Last season, Dave Aranda unleashed his new quarters package, and safety Grant Delpit emerged as one of the best defensive players in all of college football because of it.
Now Aranda has a new set of ideas featuring the quarters position — a safety who comes into the box to play as an extra linebacker — and the rest of his defense led by Delpit, who returns for his junior season after a unanimous All-American campaign as a sophomore. Delpit is joined by junior safety JaCoby Stevens, senior linebacker Michael Divinity and sophomore linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, who tore his ACL in the season opener against Miami.
“We’ve got guys on the perimeter that can play sideline to sideline, can blitz, can cover, and guys that need to be isolated on pass rushes one-on-one,” Aranda said during LSU’s Coaches Caravan in June. “They can win on running backs. They can win on offensive lineman on the interior as well as offensive tackle pass sets. I feel like the talent that is adherent there we can move around and use, and I’m excited about that.”
All four players play the most versatile and disruptive roles in Aranda’s defense. Delpit and Stevens alternated at the quarters position and as deep safeties last season while Divinity shifted into the pass rushing linebacker spot after Chaisson’s injury.
Chaisson’s injury was a huge blow to LSU in 2018. There were thoughts from the coaching staff and players on the roster he was going to break Arden Key’s sack record set in 2016. The front of the defense was set to be built around him and Devin White, but those offseason plans never came into fruition.
But after a redshirt year in 2018, Chaisson kept his three years of eligibility and Aranda will get to try again.
“The more that we can free him up to rush and not have him drop, the better we’ll be,” LSU’s fourth-year defensive coordinator said. “There’s certainly that outlook, but then along with that, is going to be the opportunity to get him playing pass to run. Where he is not always block down, step down on the edge. It’s block down, work up the field, play pass and ensure there is no run on your way to the QB because he has that ability to decipher that and make that play.
“We call that mesh charges, and so I think his ability to do that is taking advantage of the ability he has and it’s right for him and it’s right for us.”
Now with Chaisson back, Divinity has shifted into an inside linebacker role similar to the one Kendell Beckwith played in 2016, but Aranda said Divinity will kick back out to the edge on passing downs.
After coming to LSU in 2016 as a five-star recruit, Divinity struggled to find consistent playing time. LSU coaches were torn on if he was better as an inside linebacker or outside, despite not being the typical size for a pass rusher.
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In 2018, Divinity stayed outside and became one of the better pass rushers in the Southeastern Conference. He only finished with five sacks, tied for the team-high, but he generated consistent pressure on the quarterback that doesn’t always show up in the box score.
This spring LSU moved him back inside and will try to utilize his talents on both the inside and outside of the front seven.
“From the mack linebacker spot we’ll have him on the line of scrimmage creating bear looks, whether it is over the guard or over the center or on the edge of the tackle,” Aranda said. “There’s a fair amount of creepers or simulated pressures with him running through interior gaps. I think his physicality in those situations will be good for us.”
Divinity’s move inside allows for one of Delpit or Stevens to slide down and play close to the line of scrimmage as the third or fourth linebacker in LSU’s defense. Delpit began in that role early in the season, but when Stevens started LSU’s last four games he was the primary beneficiary of that spot.
In those four games, Stevens racked up 28 of his 35 tackles on the season and seemed to have finally found a home on defense after bouncing between multiple positions on offense and defense most of his first two years.
The question for Aranda becomes when to deploy Delpit and Stevens at the quarters position because of the impact both can have there. Delpit led the team in sacks with five and was a clear game-changer at the position, but when he played as a deep safety, he also made plays – intercepting five passes and breaking up nine others.
“The question always with Grant is he always does everything well, so what it really comes down to is when we are in run defense mode, we want edges set and stuff blown up in the middle to where Grant can play alley to alley,” Aranda said.
“Then when we’re expecting pass and it’s passing situations there is a lot of merit to Grant rushing, but when he isn’t rushing there is a lot of merit to have him in the middle of the field. His ability to do both and move around, I think we’ll feature him and show his value.
“I look at this year’s group whether its K’Lavon, Mike Divinity, or it’s Jacoby Stevens or it’s Grant Delpit, there’s a bunch of guys who individually do things really well, and it is our task to blend it into a defense.
“I think that’s been a challenge in the offseason and it’s trying to find roles for all these guys and build it to where it can be a collective group.”