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LSU secondary should remain strong in '15

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As far as Jalen Collins is concerned, it wasn't until the Ole Miss game that LSU's secondary became great again.

Considering how the Tigers lead the SEC in total defense (and rank eighth nationally, allowing 305.8 yards per game), are first nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fourth in passing yards allowed (162.3), the junior cornerback is making a strong statement when he opines that it wasn't until Game 9 that LSU's secondary truly clicked.

"I feel like the Ole Miss game was kind of where we made a statement saying that we're for real," said Collins, the junior cornerback whose defense limited Ole Miss to 313 total yards in LSU's 10-7 win. "Just the way that we played and came out every series, every snap and tried to stop them. They're a great offense and we held them to well under their average for the year."

The Tigers did that to a lot of opposing offenses this season, especially after their 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4. Auburn and Mississippi State both ripped holes in LSU's reconstructed defensive front early in the season, and complemented the run with a handful of big plays in the passing game, but once the Tigers' front seven settled in, LSU's overall defensive results started to improve.

In the second half of the season, only three defenses (Clemson, Central Florida and Penn State) allowed fewer yards per game than LSU's 273.8 and no defense in the country surrendered fewer touchdowns than LSU's 10.

The Tigers capped the season by holding Texas A&M to 228 total yards and 144 passing yards -- among the Aggies' worst performances in either category this season -- with Collins clinching the victory by intercepting a Kyle Allen pass on A&M's final play.

"I feel like we got better every game," Collins said. "Going into camp, [defensive backs coach Corey] Raymond was hard on us and made sure we prepared. And every week we tried to get in some extra work, tried to make sure our communication was good so we were prepared for whoever we were facing. I feel like we did a lot."

It was a far cry from the problems that the 2013 secondary experienced, with multiple opponents lighting up LSU's pass defense early in the season before freshmen Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson grabbed starting roles.

Robinson was suspended twice in 2014, and his future status seems to be in jeopardy since he has been indefinitely suspended for the past three games, but White and Collins formed a consistent combination at cornerback.

And at safety, despite missing Corey Thompson for the entire season and Dwayne Thomas for most of it, the combination of Ronald Martin, Jalen Mills, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams was formidable.

Although All-SEC pick Martin is a senior and juniors Mills and Collins will have the opportunity to join him in the NFL draft pool if they opt to forgo their final seasons of eligibility -- Collins confirmed Sunday that he submitted his name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the draft -- the returning players should help LSU's secondary rank among the nation's best again in 2015.

As White and Robinson did the season before, true freshman Adams started to come into his own toward the end of the season. He started two of the last three games and is now tied for sixth on the team with 56 tackles.

"It definitely slowed down," Adams said after matching his career high with eight tackles against A&M. "Each game, I'm trying to get better, trying to help the team out and each day we're getting better and better as a team."

Depending on who returns next season, Adams could be among a handful of LSU defensive backs who earn All-SEC attention in 2015. Entering his junior season, White will be a no-brainer, and several other Tigers veterans have flashed the skills to join him in the upper echelon of SEC DBs.

"The way that we came to work this past year and just kind of shed that light on the younger guys, everybody's having another year under their belt," Collins said, looking ahead to next season. "It'll just be that much more exciting to see what we can do and how good we can be."