John Chavis sees plenty of fresh faces on the LSU defense ... and he’s fine with that
For a few minutes, John Chavis had a moment to himself before the familiar questions started.
The questions really were dressed up as doubts for a defensive coordinator who’s known for consistency.
In case the architect of LSU’s defense and the Mustang package forgot, there were plenty of people wielding microphones, digital records, pens, pads and bulky TV cameras to remind him: The Tigers lost seven starters on defense, including five underclassmen to the NFL draft — the largest exodus since 2010.
Surely, Chavis needs no reminder he has an entire defensive line to replace. Or a middle linebacker that racked up 130 tackles. And a brawny nickel back who, while sloppy in technique at times, snared four interceptions for a unit ranked No. 8 nationally in total defense.
Never mind that defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and, before he was booted in August 2012, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu entered last season as potential choices to go off the board in the first three rounds.
To hear Chief describe it, what else is new?
“We didn’t lose a guy off the defense that I didn’t think would be gone,” Chavis said.
Four seasons ago, the sky was surely falling, and Tiger Stadium surely reduced to rubble when LSU suffered similar attrition. The reality? Chavis’ defense jumped 14 spots to finish No. 12 in the nation for total defense in 2010, allowing 307.2 yards per game and shaving two points off what it yielded to allow 16.2 points per game.
On Sunday, the ever-straightforward Chavis wasn’t predicting LSU that would roll out a defensive juggernaut comparable to the 2011 team, which finished second nationally. Instead, his job remains largely the same: Replace a set of ridiculously skilled defenders with raw material in the nation’s No. 6 recruiting class.
“Anytime you’re replacing the guys we are, there’s some work to be done. The good thing is we got good talent. We’re replacing talented guys with more talented guys. ... If there’s a comforting thing about it, it’s that we’re replacing those guys with guys that are just talented.”
A conservative estimate would peg the number of freshmen vying to see the field would include linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith, defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal, while Ricky Jefferson and Jeryl Brazil are in the mix at nickelback.
Balmy mornings on the practice fields are sure to include Chavis’ booming voice echoing off the slats of wood fence encircling the practice field.
No, coaching hard will never not be Chavis staple.
“The way he is with the older guys is the same way he is with the younger guys,” senior safety Craig Loston said. “There’s some slack, but his personality won’t change. He’s demanding, and he stays on us and pushes us. That never changes.”
Yet there are the moments where he spends a minute with Beckwith working on hand position, or asking junior middle linebacker D.J. Welter to run a drill again when not satisfied that the East Feliciana graduate — a four-star recruit and the No. 3 prospect in the state — isn’t getting a quality rep.
“He’s so big and physical and runs as well as the small guys,” Chavis said. “When you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve got to make sure you get him ready to play. I’m going to teach them all and coach them all hard, but you certainly want to do everything you can to get him on the field.”
The new arrivals are keenly aware there’s a void to be filled, too.
“We’re just ready to compete,” said Jefferson, a consensus four-star prospect out of Destrehan. “There’s chances here for us to make an impact, and we’re eager to try and do what we can to help this team out. Whatever we have to do to make that happen, we will.”
And Chavis is confident there’s enough experience in the form of tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, who’ve appeared in a combined 53 games, along with Jermauria Rasco’s time in the second-wave of pass rushers last season to replace the 21 sacks and roughly 54 tackles for loss that left the program.
“Even though we don’t have guys up front that haven’t started a bunch of games, they’ve played in a bunch of games,” Chavis said. “Those guys do a tremendous amount of teaching, and when you get things going they handle a good bit of that for younger guys.”
And Loston thinks the man paid $1.1 million annually has the track-record to allay concerns.
“I don’t think it’s anything different,” Loston said. “Every year I’ve been here, a couple guys leave to follow their dreams. It’s just something LSU does — get guys that can get the job done. They get guys in that can compete at a high level.”