Smith explained the similarities. Moreau said Steele’s defenses tend to be more “over-under” in nature, referring to the strong- and weak-side alignments of the defensive tackles in Steele’s 4-3 base defense. Thanks to facing those looks on the scout team and throughout spring and fall camp, Moreau said that those looks are familiar and he looks forward to Saturday because he respects both the defenses and the man running them.
Smith, on the other hand, was more direct.
“We know what they’re going to come at us with,” Smith said. “We know his type of coaching style. We’re looking forward to beating them.”