Monday, August 13, 2012
Replacing the Honey Badger
By ESPN.com staff
Even before Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from LSU's football team, there was a chance that a newcomer was going to get a lot of playing time this season at one of the cornerback positions.
That's because Mathieu was going to be at his nickel back spot much of the time when the Tigers went to five and six defensive backs, meaning somebody like redshirt freshman Jalen Collins or true freshman Jalen Mills would have been the other cornerback opposite Tharold Simon.
The Tigers are still trying to settle on that other cornerback, but the bigger issue now that Mathieu is gone is who's going to play the nickel position. Nobody on the roster will be able to play it the way Mathieu could. He was masterful at roaming the field, anticipating where the ball was going and always being there to make plays.
Mathieu was a drive-stopper with his ability to create turnovers and recover fumbles.
That's what the Tigers will miss most along with his ability to change the complexion of games on special teams. He turned the Arkansas game around last season with a punt return for a touchdown, and did the same against Georgia in the SEC title game with a punt return for a touchdown.
Sophomore receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is the likely replacement on punt returns, and he's really good with the ball in his hands. It remains to be seen if he can be the difference-maker back there that Mathieu was.
The search for the right person at the nickel position (it could also be an extra linebacker) will continue throughout preseason camp. The good news for the Tigers is that they will have three games early at home to experiment and tweak things before diving into SEC play against Auburn on Sept. 22. They also don't have to play Oregon out of the gate this season. Instead, they get North Texas at home.