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Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda directs his players during LSU football practice Monday.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

In a rare news conference with both of LSU’s coordinators, defensive signal caller Dave Aranda gave a little more insight into the status of pass rusher Arden Key.

Aranda echoed what had already been said about Key participating in non-contact drills throughout camp, but detailed how the edge rusher remains in high spirits and is heavily involved in the game-planning portion of practice.

“It’s great having Arden around,” Aranda said. “Prior to this scrimmage, we’re getting ready for the first defense to go out and Arden puts his arm around one of the refs and says, ‘If it’s not a sack, it’s because they’re holding us.’ And the refs says, ‘OK.’

“Arden is the best champion of defense that we’ve got. To have him around, the energy he brings and just the smile to his face, it just lights up everybody’s day. I can’t wait for Arden to be back.”

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Aranda also gave a brief glimpse into what Key-less defense might look like, noting that the Tigers’ would scheme less around getting Key into mismatches and more into a team-wide structure.

In the almost 30-minute interview to cap off the first day of regular, in-school practice, Aranda also gave a run down of just about every position on the field from cornerbacks to nose tackles.

The big focus of the day was several of the young players who received praise throughout camp and how Aranda plans to work them into the system, saying players like Jacob Phillips and Tyler will likely see plenty of field time this season.

“I think Jacob came in the most physical and most eager for contact,” Aranda said. “I think Tyler came in understanding football greatly. He has a great intuitive sense of football and instinct. I think Patrick is very athletic. The most athletic of the three.”

Aranda also gave a different perspective on Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada’s system from the man charged with defending him every day at practice.


Opening Statement

Fall camp has been a good one. All the young players we had in the spring, teaching from the ground up in the spring was very much the way to go about things. To battle that way in spring and presented with the challenges Matt (Canada) offers to new players and freshmen players and everything, I think you’re very much learning to swim by being thrown into the water. I thought in the spring we did a good job of doing that. I give credit to the coaches. They really stayed detail oriented. There were a few days in the spring there where we were getting beat up pretty good. Guys kind of bursting, ‘Is this where I’m lining up? Is this where my eyes are going? Who has that play? Who has that guy?’ That’s where we started and I think we got better and better. I thought we ended it with the spring game where I thought guys competed and they had a decent understanding.

I thought summer was great. I thought we had some leaders emerge in summertime. And we had guys that really studied football and took it upon themselves to learn and then teach to the new guys. Because here we go again with learning all over again, so we had to start again. I think fall camp, though, the difference was we had some freshmen that were veterans. They could teach the newer freshmen. I’m really proud of our coaches and our players for fall camp. I thought it went well.

We’ve gotten better every day, we’ve gotten better every week and there’s a good understanding of how this defense stretches and expands and contracts. Matt’s going to put you in a bunch of different spots and contort you, and we’ve contorted in a bunch of different ways. I think the guys have an idea of how that works now. We ended with a scrimmage on Saturday where I think the guys competed hard. I feel good about the future and moving on to BYU. We started some BYU today.

How much does depth affect what you’d like to do? It seems like there's an abundance in places and small in others.

A great amount. One — and we talked about this the other day — the offense we went against in the spring, it would be what I would imagine if we went against Navy or Army. It’s triple option. So the strengths of going against an offense like that is that you have to be very disciplined. They spread you out.

All 11 guys have a fit, all 11 guys have a key, all 11 guys have to recognize the formation and my eyes have to be here on the snap. My eyes are going here. There’s a lot of value in that. There’s also a lot of value in the accountability of how to go after something like that. It’s very clear who upheld their end of the bargain on playing a gap or playing coverage on a guy. It’s very clear.

The disadvantages of playing against an offense like that is you’re restricted to playing one or two things that can fit everything you’re seeing. So you’re really not expanding into this package or experimenting in this package. You’re playing what you’re presented with, which is new things every day. So coming out of that, I think there’s a great understanding of technique, there’s a great understanding of team defense, there’s a great understanding of how we win plays, how we lose plays in terms of breakdowns.

