Kevin Steele spent a few days during the summer at this beach house in the Carolinas.
He fished some. He crabbed some. He got some sun and enjoyed a front-row seat to the Atlantic Ocean.
He did something else, too.
“Watched Mississippi State and Auburn,” LSU’s first-year defensive coordinator said recently at a high school coaches clinic.
Already, the Tigers are bracing for what could be a make-or-break first month of the season. In Game 2, LSU travels to play a Dak Prescott-led Mississippi State team that won 10 games last season and, the very next week, hosts an Auburn squad picked to win the conference.
Steele got to work early, studying tape of the Tigers’ first two tests — two of the most high-octane offenses LSU will face this year.
How will he counter?
That’s still a mystery.
Less than a month before the season opener, and two days into preseason camp, Steele’s defensive plans for the Tigers aren’t all that clear. Assistant coaches aren’t often allowed to speak to reporters, and players are guarded about giving away too much.
And practice? It’s open to media for just 10-15 minutes during individual drills, and practices will completely close starting Monday.
From discussions with players, Steele is in the midst of implementing a fairly similar and somewhat simpler scheme than that of former defensive coordinator John Chavis.
Steele’s scheme appears to be more multiple — with a variety of formations — and includes new terminology with positions like “Money.” It seems to be more linebacker-centric, too.
Defensive tackles, under new line coach Ed Orgeron, are playing wider, they say, possibly leaving room for blitzing linebackers. Tackle Davon Godchaux describes it as playing more “outside.” Several players have said that Orgeron is emphasizing sacking the quarterback more than ex-line coach Brick Haley ever did.
“He knows how to get you to the quarterback,” defensive end Tashawn Bower said.
OK, but is it safe to call LSU’s base defense a 4-3 still? Well, yes, linebacker Duke Riley said, but he mentions another formation when discussing the unit’s base D: 4-2-5.
A 4-2-5 includes four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. It’s referred to as the nickel package and was often used by Chavis because of the amount of pass-happy, spread teams LSU faces each season.
That’s at least one, big similarity between two familiar guys. Steele and Chavis are close friends. They played at Tennessee together and are from the same South Carolina town.
But, players say, they do have differences — schematically and personally.
“(Steele) says he’s not going to holler as much, but sometimes he does,” a smiling linebacker Lamar Louis said.
Steele is stricter than Chavis, one player said, but his system is easier to learn, another added. Several defensive players say the two defensive systems aren’t all that dissimilar — aside from the terminology.
“The stuff that Steele’s bringing into it, it’s kind of the same stuff,” linebacker Duke Riley said. “It’s just different terminology. If you understand the terminology, it’s really the same stuff Chief teaches.”
Oh, but there are “twists,” safety Rickey Jefferson said without expanding.
“I don’t want to give away too much,” he said, snickering.
One twist: “In some defenses we’ll have a 3-4. Four linebackers,” Riley said.
That’s a formation called “Hippo.”
There’s a position called “Money,” too. He’s the outside linebacker in the five-DB nickel package. The position can be played by a strong or weakside linebacker — a striking change to the nickel package under Chavis.
Kendell Beckwith said in the spring he’s the only linebacker in the Dime package, better known to LSU fans as the “Mustang.” Players aren’t calling it that anymore. It’s simply known as “Dime,” and it involved recently reinstated defensive back Dwayne Thomas entering the game. Jalen Mills slides down as the third cornerback, Jefferson replaces him at safety and Thomas works as the fourth corner.
In the nickel package — the one the Tigers will use more than most — Mills slides down as the third corner, and Jefferson enters.
“A lot of us are blitzing, even corners,” Jefferson said. “Coach Steele, he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.”
Linebackers are doing more blitzing, too, Jefferson said, before pausing and smiling, “I couldn’t specify.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.