SEC: John Chavis

BATON ROUGE, La. -- For a player like Lamar Louis, LSU's defensive coordinator change might be helpful on multiple levels.

For starters, Louis should have the opportunity to play more on scrimmage downs -- potentially displaying new skills that might help the 5-foot-11 senior linebacker impress pro scouts enough to become an NFL draft pick. Louis also believes that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's new defensive looks will help the Tigers become tougher to scheme against.

"If we can get [the new defensive scheme] down pat and be the multiple defense that we want, I think that it switches things up for other teams," Louis said. "It's not coming into Tiger Stadium going, ‘OK, they're going to be the same old 4-3 team, so this is how we're going to come at it.' They're actually going to have to think now.

"We can … when we play Auburn, play something different. When we play Arkansas, play something different. So we're going to not be as predictable as in the past if we can get everything down pat and be multiple like we would like."

Under Steele's predecessor John Chavis, LSU frequently lined up in defensive back-heavy packages like the nickel and Chavis' dime package, known as the "Mustang," which uses six defensive backs. As the starting strongside linebacker, Louis was often the odd man out when the Tigers brought extra defensive backs onto the field.

But if all goes according to play, the linebackers might play a bigger role under Steele even when the Tigers shift to a nickel defense.

"Being able to play in a 3-4 and a 4-3 and being able to have an opportunity to stay in in a nickel package, and just looking at different schemes, it's definitely going to help me at the next level," Louis said. "And I think it's going to help our team tremendously."

LSU's coaches have greater concerns at the moment than nailing down a defensive scheme or roles for specific players. First, they need to nail down the final spots in their recruiting class, with national signing day just two weeks away.

At last week's introductory news conference, new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said the Tigers will still be a 4-3 defensive club -- deploying four defensive linemen and three linebackers as its traditional defensive front -- but they will also add elements of the 3-4 that Steele coached with Nick Saban at Alabama.

"We're going to base out of a 4-3, but there's some times where you're going to get in a 3-4 front," Orgeron predicted. "But we have 4-3 personnel here and I believe that's what we're going to start off with."

Steele agreed with that premise, pointing out that having four linebackers on the field with 3-4 looks will make it easier to defend the spread offensive schemes in place at nearly every other SEC West school.

"You're going to have to use it all in this league," Steele said. "You're going to have to have some odd-front stuff, particularly against the spread offense that much of the West is running. And so to get those two edge guys [outside linebackers] out there. But there also is a place for the other, so we'll have to mix that in there."

Between signing day and spring practice, the Tigers' coaching staff will likely sit down and begin nailing down a scheme that best suits the available personnel. Steele said he has no intention of simply "taking a playbook out and dusting it off and throwing it on and saying, 'OK, this is what we're doing.' We have to adapt things to the talent on the field, because I'll promise you this, I cannot tackle."

That approach suits Tigers head coach Les Miles just fine. Miles clearly likes the idea of throwing multiple looks at opposing offenses, and it appears that the Tigers will do so under the new defensive regime.

"I want to do both. I want to make sure we have elements of the 4-3 package ingrained and I'd like the opportunity to be open in certain situations," Miles said. "So that being said, I just want to make sure that it goes that way. As Steele said, we'll sit down and talk techniques and all that stuff and then we'll be on the right page."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Kevin Steele sought advice from many notable names in college football before accepting a job as LSU's defensive coordinator. One of the most important was that of the man he would replace, John Chavis.

When Chavis opted to end his six-year stint at LSU and take the same job at Texas A&M, he immediately encouraged Steele -- who has been a close friend since their youth in South Carolina -- to throw his hat in the ring.

"He's the one that when it all started about him [going] somewhere else, he called," Steele said. "And so after he took that, he said, 'Man, you ought to go to LSU.' He said, 'You ought to take that job.' Obviously I didn't have it, so it was kind of hard to take something you didn't have."

[+] EnlargeKevin Steele
AP Photo/Hilary ScheinukKevin Steele said his predecessor, John Chavis, encouraged him to take the defensive coordinator job.
Steele had been on LSU coach Les Miles' radar for years, however. And while Miles spoke with many candidates to replace Chavis -- a group that Miles said numbered in "easy double digits" -- he eventually settled on a veteran assistant and onetime Baylor head coach Steele.

Steele and Chavis are like-minded about plenty of things. They're not just old high school teammates, college roommates and co-workers, after all, but coaches who function like brothers. Hunting and fishing together. Taking family vacations together. The works.

Just check out the photo that accompanies this 2008 story on their relationship, which Steele said was taken on a scuba diving trip in the Cayman Islands in the late 1980s, when Steele was at Nebraska and Chavis was at Tennessee.

