BATON ROUGE, La. -- The safety position that is a short-term concern for Corey Raymond seems almost certain to become a long-term strength. LSU’s defensive backs coach made sure of that on national signing day when he assembled an absurd collection of talent at the position.
However, when the Tigers open spring practice on Saturday, they will do so with a group of safeties who are high on potential but also highly inexperienced. This being spring practice, the guys we have seen the least -- early enrollees JaCoby Stevens and Grant Delpit and redshirt freshmen Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis -- are the greatest sources of intrigue. Especially Stevens and Delpit, who made up two-thirds of Raymond’s safety haul in the 2017 class.
“I smile every time I see them out there. I promise you that,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Those are two tremendous safeties … All of those guys are going to get a tremendous amount of reps. They are going to get a great look. We already have seen them in agility drills. We have seen them move. We have seen them cut. Both of them look fantastic. Let’s see what happens when the pads come on.”
Early enrollees are typically at a competitive disadvantage. They’ve only been on campus since early January, after all. But Stevens and Delpit -- and let’s also include fellow safety signee Todd Harris here ahead of his arrival in June -- are not staring up a depth chart loaded with returning veterans. Harris admitted on national signing day that was one factor that compelled him to join the Tigers in February.
Safeties Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson are gone, as is safety/nickelback Dwayne Thomas, creating a void that senior John Battle and an assortment of inexperienced safeties must fill. Battle, who took over as a starter when Jefferson broke his leg midway through last season, is the only player on the roster who has started a game at safety. Fellow senior Ed Paris started twice last season at cornerback before shifting to safety and the remaining contenders -- redshirt sophomore Xavier Lewis, Cameron Lewis, Monroe, Stevens and Delpit -- have extremely limited reps on scrimmage downs or none at all.
That’s why some believe that the true freshmen have a legitimate chance to crack the two-deep this season and maybe even start. As a prospect, Stevens earned the highest ESPN recruiting grade (87) of any LSU safety. Delpit (86) is second, while Harris, Monroe and Paris (84 apiece) tie for third.
The common thread here is that talent wouldn’t appear to be an issue. Battle is the only member of the group who was not an ESPN 300 honoree. In this year’s recruiting class alone, three of LSU’s seven highest-rated signees were safeties: Stevens (No. 25 overall on ESPN 300), Delpit (No. 47) and Harris (No. 83). That explains Orgeron’s exuberance about the newcomers.
This spring will provide Raymond ample time to sort out his depth chart in the secondary, and he clearly has promising options, even if they lack seasoning.
“We are excited about our safeties,” Orgeron said. “Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens coming in, Todd Harris Jr. -- we have some guys coming in at safety, we have some guys who can come in and play. We are looking forward to these guys in spring ball, especially with Grant and Jacoby being here.”