I think we still have yet to explore where this defense goes as an overall structure. Do we play with a lack of D-linemen? Do we play more outside backers in the game? Do we move people around? I think at Utah State and Wisconsin at times, there’d be one D-linemen on the field and the linebackers and DBs moving around. Is that a necessity too? I’m not saying we do that here, but I think you have to build to that. Now there’s maybe one guy in motion and not six guys and we can spend a little more time with that.

Do you ever ask Matt (Canada) to give you some different looks?

No. It’s very helpful. I always wanted to be able to play a triple option team early in the season because it helps you discipline. So I think our guys are locked in.

Coach, these young linebackers, (Jacob) Phillips, (Tyler) Taylor and some of these guys, are they physically ready and they have to learn what they’re doing? How would you evaluate them?

I think Jacob came in the most physical and most eager for contact. I think Tyler came in understanding football greatly. He has a great intuitive sense of football and instinct. I think Patrick is very athletic, the most athletic of the three.

I think they all bring very highly tuned skills. It’s becoming a complete player. To their credit, they’ve been all in. I get myself and (analyst) Ronnie Wheat who works with me, we’ll talk about how their questions are very forward thinking. You can tell a lot about a question by where someone is at and their standing and development. And there’s darn good questions in there. I get texts at 10:30, 11 o’clock at night with videos of their iPads asking, ‘How do I fit this? What do I do with this?’ All of that you love to see. There’s some really good tells there of what lies ahead. But still, a lot of work to do.

Do you envision all three of those guys playing? How do you envision the inside linebackers looking?

I think they’re all going to have to play. I think it’s still very much in play in terms of how that works out. As far as the depth and the limited number of people in our room, we’re going to have to use all of them.

Has it been difficult when you have a young defense, some true freshmen, to prepare for a big season opener while at the same time teaching the little things?

I think coach (Orgeron) does a great job with that. I think Matt eluded to that some. O does a great job when he stands in here building up our scrimmages, building up the competitive nature that’s here anyways. I think the kids feel it. That makes a big difference when you have a 9 on 7 and it goes good and you understand why and you feel good about it. Or you have a 9 on 7 period and it doesn’t go good and people aren’t happy about it and you understand why. I think that goes further than that day. That leads to a greater appreciation and motivation.

Where is (K’Lavon) Chaisson and Ray Thornton at right now as outside linebackers?

They’re battling. They’re battling. Chaisson, there’s a lot of merit to having Chaisson on the field when you know it’s a pass. Then there’s a lot of merit to Ray being on the field when they’re going to run the ball. So they’re each working on their respective issues. But they’re very much battling. I think they had a great, individually, per those respective advantages, had a great scrimmage.

Coach O said on signing day Chaisson was the best pass rusher he had signed. Do you agree?

I’ve seen that. He has the ability to run at O-linemen and freeze them. He can go right at them and head nod and get the O-linemen to shift his weight and freeze his feet and go the other way. But he also has the ability to go around people. To not give any head nod and run around them.

There’s very few guys that can do both of those things and he has the ability to do that. I’ve been around a lot of linebackers who can do one or the other, can get around people but also have the wiggle to shake guys. He’s been blessed with both.

What’s made Kary (Vincent) stand out at that nickel spot?

He has great speed. I think he’s got a great desire to learn football. He’s been right at the hip pocket with Corey (Raymond). Corey has done a great job with him. Corey is in a similar boat as me in terms of there’ll be some young guys playing some big roles. So he’s been very involved. But I think skill-wise, he has the tools. Speed-wise, he’s one of our fastest guys. The struggles he’s had is in trusting that speed and getting to play in certain formations presented. But he’s working through that. He’s going to get through that.

Can you still play that aggressive corner you like?

I hope so. I think we’ve seen flashes of that with Donte (Jackson) and (Kevin) Toliver. We’re still looking for consistency, but they’ve shown flashes of that. There’s positive things when Donte, when he comes in and locked in, he’s hard to throw it on. And he’s got big play ability on top of that. Then Toliver, he had a great spring and in fall he’s shown really good flashes. Once he gets to where it’s consistent, that’s two really good people.