"I put on a Gilligan hat and he put on a Skipper hat and we were standing outside a dive shop. We don't even have shirts on. That's a bad picture," Steele laughed. "We hadn't shaved in about five days."

But Steele will not be a Chavis clone in his new job. He is known as a recruiting ace, where Chavis' strength is more in the schematic X's and O's. He will probably add new elements to LSU's scheme, like some 3-4 looks that will be reminiscent of those at his last coaching stop, Alabama.

But when it came to making a job change, few voices resonated more with Steele than Chavis' recommendation.

"Anybody who coaches defensive football and the defensive coordinator job opens at LSU, you kind of go, 'Hmm,' " Steele said. "But mine's a little different: best friend that I grew up with, my college roommate was the guy [at LSU] and so, obviously, I was talking to him through the whole process."

In fact, Steele estimated that he spoke with Chavis three times on Jan. 13, the day he officially accepted the job.

But what if Chavis had discouraged his friend about accepting the job? Would Steele be wearing purple and gold on recruiting trips these days?

Apparently Chavis' influence isn't THAT significant.

"I don't know. Maybe," Steele said with a chuckle when posed that question. "It's a pretty good job."

Indeed it is. And it was one that he discussed with multiple coaching heavyweights -- not just Miles and Chavis and his family members -- before accepting.

When you have worked under legends like Nebraska's Tom Osborne and Florida State's Bobby Bowden, you might as well seek their input.

"I still talk to Coach Bowden and Coach Osborne about twice a month," Steele said. "In fact, I don't really make any decision without talking to them. So that tells you something."

Miles said at last week's news conference where he introduced new assistants Steele and Ed Orgeron that he had been hoping to add Steele to his staff for several years. He and Chavis could have coached together at LSU if not for a contract buyout hangup in Steele's old contract with Clemson.

Instead, he will succeed Chavis as the Tigers' new defensive chief -- and he'll have big shoes to fill in order to keep one of the SEC's traditional defensive juggernauts on course.

That's exactly what appealed to Steele in accepting Miles' job offer.

"When you say defense, well LSU is one of the first teams that comes to your mind," Steele said. "Relentless, tough, hard-nosed, good athletes that play with a passion and can create a frenzy in Tiger Stadium."
Few recruiting battles are more intriguing than the ones going on in Texas for high-profile players such as Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and Chris Warren III. What schools they pick could tilt recruiting supremacy in the Lone Star State moving forward

» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season may have just ended, but it's never to early to look ahead to next season. With all the obligatory caveats, here's our first look at SEC power rankings for 2015.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has developed a particular identity in a decade under Les Miles, and for much of that time, John Chavis' defense was the leading reason why Miles' philosophy worked.

That's what makes Miles' impending selection of Chavis' successor so important.

As LSU's defensive coordinator from 2009 through 2014, Chavis instilled a defensive mentality -- fast, aggressive, hard-nosed -- that allowed the Tigers to typically play a conservative brand of grind-it-out football on offense. For most of those six seasons, that approach was wildly successful and LSU's defense ranked among the nation's best.

Try these numbers on for size:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU's defense ranked second nationally in scoring defense (17.1 ppg) in Chavis' six-year tenure and fifth in total defense (309.6 ypg). The Tigers were 11th against the run (125.9 ypg) and third against the pass (183.7 ypg) between 2009 and 2014.

We use the past tense here because Chavis responded to a contractual dispute with LSU by accepting the same position under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, leaving behind a major void on Miles' staff.

It has been barely a week since Chavis' departure, and Miles has already looked into multiple potential options -- a group that at one point or another has included former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley -- but has not yet made an official decision.

Shoop was scheduled to interview with the Tigers' boss this week, but he appears to be out of the mix now after tweeting Wednesday night about his plans to remain at Penn State.

Miles vowed after LSU's season-ending bowl loss to Notre Dame that LSU would still “have a great defense and play like hell” even without Chavis. Of course it will. By now, it's seemingly embedded in LSU defensive players' DNA. With the lone exception of 2008, when Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto shared the defensive coordinator role following Bo Pelini's departure, Miles' time at LSU has been marked by suffocating defense and strong-willed coaches leading the defense.

Chavis' final season at LSU had its ups and downs. The Tigers are ninth nationally in total defense (316.8 ypg), marking the fifth straight season that Chavis led them to a national top-20 finish. But they also surrendered 570 yards to Mississippi State and 560 to Auburn -- two of the biggest opponent yardage totals in the Miles era at LSU.

Nonetheless, he leaves behind a defense that could return as many as seven starters from the bowl game, depending on what happens with potential NFL early entries Danielle Hunter and Jalen Mills. The group made huge strides from the beginning of the season, particularly up front once defensive tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux settled into starting roles, so Chavis' replacement will have plenty of talent at his disposal.

