Fast & Loose
LSU's defense has as much speed as any team in the country, and the Tigers' defenders say they'll put it to good use as they continue to get more comfortable in Bo Pelini's system
Monday, August 13, 2007
By Jim Kleinpeter
BATON ROUGE -- Football in the past 20 years has become less about brute force and more about speed.
Whether using it to make game-changing plays on offense or getting more tacklers to the ball quicker on defense, it has become one of the necessary ingredients for success.
LSU has got more than it's share from the top of the roster to the bottom. But speed isn't always about how fast the players run, rather how fast they play. In that respect, LSU is sporting what could be a dominant defense this season, and it's one of the main reasons the Tigers start the season near the top of the polls.
With eight starters returning from a team that ranked in the top five nationally in five categories, the 2007 Tigers' defense is hitting the ground running. The intricacies of third-year coordinator Bo Pelini's defense have become second nature to a group that boasts seven front-line seniors and four juniors.
"What our guys run 40 (yard dash)-wise compared to other groups, I have no idea," Pelini said at media day Sunday. I don't know if we time as fast as other groups. But I know our guys play fast, play hard, play decisive and play with an attitude, and I think that's the key to playing good defense."
It's hard to imagine the Tigers topping last season's effort. LSU finished No. 3 in the nation in total defense, pass defense and passing efficiency defense, and fourth in scoring defense, leading the Southeastern Conference in all four categories.
But the players believe to a man that they can continue on the roll they built throughout 2006. They played fast then and believe they can play faster in 2007.
"We feel a chemistry there that we don't even have to talk to each other to know what's going on," junior defensive end Tyson Jackson said. "I can look at Glenn (Dorsey) and we both know what's about to happen. That comes with time.
"It's like A-B-C, 1-2-3. Now you can play off your natural talent. We don't have to be thinking too much. He (Pelini) lets us use our athletic ability, makes it plain and simple."
That's not to say there won't be some new wrinkles. Because of his unit's grasp of the playbook, Pelini said opponents may see some 3-4 schemes.
But another ingredient is the character and maturity of the players, who recognize the importance of trying to get better. He pounds into his players that if they aren't getting better, they're getting worse.
"We're way ahead of where we were as far as knowledge of what we're doing," he said. "We have a lot more options. We've really progressed scheme-wise because our guys are able to handle a lot more now.
"It's not really what you do as how you do it. Every year is a different year. Just because we had success last year, it doesn't mean anything to this year's group. Our guys understand that."
Said junior defensive tackle Marlon Favorite: "The chemistry is great through the first week. It's awesome. We can be better than last year, but we're not focused on last year. We want to get better."
Anchored by Dorsey, an All-American last season, at tackle and Jackson, who is at or near that level, LSU's strength is in its line. Opponents are expected to have trouble establishing a running game against a deep, talented unit.
Senior cornerbacks Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson bring a wealth of experience at the next most important positions after the defensive line. Speedy linebackers Ali Highsmith and Darry Beckwith are big-play athletes.
Depth at defensive back allows LSU to match up well with multiple-receiver sets. All-American safety LaRon Landry will be missed, but Curtis Taylor and Craig Steltz are well-seasoned.
"I love this group of guys," Pelini said. "We have high expectations, tremendous senior leadership, a lot of character, and I think everything is heading in the right direction.
"We're not the finished product by any means, not even close, but we understand there's a lot of work between now and the first game and that's all we're concerned with, the next practice, next meeting, keeping our focus channeled where it needs to be."
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