What have you been able to do with Arden (Key) so far as far as preparation and how far along in plays you think he’ll be?

He’s been doing the non-contact stuff. It’s great having Arden around. Prior to this scrimmage, we’re getting ready for the first defense to go out and Arden puts his arm around one of the refs and says, ‘If it’s not a sack, it’s because they’re holding us.’ And the refs says, ‘OK.’

Arden is the best champion of defense that we’ve got. To have him around, the energy he brings and just the smile to his face, it just lights up everybody’s day. I can’t wait for Arden to be back.

Now football wise, he’s involved in meetings. We do a fair amount of walk through. We would do a walkthrough in the mornings and in the afternoon we’d have a walkthrough prior to being on field for the traditional practice, and he was on the field for all of those.

You mentioned in spring, you’ve got a defense with Arden and you’ve got one without him. Obviously the defense with him you like his athleticism, but outside of that, how is that defense different without him? How do you play without him?

I think if you have Arden, you feature him. You get him into position to make mismatches. You find the weakest offender and put Arden there, then you try to show numbers away from Arden so there’s a choice that has to be made. So you gear everything you’re doing around him.

If you don’t have Arden, you very much lose that aspect. Now its a team. There’s more blitzes involved. I think there’s more, 'We’re gong to show inside pressure to bring outside pressure. We’re going to show overload field pressure to bring boundary pressure.' It’s less a feature of Arden and more a team aspect to it.

Can you say who your front seven is?

Linebacker-wise, I think you feel really good about Donnie (Alexander) and about Devin (White). At the F-linebacker there’s a lot of competition with Mike Divinity and Corey Thompson. Corey had a great scrimmage and Mike’s had a great camp. Those two have vastly improved. Give a lot of credit to Dennis Johnson. Dennis has done a great job. Dennis “30-for-30” Johnson has done a great job of developing Mike Divinity and Corey is really improved, so give Dennis a lot of credit for that.

At bench linebacker, we already mentioned it, there’s Ray (Thornton), there’s Andre Anthony and there’s K’Lavon (Chaisson). We’re really blessed at that position. I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of those three. So there’s a battle going on there too.

Inside you feel good about (Christian) LaCouture. I feel good about Greg (Gilmore), too. Greg is a technician and Greg has been consistent this camp. I think our best player inside, or our most productive, has been Rashard Lawrence. There was a 7-on-7 period we had and there was a run and Rashard had a double team. So he took on the double and he turned to take on the double team with a base block here and a down block here and turned to take on the double, and the down block guy left the front linebacker so Rashard popped out.

I think, I forget the running back, but Rashard grabbed him with one arm and just wouldn’t let him go. I’m off to the side and I wasn't really saying much, but I could just see his eyes and you just didn’t want to stand in front of him and that tackle. He just wouldn't let go. I think that’s what I want to see at the front to our defense, and he brings that. We’re trying to get that out of him more and more because people see that and they respond to it.

Christian told me you made the closing argument in getting him to come back this year. How important to you was it to have him back and do you remember what it was like to have that discussion?

I don’t (remember) but I love Christian. He’s a great team guy. He’s also very much a technician. You give a lot of credit to Pete Jenkins. You see Christian with his hands and his hand placement and his footwork, very much detail oriented. You see Christian come in and it’s all business. So he’s great for our team. Our guys respect him, they listen to what he says, when they watch him work they see a guy that’s all in. He’s right at the forefront for us. He had a great scrimmage. He had his best scrimmage this past Saturday.

What’s the nose tackle spot look like? I don’t know if (Tyler) Shelvin would’ve played, but you played a lot with Ed (Alexander) and Greg (Gilmore) at the back end. Do you feel good with just those two guys?

I feel good about those two, but with that being said, I think we have the two best ineligible nose guards in the country right now. Those kids are talented. The future is gong to be very bright for them. I love Greg and what he brings. It means a lot to Greg from where he started to where he is now. And the work he’s put into it, you can see it. And I think everybody sees it and they respect him for it. I’m a big fan of Greg and I want Greg to have whatever he wants. Ed is very talented, very explosive and we’re working to get him consistent.