Now it's just a matter of Miles making a decision on who will best fit on his staff. With national signing day only 27 days away, however, it's probably safe to expect a hiring in the near future for recruiting purposes.
Texas A&M fans were hoping for a "home-run" hire when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin began his search for a new defensive coordinator in late November.

Snagging "The Chief" from a division rival whom they have yet to beat or finish ahead of in the standings since joining the SEC qualifies as a grand slam.

Bringing John Chavis to Aggieland to revive Texas A&M's defense could have significant positive consequences in 2015 and beyond.

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe arrival of veteran coordinator John Chavis at Texas A&M is expected to fix a defense that has been the program's weakness under Kevin Sumlin.
Chavis' résumé speaks for itself. He has coached in the SEC continuously since 1989, with the past 20 years spent as a defensive coordinator -- the first 14 for Tennessee, the past six for LSU. At Tennessee, he was part of a national-championship team and regularly had his defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally. During the six-season span Chavis led the LSU defense, only one team in the nation allowed fewer points per game than the 17.1 the Tigers allowed: Alabama (12.8).

Choose the measuring stick, and Chavis' Tigers stood up well. Over the past six seasons combined, the Tigers rank in the top five nationally in yards per game, yards per play, passing defense, red-zone defense and defensive goal-to-go efficiency. They were 11th nationally in rushing defense and 17th in defensive third-down conversion percentage over the past six seasons (35.3 percent).

Against only SEC teams, LSU remained strong. The Tigers are either second, third or fourth in the SEC over the past six years in 11 separate defensive categories, including scoring, third downs, and turnovers.

The Aggies are in dire need of defensive improvement after spending the past two seasons at the bottom of the SEC in yards per game allowed and rushing defense. In the three-year span since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies rank among the bottom five teams in the league against SEC competition in each of those 11 defensive categories: scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing, yards per rush, passing, yards per pass attempt, third down, goal-to-go, red-zone conversion rates, and turnovers. Sumlin went after Chavis precisely to remedy those glaring statistics.

On paper, it looks like a dream team: Sumlin's offensive reputation paired with Chavis' defensive experience.

At LSU, Chavis didn't usually have the benefit of a top-flight offense to go with the Tigers' salty defense. Quarterback questions were the norm rather than the exception, though LSU traditionally has a strong ground game stocked with good offensive linemen and quality running backs. In Chavis' six seasons at LSU, the Tigers averaged 26.1 points per game against SEC opponents, which ranked seventh in the conference.

Now, he's joining a Texas A&M program that has averaged 35.1 points per game against SEC teams since joining the league in 2012. The Aggies have a wealth of young playmakers, including a bright-eyed freshman quarterback, Kyle Allen, who just came off a career performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Like any transition, it's unlikely to progress snags. Chavis is used to having a team that controls time of possession and thus doesn't leave his defenses on the field for the majority of the game. Sumlin has never been a time-of-possession head coach, and his teams usually operate at a breakneck tempo, though he did show signs this season of slowing the pace occasionally in wins against Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chavis had the benefit of deeper and more talented defenses than what will initially be at his disposal in College Station, Texas. It's normal for LSU to have multiple defensive players chosen in the NFL draft, but for the Aggies in recent years, it has been the exception.

Young talent does exist across Aggies' current defensive two-deep, led by true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. Of the 29 players on the Aggies' final 2014 depth chart, 15 were freshmen or sophomores, and seven true freshmen -- Garrett, defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, linebackers Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, and defensive backs Armani Watts, Nick Harvey and Donovan Wilson -- started at least one game for the Aggies this season.

The Aggies are still trying to stock sufficient defensive talent to field a top-flight SEC defense. They did a good job in the 2014 recruiting class, which yielded those true freshmen starters, but they still need more talent, frankly, LSU-type talent -- and depth -- in order to make this work how they hopes it will.

If they continue to acquire the necessary talent, the potential that exists in the Aggies' marriage to Chavis seems limitless. The expectations will certainly be stratospheric.

Sumlin's teams have never been known for great defense: his squads finished worse than 100th nationally in yards allowed per game in five of his seven seasons as a head coach. But this is a promising sign that he's committed to reversing that trend.

He reached across the Texas-Louisiana border to pluck one of the most respected defensive names in the country from an SEC West rival, one that coordinated defenses that even Johnny Manziel couldn't conquer. Sumlin had a front row seat to the Chief's success the past three years and took a simple approach in hopes of delivering defensive success at Texas A&M:

If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.
Four of the seven SEC West teams will have new defensive coordinators next season, which is fitting, given the carnage we saw in that division during the bowl season.

