At times as a first time starter for the purple and gold, Damone Clark would second guess himself. He'd miss a tackle or misread a ball and just couldn't find a rhythm he was comfortable with during what many thought would be his breakout year.
He established himself as a team leader, even earning the No. 18 because of the respect he has gained in the locker room because of his leadership capabilities. But he eventually found himself out of the every snap lineup on the field because of those inconsistent times on the field.
It wasn't until after the season that Clark was able to sit down and reflect on what the problems were with his performance. But since that final game against Ole Miss, a switch flipped for Clark and he's quickly becoming what coach Ed Orgeron has described as "one of the most improved players on the roster."
"There's room for me to get better every day. I'm nowhere near where I wanna be," Clark said. "I'm going to continue to have meetings with coaches, continue to learn the defense. I know what I have to do now and I know I have a lot of people looking at me."
Heading into the offseason, one of the issues Clark spoke with Orgeron about was improving his hands. He was able to record 63 tackles but was not the kind of playmaker he or the coaching staff thought he'd be for the program a season ago.
A lot of that had to do with inconsistencies with his hands, not being physical enough with opposing offensive players. That's been the major focus for Clark this spring and the results are starting to show.
"One of the biggest things I wanted to work on was my hands, using my hands and being more versatile with using my hands," Clark said. "I feel like if I do a better job using my hands, I can make more plays. Now that the spring is here, I've been going up against offensive linemen and creating separation with my hands and not second guessing myself."
Clark said a big part in seeing this rapid improvement in his game and also gaining a newfound confidence has been the advice from new linebackers coach Blake Baker. Baker definitely views Clark as an integral piece to this defense having success because of the physical traits he possesses.
For Clark, having that reassurance from Baker that it's ok to mess up while he's ironing out some of the inconsistencies in his game is a reason for his more consistent play.
"Coach Baker might be one of the coolest coaches I've ever met. Just small tendencies that he's taught me like a lot in a short period of time he's been here," Clark said. "He's one of the guys that told me we're gonna correct the errors, just don't second guess yourself and go out there and pull the trigger.
"We have coaches that know what it takes. We have coaches that came in that know what it takes. All of us just pulling on the same rope each and every day. And you don't have to worry about the building being toxic."
It was just a few years ago that Clark was learning under Devin White, Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips. Now it's his turn to start being that consistent leader for young players on the roster like Josh White and Antoine Sampah, who show a lot of promise but are looking to make that strong impression with the new defensive staff as well.
"I'm the old guy in the room so seeing guy like Josh White, Antoine Sampah, guys that really didn't play last year and seeing them get better and better," Clark said. "I can't forget about Bugg [Navonteque Strong] and him coming here from JUCO, he didn't know anybody at first so he was quiet but he's more open now."
In the end, this is a linebacker unit that will have to improve dramatically in order for LSU's defense to get back on track. Clark knows this better than most as he's been a part of both the best and worst times for this program the last two years.
Starting with Orgeron, the standard has been set and if Clark or the other players aren't meeting the standard, they know exactly what will happen.
"Our head man, Coach O, that's the standard of LSU. He sets the standard, and he holds the leaders of the team to set the standard to the younger guys. And he holds everyone accountable," Clark said. "You can be a walk-on or scholarship player. It doesn't matter. The LSU standard is the LSU standard, and we know if you're not performing to the LSU standard, you're not gonna play — straight up — or you're not gonna be here. So we know."