LSU was noticeably better defensively last season under new coordinator John Chavis, and the Tigers are sensing that the best is yet to come.
“Year two is going to be special,” junior cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I can feel it. A lot of people are going to get back on LSU’s bandwagon.”
After scaring nobody two years ago, when they allowed 24.2 points per game and gave up more than 50 to Florida and Georgia, the Tigers regained some of their defensive prowess last season. They allowed 16.2 points per game, which ranked third in the SEC behind Alabama (11.7) and Florida (12.4) and 11th nationally.
Chavis had one of the league’s top four defenses in 10 of his 14 seasons as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator under Phillip Fulmer, and he’s 1-for-1 under Les Miles.
“That wasn’t even the whole scheme last year,” senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said. “He’s a great coach and does a great job getting the players prepared. People said we had a good year, and the defense did play good, but it could be very special in year two.”
Peterson, a 6-foot-1, 214-pounder from Pompano Beach, Fla., and Sheppard, a 6-3, 238-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga., are two big reasons LSU’s defense could be impressive. Sheppard led the team in tackles last season with 110 and could challenge to be considered the league’s top middle linebacker, while Peterson already is viewed as the conference’s No. 1 corner.
Arguably the best athlete in SEC football, Peterson ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash this spring and can squat 535 pounds, bench 335 and vertically jump 39 inches. He is adding punt-return duties this year, succeeding Trindon Holliday, and he seems to be humble about all of this.
“With people telling him he can go in the top five next spring (in the NFL draft), he could say, ‘Ah, I’ve got it made,’ but he doesn’t do that,” Sheppard said. “He acts like he doesn’t even see the NFL. All he’s concerned about is getting better each day and working towards a championship at LSU.”
Peterson had a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown last season at Mississippi State and a 53-yard touchdown after picking up a blocked field goal at Ole Miss. He amassed 52 tackles plus 13 pass deflections and two interceptions.
Each week he went up against the best receiver on the opposing team, so he faced Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones.
“I had to take my game at another level playing both of those guys,” Peterson said. “Julio is stockier and will block you a little bit. A.J. is a slimmer guy who’s pretty fast and can go up for the ball like no other receiver does.”
For year two under Chavis to be special, Peterson and Sheppard will need some help, as only four defensive starters return. One of them, Lazarius Levingston, moved inside from defensive end this spring and along with Drake Nevis should provide a solid interior.
Defensive end is a question mark, as is support for Sheppard at linebacker. The secondary should be stout with Peterson and Morris Claiborne as the cornerbacks, and there is the potential for three quality safeties with Brandon Taylor, Jai Eugene and Craig Loston.
“This is the most talent I’ve been around since I’ve been playing football,” Peterson said. “We’re faster, and so many young guys can do so many different things.”
LSU enters this season looking to build on its 51-15 record under Miles — the most wins in a five-year period in school history.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...