It's a carnage particularly glaring on the defensive side and yet another reminder that times are changing -- or, more precisely, have changed -- in college football.

Remember when the SEC was known for its defense?

Well, there is no defending how the five Western Division teams that lost in bowl games played, defensively, last week.

The numbers were abysmal, the kind of cataclysmic meltdown that only lends credence to the biggest criticism of SEC defenses over the past few years: They rack up most of their numbers against offenses within the league that aren't very explosive.

Now, before we go any further, not everybody in the West suddenly forgot how to play defense during the postseason.

Arkansas crushed Texas 31-7 in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl and made the Longhorns look even worse than they really were offensively, which took some doing. The Hogs held the Longhorns to 59 total yards on 43 offensive plays, which marks the fewest yards by any FBS team this season.

It wasn't just that Texas was that bad, either. First-year Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith did an amazing job of transforming the Hogs' defense all season. They held opponents to 17 or fewer points in eight of their 13 games, and six of the eight were against bowl teams.

With only the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T remaining, Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in both scoring defense and total defense and 12th in rushing defense. The only other SEC team in the top 12 in all three categories is Alabama.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAlabama, which gave up 281 rushing yards to Ohio State, was just one of several SEC West teams with poor showings defensively in bowl games.
No wonder Arkansas coach Bret Bielema moved fast to make sure Smith had a new three-year deal that will pay him $750,000 annually. But the way Arkansas' defense played in the bowl game was the exception to the rule for the West this postseason.

Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M all gave up more than 30 points each in their games. The Aggies were able to escape with a 45-37 win against West Virginia, though their biggest win might have been prying away defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU a few days later.

It wasn't a memorable final game for Chavis' LSU defense. The Tigers gave up 263 rushing yards to Notre Dame in a 31-28 loss and were especially vulnerable on third down. The Irish converted 11 of 17 third-down opportunities and drove 71 yards in 14 plays for the winning field goal.

As it was, LSU's defensive performance might have been the best one of the bunch among the five West teams that lost bowl games, which underscores what a shoddy three days of defense it was for those five teams.

The final damage: Averages of 39.6 points allowed, 501.4 total yards allowed and 314.6 rushing yards allowed, not to mention a combined defensive third-down percentage of 55.4 percent.

The rushing totals were most incriminating. Mississippi State was gashed for 452 yards on the ground by Georgia Tech's option attack and gave up 49 points.

Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin did a number on Auburn, to the tune of 400 rushing yards, and Alabama allowed 281 rushing yards -- including a back-breaking 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter -- in its 42-35 playoff loss to Ohio State.

That's two bowl games in a row in which Alabama has laid an egg defensively. The Tide gave up a combined 87 points and 966 yards in losses to Oklahoma a year ago in the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State this year in the playoff.

Does that mean Alabama has lost it defensively? Of course not. The Tide are always going to be a force defensively as long as Nick Saban is around.

But it is fair to say they haven't been nearly as dominant defensively on some of the biggest stages as they were during their national championship seasons in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

In their 55-44 win against Auburn this season, they gave up a school-record 630 total yards. In the 34-28 loss to Auburn last season, they gave up 296 rushing yards, and earlier in that year, they allowed 628 total yards to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a wild 49-42 win over the Aggies.

Spotty play at cornerback has been a recurring problem for the Tide the past two seasons. They've had trouble covering people, which has been magnified by their inability to consistently get to the quarterback.

Nobody's writing off the Tide defensively. Teams all over the country would gladly take their numbers -- and certainly their talent. But mobile quarterbacks have tormented them, and the way they've finished seasons defensively each of the past two seasons has been a concern.

Last impressions are what they remember in college football, and that also goes for Alabama's brethren in the West.

Reputations are earned. Right now, the entire SEC -- specifically the West -- has some work to do in earning back its reputation on the defensive side of the ball.

SEC morning links

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
1. The hunt for LSU's next defensive coordinator continues. Les Miles met with candidates in Dallas over the weekend, including Oklahoma's Mike Stoops, according to a report. Bob Shoop (Penn State) is also believed to be a candidate as is Kevin Steele (Alabama) and Clancy Pendergast though interest in Pendergast may have cooled. One name not to rule out is current LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley, who has been a defensive coordinator once (at Baylor from 1999-2001) but has made stops at Georgia Tech and with the NFL's Chicago Bears. As for John Chavis, who vacated the position to take the defensive coordinator job at Texas A&M, sources told that money wasn't the reason for the move.

