John Chavis: LSU’s defense relishes challenge

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis directs a drill during warmups before a football game at Tiger Stadium. Show caption
Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis directs a drill during warmups before a football game at Tiger Stadium.

A first, or even second, look at the soon-to-be viral LSU football team’s “Harlem Shake” YouTube video shows no evidence of defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis shaking anything alongside LSU coach Les Miles.

That does not mean Chavis is off camera somewhere, shaking in his boots.

The loss of seven defensive starters from last year’s 10-3 team is cause for significant concern among purple-and-gold faithful. By no means does that concern not extend to the defensive coordinator’s office on the second floor of the LSU football complex.

But Widespread Panic is probably not a group Chavis has ever listened to — or an emotion to which he subscribes.

The names may have changed on the LSU defense — a whole mess of them. The expectations, Chavis said, have not.

“This is what happens in football,” Chavis said Monday. “Real good players move on. We’ve done a good job recruiting here. Certainly the biggest thing (this spring) is creating depth. Some new names will come to the front. It’s a matter of getting the right people in the right places to make sure we get our best team on the field.

“We’ve got a challenge — no question. But these young men are not afraid of doing the hard things. We’re looking forward to it.”

Graduation and early departures for the NFL draft hit LSU hardest on the defensive line, where the Tigers must replace all four starters (Ke-Ke Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Josh Downs and Bennie Logan) plus two senior backups (Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere).

Despite that, Chavis said LSU is out to identify enough good players to retain its typical eight- or nine-man defensive-line rotation.

“That’s a must,” he said. “We’ll get there if we have to do it by committee. Three years ago, we were in a very similar situation. We’ll continue to grow and develop these young guys.”

One effort to bolster depth has been the move of sophomore Ronnie Feist (6-foot-2 and 230 pounds) from linebacker to defensive end.

“In three days, he hasn’t looked out of place,” Chavis said. “We’ll see how he looks, but if not, he will do well for us at middle linebacker.”

Linebacker is where LSU’s defense is the deepest. Even without Feist, the Tigers have eight experienced players there, with three freshmen — East Feliciana’s Kendell Beckwith, John Curtis’ Duke Riley and Melvin Jones of Lake Charles Washington-Marion — arriving in August.

There has been much talk of who will replace All-Southeastern Conference middle linebacker Kevin Minter. It looked like Lamin Barrow (6-2, 232) would slide over from his weakside spot and still may, but junior D.J. Welter (6-0, 226) is getting a chance to play there.

“We’re giving him some good looks,” Chavis said. “He’s playing with Lamar Louis. He played there by necessity last year (as a freshman). We’ve been real pleased with him. Our other options are Lamin or Lorenzo Phillips and Trey Granier. I don’t know how it’s going to shake out.

“The thing we want to make understood is there’s no job out there that has a name on it. You may have manned that spot last year, but someone wants it this year.”

Chavis said there isn’t much experimentation going on in the secondary — just two groups of players at safety and cornerback fighting for playing time.

Cornerback Jalen Mills (6-0, 185) and strong safety Craig Loston (6-2, 205) are the returning starters. Sophomore safety Micah Eugene (5-11, 190) is seeing the most work at nickel back along with Mills, Chavis said.

“A bunch of our guys played last year. They’ve got to mature and get better,” Chavis said. “That’s what spring practice is all about.”

The Tigers resume practice at 4 p.m. Tuesday with their fourth session of the spring. The team will practice again Thursday in advance of Saturday’s scrimmage in Tiger Stadium, the first of spring practice.