LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has produced a culture in Baton Rouge of fast, hard-hitting defenses that consistently rank at the top of the Southeastern Conference.
But what did Chavis’ hiring actually do to change the way the Tiger defense played?
The most notable difference has been the sheer size and athleticism of the defensive line.
Bo Pelini — who was the defensive coordinator for three seasons before Chavis (in the 2008 season, Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto co- coordinated the defense) — preferred bigger, more physical defensive linemen.
When Pelini had built his defense around his principles In the national title season, the starting defensive ends both weighed more than 280 pounds. Tyson Jackson was selected third overall in the NFL draft as a 3-4 defensive end, who is typically asked to do more run stopping than pass rushing.
But Chavis prefers physical specimens who provide speed throughout the defensive line rotation.
Former defensive standouts Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are obvious examples from recent years, but other players show Chavis’ commitment to speed even more clearly.
Bennie Logan was a defensive end before coming to the Tigers, but he turned into a quick, penetrating defensive tackle. The same is true with recent first- round pick Michael Brockers. Both were moved inside because of the speed they offered.
None of the starting defensive linemen from the 2011-12 season weighed more than 300 pounds, while only one projected starter for the coming season weighs more than 300: Ego Ferguson, at 308.
Another signature for Chavis’ defenses is big, physical corners.
During the 2010 season, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Patrick Peterson was paired with the 6-foot-1, 177-pound Morris Claiborne. Ever since then, the Tigers have almost exclusively used bigger corners on the outside receivers. Even Tyrann Mathieu played mostly as the third corner covering slot receivers during his heyday as a Tiger.
The Jalens — Collins and Mills — along with projected nickel corner Dwayne Thomas are all more than 6 feet.
With a defensive line focusing on getting to the quarterback as fast as possible, big corners allow Chavis to use aggressive presses on opposing receivers with his bigger corners.
The pressure combined with the physical corners have led to LSU nabbing 67 interceptions since 2009, good for an average of 17 a season.
The last ingredient that makes Chavis’ defenses so devastating is his emphasis on forcing fumbles.
Chavis preaches an attacking defense in which all 11 players on the field are taught to explode toward the ball. The success of this strategy manifested in 56 forced fumbles since 2009.
Senior safety Craig Loston told The Daily Reveille during the 2011 season the importance of turnovers in the LSU defense.
“When we tackle, we’re taught to hold the ball carrier up if we can,” Loston said. “So when the second tackler gets there, they can rip the ball out.”
From the start of fall practice, every Tiger is taught the importance of gang tackling and how to strip the ball out.
The combination of those three key ingredients have led to a sweet defense gumbo since 2009, leading to 17 defensive players being drafted into the NFL.