The 2015 LSU secondary draws comparisons to one of the most well-known eras in LSU football history.
The incoming squad’s talent attracts the likeness of the 2011 defensive back crew, which featured NFL first-round picks Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid along with third-round picks Brandon Taylor and Tyrann Mathieu.
The intended starters for this season looked to mirror the group from last season, but senior safety Jalen Mills went down with a lower leg injury during preseason practice. Junior safety Rickey Jefferson is expected to substitute for Mills during his absence.
LSU coach Les Miles said at a news conference Tuesday that Mills had surgery on his injured leg and will be out for an unspecified amount of time.
Sophomore safety Jamal Adams and Jefferson are assumed to be the Tigers No. 1 choices at strong and free safety, respectively. Junior Tre’Davious White and sophomore Ed Paris will round out the group as the starting cornerbacks.
Regardless of Mills’ injury, many good, if not great, performances are expected from this troupe during the 2015-16 season — just as it was from the 2011 defensive-backfield squad.
The 2011 defense allowed an average of 11.3 points per game, the lowest number of any LSU team since the 2003 national championship squad, which held opponents to 11 points per game.
But the self-proclaimed “Defensive Back University” of college football doesn’t see themselves alike, or comparable, to any other secondary unit in the game.
“Our goal is to be better,” Adams said. “We don’t want to just be the 2011 team. We want to be better than the 2011 team. The swagger is always going to stay up there.”
Time is of the essence for this upcoming season’s defensive backs as the projected starters in the LSU secondary feature all upperclassmen. Punctuality in success counts more than ever as the group could split up with the looming NFL draft.
White, who was appointed by coaches and teammates as team leader with the No. 18 jersey, said the group will perform to college football’s peak.
This group goofs off and jokes with one another as if they’ve been playing ball together all their lives. White said the veterans, including himself, have begun to mold the younger, freshman players from being simple defensive backs to pledged members of “DBU.”
Kevin Toliver II, who was once the No. 1 overall-rated recruit in the nation, is expected to lead the group of rookies in playing time this season. He will be alongside freshman speedster Donte Jackson, who may see playing time on both sides of the ball in 2015.
Although age may separate the younger members from the more mature, veteran members of “DBU,” they all act the same off the field — childish and playful.
All members of the unit took LSU Football Media Day on Aug. 16 as their playroom. Adams, named a member of the Freshman All-American team and All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team in 2014, led the tomfoolery by interviewing other members of the secondary for the media.
“You can see (just how much fun we have),” Toliver II said. “Jamal Adams is just walking around with a camera interviewing everybody. We really do have fun.”
The success will come on the field, but the squad’s off-the-field, flamboyant chemistry is what it believes sets it apart from competition.
“The bond that we have off the field makes everything better,” White said. “It makes practice and situations on the field much easier because we can communicate better. That is what a team needs to win — communication and discipline — and I believe that we have that.”
On the field though, the Tigers have no room for play.
Last season, the Tigers secondary gave up a season-high 268 passing yards to Mississippi State and Auburn on Sept. 20 and Oct. 4, respectively. The team also only allowed a season-high two passing touchdowns to Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama.
The Tigers have made forcing more turnovers a priority this upcoming season. LSU, 8-5 overall in 2014 and 4-4 in SEC play, forced only 10 interceptions and successfully recovered 10-of-18 fumbles.
“You increase turnovers by getting them and just being ball hawks,” said LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. “It’s a mentality. We emphasize effort, tackling and turnovers. If you do those three things, you’re going have a chance. We emphasize it every day. We’re teaching a turnover circuit every day in practice that teaches different elements of turnovers, and it’s just a mindset.”