John Chavis, the LSU Tigers defensive coordinator has seen it all in his 24 years of coaching experience in the Southeastern Conference. TCU head coach Gary Patterson playing hot potato with his quarterback situation a week before the Cowboys Classic with the Tigers, shouldn’t leave the Chief on his heels presumably for what most are calling his greatest challenge of his elongated coaching career.
LSU must replace seven starters on their defense from a season ago, which was eighth best in the country in total defense. Six of which were underclassmen that declared themselves eligible and were later selected in the NFL Draft. All the starters back are in the back seven, notably in the secondary; cornerback Jalen Mills and strong safety Craig Loston, tailormade 4-3 linebackers Lamin Barrow and Tahj Jones. Of the eight on defense drafted, four came from the defensive line, fifth overall pick Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, Houston Texans defensive end Sam Montgomery, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan and Tennessee Titans defensive end Lavar Edwards.
LSU will play the season opener at AT&T Stadium, with a whole new deck on the defensive line. The group is just how Chavis designs his defense, centered around quickness and range. LSU’s starters project to be Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter at both ends, while potential All-American Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will man the center of the defense. During the last two NFL Drafts, five of the seven starters used by the Tigers on the defensive line have been picked in the NFL DRaft.
In Chavis’ four-year tenure at LSU, he has got refueling a defense down to a fine art. LSU defenses under Chavis, no matter how much house money, still compete with the rest of the country. LSU has finished 12th or better in total defense each year under Chavis, including a top-five finish in 2011. 2012 was the first year that a Chavis lead defense had given up 2,000 rushing yards in a season since 2007 Tennessee. It’s not lip service when critics close to the program stand in awe of what Chavis can do replacing crucial contributors each year. Chavis has had to replace 19 total players on his LSU defenses that have gone on to be selected in the NFL Draft.
A fair share of outsiders believe that Chavis is the top assistant in the SEC and with good measure, his resume is one of the best in the business. Since the beginning of his same role, as defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 1995, Chavis has produced a defense that has edged the SEC’s top-four mark in total defense 13 times, a striking number since he is an 18-year veteran.
Those that are still questioning LSU’s transformation on defense when Saturday comes, look back two years ago. After LSU’s Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M in the 2011 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, many believed that replacing a defense that stacked up to 12th overall in total defense with Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard would be next to impossible to copycat the following year. But with the combination of Tyran Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, LSU’s defensive unit in 2011, finished just behind eventual national champion, Alabama as the nation’s best in total defense. LSU dominated teams with a 13-0 regular season and one of the best bodies of work in a season since the BCS adoption in the 1998-99 season.
Last time in AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium, LSU and Chavis slammed the door on Oregon‘s NASCAR offense, allowing just 95 rushing yards and forcing three fumbles, two by De’Anthony Thomas in their 40-27 victory. In LSU’s third neutral site season opener in Chavis’ five years, the Tigers defense must prepare for both TCU quarterback Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin to start up 2013. Pachall was 4-0 before being suspended last season, with a DWI arrest. The suspension left backup Boykin as the top dog for the last nine games of last season. Boykin threw 200 or more yards in all but three starts. No matter what the case is on Saturday, Chavis has shown he can adjust to any circumstance that arises.