Patrick Peterson was one of the most talented and decorated cornerbacks to ever play in the SEC.
The next football he plays will be in the NFL.
But as great as Peterson was, it’s not like LSU is trying to pick up the pieces in its secondary.
In fact, far from it.
The Tigers put the wraps on their spring Saturday with the National L Club spring game, and on a team that will probably be a top 5 pick nationally in the preseason, there’s a growing feeling that the secondary may well be the strength of the team.
Even more exciting for LSU fans is all the young talent in that secondary and the way certain guys, namely third-year sophomore safety Craig Loston, have turned hype into performance.
“The standard has been set here,” said junior cornerback Morris Claiborne, who tied for third in the SEC last season with five interceptions. “All we talk about is that we want to be the best secondary in the country, and that’s the way we work.
“Losing Pat was big, but there’s a lot of young talent here just waiting to step up. It’s been fun watching everybody fly around and get to the ball no matter where it is.”
Claiborne, one of the so-called veterans in the Tigers’ secondary, said he’s ready to take that torch from Peterson and be the shutdown guy back there.
What makes the passing of that torch easier is the talent that surrounds Claiborne.
Brandon Taylor returns at strong safety, and he will be the only senior starter. Taylor went down with a season-ending foot injury against Alabama last year, and getting his experience back will be invaluable for the Tigers.
It’s easy to forget how young LSU actually is in the secondary. Of the top nine defensive backs a year ago, five were true freshmen and one was a redshirt freshman.
“Everybody knows we have a lot of young talent, and getting all that experience last year just helped bring along guys that much faster,” Claiborne said. “I don’t think we’ll miss anything.”
It’s telling that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis would take senior Karnell Hatcher, who started 10 games at safety last season, and move him to linebacker.
That says a lot about Loston’s development. He was the No. 1 safety prospect in the country when he came out of high school and is now starting to show why. Fellow sophomore Eric Reid started a few games last season as a true freshman and would be an every-game starter for most teams in the SEC. Redshirt freshman Ronnie Vinson also has plenty of game.
And while Claiborne might be LSU’s most accomplished cornerback and a sure-fire All-SEC candidate, sophomore Tyrann Mathieu might be the Tigers’ most diverse cornerback.
He’s coming off a splendid freshman season, and he’s an absolute terror at the nickel position. The Tigers love to use him on blitzes. He had 4.5 sacks last season, and he’s a hitting machine, as evidenced by his SEC-leading five forced fumbles.
Chavis has historically played five and six defensive backs, and with 6-foot-3 sophomore cornerback Tharold Simon also having a big spring after playing some toward the end of last season, that should allow the Tigers to turn Mathieu loose even more at the nickel spot.
“You look around, and everybody can play,” Claiborne said. “There aren’t going to be any weak links, and if somebody goes down, we’ll have somebody else ready to fill his shoes.
“There are a lot of hungry guys on this defense wanting to prove something, and all that does is make everybody better.”