LSU has claimed time and time again over the last decade to the title "DBU" but last year the group couldn't slow down practically any offense it faced. Yet there's still reason for optimism with the cornerbacks group.
The cornerbacks group is unique in that two of the starters can be written in permanent ink right now with that slot corner spot being the only real position up for grabs. Ultimately what this group needs to do more than anything is improve in one area that plagued the entire defense in 2020, communication.
That's one of the reasons that Ed Orgeron brought in Daronte Jones as the defensive coordinator. Jones, who has a background in coaching defensive backs, said not only is one of the goals for the secondary to work in more cohesion but as a result, also improve with the communication errors that hurt the unit.
"I think that's a strength that a coach has to have, the ability to teach, we're all teachers at the end of the day," Jones said. "To command the room, to help guys understand and break things down to its simplest format and that's what I want to convey. Overcommunicating, being a teacher, giving the guys the motivation to put their best foot forward so we can have a productive product on the field."
Projected Starters: Derek Stingley, Elias Ricks, Jay Ward
Stingley and Ricks return as the unquestioned starters on the outside for the Tigers. The two are simply one of the top tandems in college football in 2021 and will be valuable parts to seeing the defense improve next season.
Both have received major accolades for their performances with Stingley being a concensus All-American in 2019 while Ricks was named a third team All-American by the AP as a freshman. Ricks allowed just a 44.4% completion percentage and when it was all said and done, he had scored as many touchdowns as he had allowed during the course of the season (2).
Stingley did have to miss three games as injury and an illness hindered his production in 2020, though he's still widely considered the top defensive back in the country. As a sophomore, Stingley recorded 27 tackles and was still one of the highest graded cornerbacks in man to man coverage.
This offseason, Stingley has been working closely with his father, Derek Stingley Sr., improving the mental side of his game.
"It's all mental for him," Stingley Sr. said on the Jordy Culotta Show. "It's just a matter of understanding 'you're gonna have some setbacks' but you have to come back from it. You can't dwell on it, can't feel like you let the team down because someone caught a five-yard pass on you. He was so used to having that success and he never really had that adversity. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and get by."
As for that slot corner position, Ward was a guy who really came along towards the end of the 2020 season, making timely plays in wins over Florida and Ole Miss with Stingley out of the lineup. In those final two wins of the season, Ward recorded 14 tackles and three interceptions, including this beauty against the Gators that changed the momentum of the game.
Depth Chart: Cordale Flott, Damarius McGhee, Dwight McGlothern, Raydarious Jones
A year ago this time, it appeared Flott was the poised to be a consistent starter with this group and could very well push for that third starting position this offseason. He battled inconsistency throughout last season but the sophomore undoubtedly has the physique to be a starter.
Like Ward, Stingley and Ricks, communication was the problem for Flott as he would spend his time in the slot for the most part and would allow those big plays off of busted coverages.
LSU brings in just one freshman cornerback to the 2021 class in McGhee, a late addition after the program lost the commitment of Nathaniel Wiggins. With the depth behind the starters not being all that set in stone, McGhee, like Stingley and Ricks in years prior, could impress the coaching staff when he gets to campus in the summer and push for some on field time.
Ultimately, whether it's Flott or Ward who earn that third starting position at cornerback, there's no doubt that this group needs to improve. The secondary can't afford to have another season like 2020, which was one of the worst in college football against the pass.
The addition of Jones should help rectify some issues and the idea that the cornerbacks and safeties will be working closely together is a strong indication that the communication should be dramatically improved in 2021.