2. Speaking of defensive coordinator searches, Mississippi State is still on the hunt for a replacement for departed defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. One name to watch is a quite familiar one to those in Starkville: Manny Diaz. The Clarion-Ledger reported Sunday that Diaz, a one-time MSU defensive coordinator who is now at Louisiana Tech, will interview for the job this week. If you'll recall, Diaz left Mississippi State after one season to join Mack Brown at Texas, where he was until he was fired in 2013. Louisiana Tech was 39th nationally in scoring defense and 16th in rushing defense this season.

3. What better way to introduce yourself to a fan base than to do it yourself. That's the approach new Florida head coach Jim McElwain took at the Birmingham Bowl, by taking in the scene and mingling with the fans. The new Gators coach made sure to make the rounds as fans tailgated outside Legion Field, stopping for pictures, shaking hands and greeting Gator Nation. UF documented the experience on video, which included many fired up and surprised fans. McElwain even made sure to fire off a tweet about it.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack recently backed off of his commitment to Texas A&M and announced a top two of TCU and LSU. But after learning that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis left to take the same position at Texas A&M, Mack had a shake up with his future plans.

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Losses might define another LSU offseason

December, 31, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As has been the case each year since LSU's loss in the 2012 BCS championship game, the Tigers’ offseason will be defined by what they lose.

LSU dealt with a massive exodus of 11 underclassmen after the 2012 season, followed by seven more players with eligibility remaining -- including rookie NFL stars Odell Beckham, Jeremy Hill and Jarvis Landry -- jumping ship at the end of the 2013 campaign.

At least a half-dozen Tigers have mulled an early exit this year, but the story for now is how it appears that LSU’s early NFL entries won’t represent the only turnover within the program. Coach Les Miles might be on the verge of losing one of his most valuable assistant coaches -- longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis, who is mulling an offer from Texas A&M -- and might have to battle to retain other staffers.

[+] EnlargeJohn Chavis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLongtime LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is mulling an offer from Texas A&M.
“I’m told that that’s the case. I’ll have to find that out later,” Miles said of a possible Chavis departure after Tuesday’s season-ending loss to Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

But at that point, he hadn’t heard it straight from Chavis’ mouth -- and Chavis wouldn’t address the subject in postgame interviews.

“I’m here to talk about the game and the game only,” Chavis told reporters who pressed him about the Aggies job.

Once again, Miles will probably have holes to fill in an offseason, putting a damper on some of the optimism his program might otherwise have carried into 2015. The Notre Dame loss – which dropped LSU to 8-5, matching the Tigers’ worst record since becoming the Tigers’ coach in 2005 – notwithstanding, LSU still could be poised for a return to championship contention next fall.

It all depends on how successful Miles’ sales jobs will be between now and national signing day. The questions start with his coaching personnel, continue with the potential draft hit the Tigers will absorb and conclude when recruits officially sign their national letters of intent on Feb. 4.

To date, the Tigers have only 16 commitments for the upcoming signing class – including just five ESPN 300 honorees – but Miles’ more important recruiting job might be convincing some folks to stay. Even if it’s not Chavis, retaining more junior talent than he has in recent seasons would make a huge difference next fall.

If draft-eligible Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins were to leave, LSU would return only one starting offensive lineman. Similarly, safety Jalen Mills and cornerback Jalen Collins, linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Danielle Hunter would also leave a void if they opted to forgo their senior seasons.

“I just hope they make the best decision for themselves,” sophomore middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “I’m with them either way. I look at Kwon like an older brother, I look at Lamar [Louis, a junior linebacker] like an older brother. I’m going to be with them either way.”

Most of LSU’s draft-eligible underclassmen are not viewed as elite 2015 draft prospects, so it’s entirely possible that LSU won’t face as much carnage this offseason.

Senior offensive tackle La'el Collins, who was the lone junior star from last season who opted to return, said during bowl practice that he discussed the impending decisions with both Hawkins and Vadal Alexander.

Collins apparently improved his draft stock by returning for another season in college – ESPN Scouts Inc. lists him as the No. 26 overall prospect for the upcoming draft – but he said his decision shouldn’t necessarily convince his younger teammates one way or another. He said they should evaluate how much another season might help them and trust their guts.

“I tell them, ‘Hey these are some of the things that I looked at when I decided to come back. These are some of the things that I thought about,’ ” Collins said. “And I just give the information that I had and the people that helped me out with it. I just tell them, ‘If you have any doubts about leaving, I would stay.’ If you have any doubts about making any decision in life, then you probably shouldn’t make that decision.”

Collins said choosing whether to stay at LSU last year was “definitely the hardest decision of my life,” and multiple Tigers will face a similar dilemma in the coming days and weeks -- including some coaches.

Miles has repeatedly mentioned in recent weeks that his 2015 club could have championship potential if some key veterans choose to stay. But if the Tigers are once again hit hard by coaching turnover and NFL departures, LSU making a big jump next fall becomes a much more daunting task.