Do you see any of those defensive line freshmen redshirting right now?

Not at that point. I wouldn’t see it. I see guys playing.

What do you see from Xavier Lewis and do you expect to see him on the field a lot this year?

I do. It’s funny you say that. Xavier had a great scrimmage. He brought up memories of Dwayne Thomas with some of the blitzes he had. He has a great knack. It’s one of the things I think we have to do, per one of the earlier questions about where the defensive structure goes. We’ve been defending the option for so long, I don’t really know. We have to be able to build it to where our players are at. I know that. I know Xavier has a knack for blitzing. He has that feel, he can time it out. When someone tried to block him, he can set them up.

He can read when the ball is going away and he can peel up and go for the cue. Those are all things that can be coached, but it’s so much better when you don’t have to say it. I think we can find a role for him. There’s some other guys in the same boat as him that have been here for a while and have been battling out and I need to find roles for them where the can take up and run. They’re the heart and soul of the defense.

Same question about Glen Logan up front.

I think Glen is very similar. Glen has improved every week. I look at Glen as one of the most improved defensive linemen. We need consistency out of Glen. When he comes and he strikes and he’s got the quick twitch and we line move him, the ability to go this way get a linemen bowed up and then go this way, he does that. We need to reach in and get all of that our of him.

In the spring you said about rebuilding because there were a lot of guys going to the NFL, how much better do you feel now as opposed to then?

I think it’s very good. It’s always one of those things when you’re right in the middle of it, it’s hard to see the other side, even though there’s been other sports where it’s the same scenario. You stick with the fundamentals and the basics, you’ll end up OK. I think as coaches you get slipped up when young guys don’t learn stuff and you feel you have to correct it by adding new stuff. You dig your hole deeper. I think as a coaching staff we did a good job of teaching and putting an emphasis on the player and technique and fundamentals and building on that as opposed to overloading them.

Now that we've been through all that, you look at some of the people we’re playing. And after playing Matt, you’re like ‘Oh, that’s all they do?’ The challenge becomes different things because I think, speaking specifically of some of the team we’re going o play early, they don’t do the multitude of stuff that Matt does. They’ll do a few things, but they’ll do it well. So we have to be right on it. With Matt, you may get six runs out of an unbalanced formation, five runs out of a tackle over formation, three new empty plays and such a multitude of things. Sometimes you won’t get close to it. You’re playing teams that do a limited amount of things, we’ve got to be right on it because they’re timing and their execution is going to be high. So that’ll be a good challenge for us right out the gate.

It seems like (Grant) Delpit has put himself in a position with Ed Paris to be in a rotation or play, mentally is he consistent enough to be out there?

I think so. I feel really good about what Grant has done. He had a really good scrimmage on Saturday. I love Grant’s demeanor and the way he attacks things and the way he learns. Corey’s been close with him and been right with him the whole way. I think he has attacked his role and attacked that job the way you want to. So I’m really proud of him.

Dave, you praised Matt’s offense so much. What do you expect from him this season and how different is it from the offense you went against in practice last year.

I expect it to be successful. First thing, I think Matt’s a great person and he’s got a great mind to him. He understands defenses and how they’re built. He attacks that. It’s a smart way to go about it. I think people are going to have to adjust to play him. You’re not going to be able to come out with what you got because he’s going to outnumber you and out leverage you. Should be fun to watch.

Donnie (Alexander) is not Kendall (Beckwith), but is he enough? Do you have to move the position or mold the position into something different, or is he good enough to be…

I’m really proud of Donnie. We talked early about summertime and developing leaders and he was one of the leaders that showed up. Just today we were watching the scrimmage and there was an inside zone play and there was a guard that chipped off a defensive lineman and worked up for Donnie. Donnie was shuffling and then went to meet the guard and (Donnie) just smacked him. The guard was kind of shocked.

I was shocked too when I watched it. I go, ‘Donnie, I’ve never seen this from you. This is great.’ He goes, ‘230, coach. 230.’ He’s 230 pounds now. Donnie, he’s putting it all on the line this year. You’re pulling for people like that. It means a lot to him.

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.