LSU sophomore Tharold Simon is bent on showing everyone a 6-foot-3, 190-pound cornerback can play the position just as well as the little guys.
He will soon have his chance. On a full-time basis.
LSU coach Les Miles announced at Southeastern Conference Media Days last month that Simon will line up opposite junior corner Morris Claiborne when the Tigers face Oregon’s high-octane spread offense in the season opener.
Tyrann Mathieu, a blur of sacks and forced turnovers his freshman year, will remain LSU’s nickel back.
“I know Tyrann is a great, great corner,” Simon said, “but we need him at another position right now. We need him at the nickel back for this certain game. He’s going to get his shot at playing corner, too.”
Simon and Mathieu were part of a 2010 signing class loaded with secondary talent, but Mathieu seemed like the ideal candidate to replace Patrick Peterson at corner on an every-game basis.
Although he started just once last year, Mathieu, 5-9, 180, got plenty of snaps as LSU’s fifth defensive back — and seemingly made them all count.
Mathieu recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a true freshman, had a hand in 10 turnovers (five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions) and notched a team-high seven pass breakups.
Against Texas A&M, he made seven tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered another, intercepted one pass and knocked away another, and had one sack to earn the game’s Defensive MVP award.
Coming out of spring practice, Mathieu was listed as a starter at corner in the LSU media guide.
But because he has enough confidence in Simon to anchor Peterson’s old spot, Miles is keeping Mathieu in the same position where he wreaked so much havoc last year.
“One of the smartest decisions a coach could make,” safety Brandon Taylor said.
Mathieu gives LSU a speedy ball-hawk who can cover more ground when lined up toward the middle of the secondary. Simon provides a physical, wide receiver-sized cover man with the potential to enjoy a breakout season.
As a freshman, Simon came on strong late in the year after biding his time early.
You may remember the pass breakup he had while covering Julio Jones, a future first-round draft pick, in the third quarter of LSU’s victory over Alabama. Or the interception he had against Ryan Tannehill to help the Tigers protect a four-point lead in the Cotton Bowl’s second quarter.
Simon continued to impress his coaches during a strong spring and summer.
“Somebody’s always asking why I’m not playing safety or saying I’m too tall to be a corner,” Simon said. “But I don’t let it stop me. That’s what they brought me here for — to play corner. So that’s what I’m going to play.”
Quite regularly, it appears.
But if the Tigers counter Oregon’s spread with five defensive backs, Simon and Mathieu could both have a starting spot in the season opener.
LSU released an updated roster Friday with heights and weights for all 104 players in camp. Some notes:
• Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a 6-5 sophomore, has slimmed down to 222 pounds after being listed at 250 ijn the summer. Fellow quarterback Stephen Rivers, a 6-7 freshman, is up to 212 pounds after previously being listed at 200.
• Redshirt freshman Jakhari Gore, 5-9, is the team’s lightest player at 166 pounds down from 175 in the summer. Junior tackle Alex Hurst, 6-6, is the heaviest at 340 pounds up from 329.
• True freshman defensive lineman Jermauria Rasco, listed at 6-4, 240 in the summer, is up 15 pounds but down one inch on the new roster.
• In the linebacking corps, senior Ryan Baker, 6-0, is up to 236 pounds from 227; senior Stefoin Francois, 6-1, is up to 223 from 215; senior Karnell Hatcher, 6-2, is up to 223 from 212; and sophomore Kevin Minter, 6-2, is up to 242 from 225.
• Senior offensive guard Will Blackwell, 6-4, is down from 303 to 290 on the fall roster.
Battle at guard
Left guard Josh Dworaczyk is easing his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery that kept him out of spring practice. He finds himself in a battle with T-Bob Hebert to regain his starting position.
“If somebody’s been putting in the time and putting all the work in, positions aren’t just handed out around here,” Dworaczyk said. “So you have to go back out there and earn it, and that’s my goal right now.”
The LSU veterans worked outdoors for the second consecutive morning Friday, and the newcomers and selected veterans worked out at the indoor facility for the second consecutive afternoon. Freshman WR Jarvis Landry of Lutcher watched the afternoon practice with his injured right foot in a walking boot. LSU is scheduled to have its first full-squad practice outdoors Saturday morning.