SEC morning links

December, 31, 2014
1. After suffering a devastating leg injury in the Ole Miss game that ended his season, Alabama running back Kenyan Drake said on Tuesday that he will definitely be returning to school next year. There was speculation that he might bolt for the NFL, but Drake said he's looking to get his degree first. That's good news for him and Alabama, which will probably lose T.J. Yeldon to the NFL and will need another quality body to help out sophomore Derrick Henry.

2. LSU might have lost more than just its bowl game to Notre Dame Tuesday. Reports surfaced earlier this week that Texas A&M is making a hard push to steal longtime LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, and head coach Les Miles hinted that Chavis might be out the door. It sounds like there's a money issue, meaning LSU might not be willing to match A&M's offer. Here's what Miles said when asked about Chavis: "I'm going to keep that business internal. I could tell you John Chavis was very productive for us, he's had a great career at LSU. That's all I'm going to say."

3. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin did the right thing when he kept student assistant Michael Richardson in the locker room after halftime after Richardson was caught getting physical with West Virginia players on the sideline multiple times during the Aggies' bowl win over the Mountaineers. He also did the right thing when he dismissed Richardson from his staff Tuesday. What Richardson did was uncalled for, dangerous and embarrassing. Sumlin had to take action, and he did. Hats off to him for doing the right thing and not standing for that behavior.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- They aren't SEC superstars -- they don't even rank among the headliners on their own team -- but two of the unquestioned leaders on the conference's top defense are also its lone senior starters.

LSU's Jermauria Rasco and Ronald Martin will play together one final time in their college careers beyond next week's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- when they compete in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.

[+] EnlargeLSU defense
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsLSU's Ronald Martin (26) will play with teammate Jermauria Rasco in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.
“It's just an honor. It's a blessing," Martin said of the invitation to participate in the all-star game, which will be played in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I thank those guys for giving me an opportunity to be a part of it and I'm just going to give my all and try to give my best impression."

Martin was a second-team All-SEC safety this season after ranking third on the team with 66 tackles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions and 10 passes defended. Easily his biggest play of the season was his game-saving interception at the goal line to clinch a win against then-unbeaten Ole Miss.

“He's really done a great job, been a great leader for us and played well and made plays -- made plays that were significant, certainly," LSU coach Les Miles said this week. “The interception against Ole Miss is something he'll remember for a lifetime."

While the statistics he compiled in his first season as a full-time starter were nice, Martin said he is just as proud of the leadership he displayed as the old man in the secondary. For instance, he heaped praise on freshman Jamal Adams for wanting to learn and said he took on a big brother role with his young position mate.

“That's the big thing, I was trying to be a leader for these guys this year and teach those young guys," Martin said. “Like I was saying about Jamal earlier, I really took that kid under my wing when he got here because I saw how hungry he was to want to play. So I took the time teaching him the plays, teaching him to try to get him prepared because I knew we were going to use him. So that's all I was trying to do, just do my part as a teammate."

Likewise, Rasco's value to the team is not adequately measured by simply looking over the stat sheet. The senior defensive end led the team with four sacks and eight quarterback hurries and is fifth with 63 tackles, but his knack for always being around the ball was a big factor in the Tigers' defensive improvement throughout the season.

“That's one thing that Coach Brick [Haley] preaches at practice," Rasco said. “That's one thing that has always been like that around here."

Rasco believes this was his best season at LSU, largely because he was finally healthy. He had surgery on injured shoulders in each of the previous two offseasons, but he was able to play full speed as a senior.

Now at the all-star game, he'll have a chance to show scouts that he can do more than just play defensive end should a pro team give him a shot.

“I feel like whether I'm on the ground or standing up, honestly I'm just ready to play ball," Rasco said. “After we finish up with Notre Dame, I'm just ready to have an opportunity to play ball. Wherever I'm at, I'm just going to take flight from there."

Showing some versatility during the week of practice might be necessary for Rasco. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL defensive end. But he believes he could also play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and that his work dropping into coverage this season in the Tigers' “Bronco" package was good practice for that job.

“Coach Brick and [defensive coordinator John Chavis], they helped us out a lot trying to put a new wrinkle in there that would give us a chance to stand up and roam around a little bit and just bring a different look to the team and also help out the team," Rasco said.

SEC morning links

December, 11, 2014
1. The race to replace senior Bo Wallace as Ole Miss’ quarterback just got a bit more interesting. ESPN JC50 prospect Chad Kelly committed to the Rebels on Wednesday, and the former Clemson backup will have two years to play two at Ole Miss. With Wallace, a three-year starter, leaving the team after the 2014 season, the Rebels had a huge question at quarterback for 2015. DeVante Kincade, Ryan Buchanan and Kendrick Doss are all freshmen with limited game experience at best. Kelly adds a veteran presence to the group, having played in five games at Clemson in 2013, and he might become an immediate frontrunner Insider to claim the job once he arrives on campus.

