Players first, scheme second. That was the sentiment that LSU defensive coordinator Daronte Jones wanted to relay to the media when talking about the future of the LSU defense.
For much of the 2020 offseason and even into the early weeks of the season itself, the talk was around how the 4-3 scheme would benefit the players because of its "attacking style." However it quickly became apparent that in fact a lack of understanding and disconnect led to communication errors, busted coverages and possibly the worst defensive performance in the history of the program.
Jones and coach Ed Orgeron's vision and mindset for what this defense can be must completely flip and at least their words point to a change.
"We want to put our guys in the best position to make plays. We want to minimize error, make sure we're over-communicating, have an attacking-style defense where we can dictate the terms and play fast," Jones said. "These guys are here for their athletic ability. We're going to give them some techniques and fundamentals, and we're going to harp on that. We're going to be very detailed in that."
An aggressive mindset was another point of emphasis for both Jones and Orgeron, who said that LSU will stick to its 4-3 roots while understanding there needs to be more flexibility and creativity in mixing up the defenses at the same time. Most importantly, in order for LSU to get into that aggressive mindset, Jones said that it must start with a general trust in all 11 players on the field doing the job they're being asked.
"When everyone's on the same page and you're not thinking as much, then you can play fast and let your athleticism show. Because when you prepare — we want to talk about the preparation going into the game — preparing, focus, that breeds confidence," Jones said.
There were a few interesting revelations to come out of Tuesday's press conference. For one, Orgeron will be taking on more of a role with how the defense is being run and basically having more input. One of the strengths of his as a coach during his time at LSU has been his ability to delegate and really leave the nuances up to whomever he hired to run the offense, defense or certain position group.
While Jones will certainly be in charge, Orgeron will sit in more on defensive meetings and include his thoughts on what the defense should and shouldn't be doing.
"The thing that I want on defense is for us to keep the ball in front of us, keep our eyes on the quarterback, play more zone coverage, continue with a great pass rush and make it hard for them to go downfield, and not give up explosive plays," Orgeron said.
"I want to keep stressing the ability to over-communicate across the board on defense because when you over-communicate, you minimize mental errors," Jones said. "That's the first thing we want to focus on is minimizing mistakes and minimizing mental errors, so everyone's on the same page."
The other interesting piece of news comes out of the secondary. By bringing in Jones, who has a background with the defensive backs in his past, Orgeron has said that he'll also be the safeties coach.
LSU in the secondary throughout 2020 was marred by inconsistency as far too often players were either beat down field or simply didn't communicate and left a player wide open for a long gain or touchdown. In past seasons under Orgeron, the safeties and cornerbacks worked seperately but that will not be the case moving forward.
Jones said that he plans to work closely with cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond to bring the two secondary groups together for as much of the time as possible.
"Going forward, we want to be technique and fundamentally sound. We want to make sure our communication is clear and precise and make sure everyone's on the same page," Jones said. "We'll be working together, so when the safeties and corners are working together, it minimizes any miscommunications.
"I'm excited about the back end, being on the same page, minimizing miscommunication, working with Corey, working the press technique, working the safeties to be very physical in the run game and also having some deep zone awareness and playmaking ability."
After a national championship season was followed by an uninspired .500 finish to 2020, Orgeron knows how important getting this defense back on the right track is to getting the trajectory of the program back on course. Part of that is devising a scheme that is both understandable and one the players can execute at a high level.
"But the vision for the defense is getting back to playing LSU defense. I grew up watching LSU defense, getting 11 hats to the ball, being physical, being tough, not giving up big plays and making it tough to score," Orgeron said. "That’s the type of defense that we want.”