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LSU Football

Another challenge for the House

April 10, 2023

Another taxing spring football practice for LSU defensive coordinator Matt House is slightly past the halfway point.

The conclusion of the Tigers’ spring drills is now less than two weeks away. However, House has not been able to work on player development because there has been a huge turnover of the defensive personnel for a second consecutive year.

Therefore, House and his defensive staff are spending most of the spring practices simply determining not only the best players, but also the best position for these players. Regardless of the scheme, House wants to have his 11 most productive players on the field.

Meeting with the members of the media last week, House expressed the fact that the Tigers are still doing a lot of experimentation regarding the personnel. What makes this process tougher is the unavailability of players like Mekhi Wingo, Maason Smith, Jordan Jefferson and Duce Chestnut.

House admitted he knows what Wingo and Smith can bring to the table. That duo should be the starters in the middle of the line. However, House needs to find out what Arizona State transfer Jefferson and Syracuse transfer Chestnut can provide on the line and in the secondary, respectively.

When House assumed the defensive coordinator role in 2022, he inherited just three returning starters – edge rusher BJ Ojulari, linebacker Micah Baskerville and nickel back Jay Ward. So, House had to find eight new starters.

It took the LSU defensive coaches a while before settling on a lineup which included four transfers and one true freshman. Of those five players, three are returning for a second straight season – Wingo, linebacker Harold Perkins and safety Greg Brooks. Once again, House must find eight new starters.

Let’s take a look at the progress being made at finding these new starters on the Tigers defensive unit.

Up front, a healthy Smith is all that’s needed to fill the spot next to Wingo. Smith’s true freshman season ended early due to an injury. Then, Smith second campaign came to a conclusion in the first quarter of the opener due to a knee injury. Smith is doing no contact work during spring practice.

Texas transfer Ovie Oghoufo is expected to replace Ojulari as the edge rusher. Sai’vion Jones, who has been a backup the past two seasons, appears ready to be the starter at end taking over for Ali Gaye. Depth may be a problem as veteran Jacobian Guillory has been the only other impressive lineman.

House has utilized Perkins as a true linebacker during the first part of spring drills. Last season, Perkins lined up as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme in order to keep both Ojulari and him on the field. Now, Perkins is headed to be a starting linebacker – with Oregon State transfer Omar Speights.

The Tigers still have Greg Penn, who was a full-time starter at linebacker last season. Not only does LSU has depth at the position, but also it can move Perkins around the defense. Perkins could be used as an edge rusher to rest Oghoufo with Penn joining Speights at inside linebacker.

House probably has more anxious moments when trying to figure out the secondary. The problem is cornerback where the Tigers have no returning experienced players. Four transfers will compete for starting jobs – Zy Alexander (SLU), Chestnut, Denver Harris (Texas A&M) and JK Johnson (Ohio State).

Alexander has been the one constant at cornerback on the first unit during spring practice. Chestnut is on the sidelines with an injury. Neither Harris nor Johnson has drawn much attention from the coaching staff.

The safety and nickel back positions are in better shape. Major Burns, the only player on the defense who logged significant snaps just two seasons ago, is slotted to join Brooks as the starting safeties. Sage Ryan, entering the third season in the program, is playing his best ball at nickel back.

The wild card in the secondary is early-enrollee Javien Toviano. During spring practice, Toviano has worked at cornerback, safety and nickel back. When Brooks missed practice, Toviano was the No. 1 nickel with Ryan moving to safety. Expect Toviano to receive much early playing time as a true freshman.

LSU’s offense must carry some of the load in the early portion of the 2023 season. However, no team is going to outscore opponents on its way to a conference or national championship. That’s why House and his defensive staff must meet the challenge of once again quickly setting up a high-caliber defense.


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