2. It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that three of the five FBS assistant coaches who make more than $1 million per year reside in the SEC: Alabama’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Cam Cameron and John Chavis. This according to USA Today’s assistant coach salary database that it published on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, the SEC also had three of the top four highest-paid coaching staffs (LSU, Alabama and Auburn) and six of the top 13 (adding Texas A&M, South Carolina and Georgia). Take a look. They also have a database for head coaches (eight SEC coaches are in the top 20, led by Alabama’s Nick Saban) and a multiple-byline feature on assistants like Dennis Erickson and Greg Robinson who now make a comfortable living after once serving as head coaches.

3. The Jacobs Blocking Trophy -- which goes to the player selected by the SEC’s coaches as the league’s top blocker -- is one of the conference's oldest awards. LSU’s La’el Collins won the award on Wednesday, joining a list of dozens of winners who wound up playing in the NFL. Collins could already be doing that if he wanted. It was an option after he earned All-SEC honors as a junior, but unlike many of his teammates in recent seasons, Collins opted to play his senior season at LSU. It seems to have been a wise decision. Several publications have covered this territory already, but with college football’s underclassmen preparing to make their announcements on whether they will make early jumps to the pros, Collins serves as a good reminder of how players who return can sometimes help their cause. Because of an outstanding senior season, Collins will almost certainly be a much wealthier man for having waited than he would have been had he entered the 2014 draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both include Collins among their top 27 overall prospects. That leap doesn’t happen for every draft prospect who stays, but it’s a nice story -- and it’s a valuable lesson for players who are in similar positions this year.

Around the SEC

" More all-conference honors went out on Wednesday, with the SEC’s coaches naming their individual award winners and Athlon Sports posting its All-SEC team.

" With defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin preparing to coach Florida’s bowl game, the Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley examines how interim coaches have fared in the past with the Gators.

" The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jennifer Smith explores whether Kentucky’s six-game losing streak to end the season will hurt the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

" Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ new contract extension increases his buyout to $4 million should he choose to leave before March 2016.

Tweet of the day

Dwayne Thomas was in a vulnerable position when hundreds of LSU fans rushed the field at Tiger Stadium following an Oct. 25 win against Ole Miss.

The sophomore defensive back was on crutches, less than a week removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee, and easily could have toppled over in the frenzied crowd. Luckily he had a convoy of teammates and support staff to keep him safe on the way to the locker room.

“Jermauria Rasco, he was on my side. I had some great strength and conditioning coaches on my side and we were just all walking in,” Thomas recalled. “Jamal [Adams] was right behind me, Rickey [Jefferson] was right in front of me and we all just were walking in with people coming up and grabbing, excited. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s go in the crowd.’

“It actually was fun because being in the house so much [that week after surgery], not being around a lot of people, it was just so boring. To see that excitement when people rushed the field, I’d never been a part of that before so I enjoyed that moment. I kind of wanted to be out there, so I told them I wanted to stay out there and I didn’t want to go inside.”

That was the closest to on-field excitement that Thomas came in the second half of the season since he injured his knee in Game 5 against New Mexico State. The Tigers were 4-1 at the time and ranked 15th nationally, with Thomas starting to develop as a star in John Chavis’ “Mustang” defensive package.

He was rushing the quarterback off the edge, as he often does in the Mustang, when he suffered the season-ending knee injury. It was Thomas’ second season-ending injury at LSU, as he took a medical redshirt in 2012 after suffering a sports hernia that kept him from playing in the final nine games that fall.

“When they were like, ‘It’s a torn ACL,’ it kind of hit me emotionally a little bit because I was having an exciting season,” said Thomas, who had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a key fumble recovery (against Mississippi State) before the injury. “It was fun to start off fast for me and it was just a little setback and I just felt like I could bounce back from this because it’s just a torn ACL. It’s not like I tore my meniscus or anything else bad with that. I’m just ready to get back. My ACL’s healing faster than a lot of people really think it would.”

In fact, he thinks he’ll be ready to go when the Tigers open spring practice.

“He’s working hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said last week. “His rehabilitation is coming along very nicely. Hope to have him back for spring. I don't know if that’s possible, but as hard as he’s working, we would think that’s likely.”

Thomas’ return would bolster a secondary that might need a player with his capabilities next season. The Tigers will definitely lose senior starter Ronald Martin, while juniors Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are eligible to enter the NFL draft and suspended starter Rashard Robinson’s future at LSU is in doubt.

