LSU's Dave Aranda: Summer months critical to build upon spring foundation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU started implementing new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s scheme over 15 practices during spring semester, which just ended a few days ago.

Now is when some of the Tigers’ most important work will take place.

“I’m excited about the future,” Aranda said after last month’s spring game. “I think summertime’s going to be real integral for us and we’re going to need as coaches and as players to work on football and work on building upon what we have.”

Aranda forced himself to be patient during spring practice, slowly integrating the basic principles of his 3-4 defense for a group of players accustomed to playing a 4-3.

Previously known for his ability to create mismatches with exotic defensive looks at Wisconsin, Aranda didn’t get to much of that yet in his short time working with the Tigers. Instead, he wanted to make sure that his players understood why they will do what they do once he adds new facets to the scheme.

“I feel really good about the foundation,” Aranda said. “I think I’m the first of any of the coaches to want to get to this blitz or get to this overload coverage or get to this disguise. And even now in this spring, I’ve done that once or twice and it hasn’t been great. And so, so much of it has been, ‘Let’s get a foundation in.’ So we’ve got three coverages in, we’ve worked those things to death in terms of adjustments, in terms of techniques, and I really feel good about a foundation.

“If you go for the pie-in-the-sky blitz or coverage, you come crashing down at times if the thing don’t work and then where you land, how strong is that foundation?” he continued. “I feel good about our foundation, the techniques, the fundamentals, the adjustments, and so we’re able to build off that now.”

With those basics installed, the summer months are when the Tigers can gain a firmer grasp on the mental aspects of Aranda’s adjustments. Summer workouts will also offer an additional opportunity to put into practice what their new defensive coach started in March.

Their goal is that once preseason camp arrives in August, they will be able to smoothly attack the more complex aspects of the scheme. For instance, Aranda said, so much of the scheme’s effectiveness is based upon shifting responsibilities between positions in order to perplex the opposing offense. The next step is creating the positional versatility that can create so much confusion, even when the Tigers’ overall scheme remains true to its most basic elements.

“We need to get to where we can trade jobs and we can play quarters, but it’s not always the outside backer rushing,” Aranda said. “Now it’s the inside backer, maybe now it’s the nickel rushing, and now we’re trading jobs together now. Or the safety’s rushing in Cover 3 as opposed to the outside backer and the F [outside linebacker] and the safety trade jobs. So on and so forth.

“That’s the next step, and so we want to make it look like we’re doing a lot of things when we’re really just running our base three things.”

As Aranda mentioned at the outset, there is still a ton of work left to do -- both on the field and in the film room.

For starters, key cornerbacks Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson and safety John Battle missed either all or most of spring practice, while linebacker Donnie Alexander and safety Rickey Jefferson both missed the spring game. All five of those players should play contributing roles on defense come fall, so the Tigers still must develop continuity among the regulars who will be executing the new scheme.

In short, this is not a fully formed product yet. But those within LSU’s football building seem confident that once the summer ends and they put everything they’re learning into practice, the Tigers defense will be dangerous under its new coach.

“Our weapon is Dave,” defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said. “He’s good at it. We have some skill on defense, but he can dial it up pretty good. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around.”