Honey Badger Don’t Care and Neither Should LSU FansAugust 10, 2012
By: Marlon Rogers
Tyrann Mathieu took the College Football world over last year and had it in the palm of his hands. Now in what is rumored to be multiple failed drug tests, his career as a Tiger comes to an abrupt ending. After following every prominent writer of college football and writer from the state of Louisiana on twitter during this news conference, Mathieu was kicked off the #1 LSU Tigers football team, effective immediately. Now sadly, this doesn’t surprise me for an assortment of reasons, but I will pass on that, pray the kid gets the help he needs and keeps this on the field related.
Two positions that Mathieu played and excelled at were punt returner and a hybrid type defensive back where he would line up virtually anywhere in the secondary except left cornerback. Now what seemed to be a “lock” in the backfield for LSU, fans will now question, “what will Chavis do with the secondary now?” “OMG the honey badger is gone, who plays now?” “We are doomed!”
I’m here to say as a fan of college basketball with an objective view on the game; LSU fans have absolutely nothing to worry about on the football field this 2012 year. Even with Mathieu off the team, the cupboard is so stocked at LSU, it’s to the point that LSU empties the clip and reloads in a heartbeat nowadays and Mathieu’s departure is no different.
Now while every depth chart I have seen has Mathieu starting at nickelback (rightfully so but that is anther story), the first guy to keep an eye on to be the replacement is Jalen Collins from Olive Branch, MS. He has been lauded since spring drills by coaches and his peers alike being named the “Most Improved” player during spring drills and peers anointing the “most athletic” player on the team. If he is an unknown to you, that is understandable, he was rated 249 out of 250 in the Rivals.com 250 in 2011 and redshirted his freshman year. But when you have your defensive coordinator, the much respected John Chavis, saying that it is your time at corner, I tend to believe him, he knows a lot more about this stuff than we do.
The second name to take a look at is Dwayne Thomas. Thomas, a true freshman from the always-talented New Orleans based O. Perry Walker, has stepped on campus and ready to contribute. And if there is anything that we know about John Chavis, he is not afraid to throw a freshman into the fire and get on-the-job training. I have seen him play with my own two eyes in the state quarterfinals, and the kid makes plays and had some serious speed to go along with it. My only concern with Thomas is the kid is a true cornerback, not any sort of hybrid. But he brings fundamentals of coverage to the table already that I personally felt Mathieu still had to work on. Good feet, rolls his hips well, top end speed. As most true freshman he will need to work on using his hands, something most elite high school cornerbacks struggle with because they are better than anyone they lineup over, but his upside is tremendous. Expect to see a lot of these two lineup in two positions that Mathieu played, right cornerback and nickelback.
Going to safety, the LSU Tigers are loaded at this position with what I feel are 3 starters, but sadly only 2 can touch the field at a time in a base defense. Mathieu was allowed to roam around the field much of the time and didn’t have to worry about being “deeper than the deepest” because of the elite Eric Reid. I won’t get into the play of Eric Reid, just know he is the best safety in college football, barring injury a top 10 pick, and immediate starter at the next level. If you want a comparison, think of Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers, in my opinion. Yes, he is that good.
At strong safety, that position will belong to Craig “Poppa” Loston. He was a highly rated safety all American coming out of Houston, TX, but has had issues staying healthy since he has been at LSU. When he is on the field, he makes sure you know where #6 is. He definitely made his mark on kickoff consistently delivering big hits to whoever the returner is. Rumor is he is constantly told to slow down in practice because he does the same thing. Simply put, the guy is a big hitter and will make his presence felt whenever he is on the field and if he hits you, I promise you will remember it.
The final name to keep a very close eye on in the LSU secondary is Ronald Martin. Martin, a sophomore from White Castle, LA was a jack-of-all-trades in high school playing multiple positions, but has been used as a safety on the bayou based on athleticism and size. He played some last year when Reid needed a breather or was hurt and was solid. He definitely has the potential to step in when needed in the slot or at safety.
Lastly, Mathieu was a huge factor on special teams for the Bayou Bengals and will be missed as punt returner. Punt return specialist are not easy to find and it takes a special type of person to do it. In this regard, I truly have Mathieu listed as a special player. Now that he is gone, Les Miles will take on the “next man up” mentality and he has a plethora of options to choose from. A first option is Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham was an All-SEC freshman at WR with poor QB play all year. He has good speed and vision that make him a viable candidate at PR. Also, LSU has the options of speedsters Russell Shepard and incoming freshman Paul Turner, Kavahra Holmes, and Travin Dural. The latter two, Holmes and Dural, were teammates at Breaux Bridge High School in Louisiana. Holmes is brings track star speed with a clocked speed of 22.00 in the 200m and a 46.18 in the 400m, while Dural is the more natural football player who accounted for 42 receptions for 902 yards and 19 TDs as a WR and 20 yards per punt return and 3 TDs.
All this is to say that LSU will be just fine without the “Honey Badger” roaming around the field. His replacements are more than capable to take on his role. Will they account for the game changing big plays that made Mathieu a household name? Probably not, but this group of guys will take on a “do your job” approach and be in the right place on most occasions. Not to mention, future first rounders at defensive end Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, will be pressuring quarterbacks all season. And we all know a defensive back’s best friend? That’s right, pressure on the QB by the guys up front.
That said; I really hope that Mathieu gets the help and guidance he needs in life to overcome whatever the issue is, but on the football field, LSU should and will be just fine where he contributed for this team in 2011.