The secondary fared well overall even without Thomas available – LSU is second nationally in pass efficiency defense (98.7) and fifth in passing yards allowed (162.3) – but the group might need his veteran presence in 2015. Not to mention his playmaking ability.

“He’s a different type of player and he brings a spark to our defense,” sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “But even without him bringing that spark, I feel like we’re not really missing anything. We’re missing him as a person and as a player, and we’re missing his playmaking ability, but I feel like as a secondary, we performed well this year. I feel like with him, it’ll make it even better.”

In the meantime, he will continue to rehab the injury and attempt to assist his teammates from the sideline while taking notes about opponents’ tendencies. That knowledge will come in handy if Thomas makes it back to the field according to his expected timetable.

“It was tough in the beginning, but I’m over the mental thing. I’m just looking at all the positive coming out of it,” Thomas said. “The season is almost over. ... It just flew by, and next thing you know we’re going to be in spring and camp and I’m going to be right there on the field with those guys."
Remember when the SEC used to be a defensive league?

In certain quarters, it still is. But there are more than a few teams in this league, proud of its black-and-blue heritage, in desperate need of a defensive facelift.

It’s the reason former Florida coach Will Muschamp could break the bank when it comes to a defensive coordinator’s salary.

Only two days have passed since Muschamp coached his final game with the Gators, and already he’s being tied to defensive coordinator jobs that are open and some that aren’t open.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Stephen B. MortonWill Muschamp will be in high demand as a defensive coordinator and could very well stay in the SEC.
As Muschamp said himself, he didn’t win enough games at Florida to survive as head coach. But as a defensive coach, he’s on a short list of the most respected minds in the game.

That’s why Auburn is in hot pursuit after firing Ellis Johnson, and the Tigers are one of many. Texas A&M is also looking for somebody to come in and pick up the pieces of a defense that has been shredded the last two seasons.

There’s not an opening at South Carolina -- yet. But Steve Spurrier will almost certainly make some changes after seeing the Gamecocks fall off the table defensively this season on the heels of three straight top-5 finishes in the SEC in total defense from 2011-13.

Going into this season, there were already two SEC defensive coordinators making more than $1 million per year. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was at $1.35 million and LSU’s John Chavis at $1.3 million. It was money well spent. Chavis’ Tigers finished first in the SEC in total defense, and Smart’s Crimson Tide were third. They both ranked in the top 10 nationally as well in scoring defense. LSU was third (16.4 points per game) and the Tide sixth (16.9 points per game).

Muschamp is in a position where he can afford to wait and see what is out there, if he so chooses. Wherever he lands, don’t be surprised if he gets a deal that pays him in excess of $1.5 million annually.

The college game has changed dramatically with no-huddle offenses and seemingly everybody spreading it out and playing fast-break basketball on a football field.

Even Alabama is spreading it out under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin and running some no-huddle, which is saying something. Kiffin’s boss, if you hadn’t noticed, isn’t a big fan of the fastball offenses, but Nick Saban is very much a fan of winning. He also is smart enough to know that you at least better have the capability to play that way with the climate we’re in right now in college football.

The tricky part is finding the right fit at defensive coordinator on those teams that do want to play offense at the speed of light. As a rule, defensive numbers are going to suffer (and it's difficult to sustain quality defenses over a number of years) when its offense is playing that way because it’s hard to practice the way most defenses want to practice in that system.

It’s not impossible, though. Look at what Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack did with that defense this season. The Rebels were first nationally in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, though, understood what he had in that defense this season and played to it. At times, the Rebels played slower than normal.

How would Muschamp fare as a defensive coordinator in a true no-huddle system?

We might find out -- if either Auburn or Texas A&M wins the Muschamp sweepstakes. At the end of the day, good defensive coaches adapt and can coach in any system.

We’re seeing more of the fast-paced, spread offenses in the SEC than ever before. Arkansas, Georgia and LSU are still running the traditional, pro-style sets, and that’s still the base for Alabama, but those teams are in the minority now in the SEC.

Muschamp won’t be the only hot commodity out there this offseason as teams look to shore up their defenses in this video-game era of offensive football.

Somebody’s sure to grab up former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was the defensive coordinator on LSU’s 2007 national championship team.

There are others, too, with SEC ties that could be in play. Look at what former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did at Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. They’re No. 1 in rushing defense. In his three seasons at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense all three years.

In short, everybody loves offense. It’s what sells, but there’s a reason only one team in the last decade has won a national championship with a defense ranked outside the top 10 nationally in total defense.

That one team, by the way, was Auburn in 2010. The Tigers finished 60th nationally that year in total defense.