Dave Aranda strikes you as the kind of cool hand you’d want handling a crisis in a disaster movie.
Disarming a bomb? Cut the blue wire; he’s sure of it.
Landing a crippled airliner? He’ll set the flaps and be certain not to slip below stall speed.
Figuring out a way to bust out of a villain’s lair with three matches and some dental floss? We’re pretty confident he could invent options that never occurred to MacGyver.
As they might say in the latest chapter of “Mission: Impossible,” your mission, Mr. Aranda, should you choose to accept it, is to take a defense that led the nation in touchdowns allowed last year (1.33 per game), strip away seven starters and make it ready to handle the rigors of a demanding college football season.
After visiting with LSU’s defensive coordinator following Monday afternoon’s practice, it doesn’t seem like his pulse rate seems elevated at the prospect. Maybe it was the partial eclipse lowering the temperature a tad, but he didn’t seem to be sweating, either.
Matt Canada’s first game as a play-caller came in Brownwood, Texas.
Aranda has faced bigger talent deficits running defenses at Hawaii, Utah State and Wisconsin. His calm, measured tones give the impression he’s confident in the legions of young, mostly untested but gifted players he’ll have to throw into this LSU defense.
The key, he said, has been not to throw too much at them, no small measure of restraint given the amorphous challenge that is new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme.
“You stick with the fundamentals and the basics, and you’ll be OK,” Aranda said. “As a coach, you slip up when young guys aren’t learning stuff and you feel you’ve got to correct that by adding new stuff. You just dig the hole deeper. As a coaching staff, we did a good job by sticking with what we’ve got and teaching fundamentals as opposed to overloading them.”
It was difficult to see that in the spring as LSU’s proud defense was fending off the swarming and misdirecting flight plans of Air Canada. But patience paid dividends, Aranda said.
“A few days in the spring, we were getting beat up pretty good,” he said. “Guys are questioning, 'Is this where I line up? Is this where my eyes are?' I think we got better and better. I think we ended the spring game where guys competed.
“Summer was great. Leaders emerged who really studied football and took it upon themselves to learn and teach the young guys. In fall camp, the difference was we had freshmen who were veterans who could teach the newer freshmen.
“I think it went well, and we got better every day and every week. They have a really good understanding of how this defense stretches and contracts. We’ve contorted it a bunch of different ways, and our guys understand how that works now.”
There are issues of course in terms of depth, especially in the front seven. All the starting linebackers are gone. Pass rushing specialist Arden Key still isn’t completely back after sitting out the spring for personal reasons and recuperating from May shoulder surgery. Though Aranda said Key is doing walk-throughs and is fully engaged in team meetings, he has had to conceive defenses with and without Key playing a part.
“If you have Arden,” Aranda said, “you feature him.”
If not, there are other options. He of course figures Donnie Alexander and Devin White as his inside linebackers, with Michael Divinity and Corey Thompson working one of the outside (or “F”) linebacker spots.
And at the other “bench” linebacker spot? He’s got Ray Thornton, Andre Anthony and one of the hottest names from this year’s freshman class, K’Lavon Chaisson.
“I don’t think you can go wrong with those three,” Aranda said.
Matt Canada isn’t running the toss dive any time soon.
Another freshman, Kary Vincent, has looked like a million bucks at the nickelback spot. “He’s got a great desire to learn football,” the coach they call The Professor said. He confirmed the talk about another freshman, Grant Delpit, at safety. “I feel real good about what Grant has done,” he said. “He had a great scrimmage Saturday. I love Grant’s demeanor, how he attacks things, the way he learns.”
Aranda admits he’s looking for a bit more consistency out of his cornerbacks, Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver. They’ve shown flashes, if not the down-after-down consistency the coach wants to see.
“Once we get consistent, we’ve got two good people” there,” Aranda said.
Even the late and disappointing curveball of losing massive freshman lineman Tyler Shelvin to academics doesn’t have Aranda overwrought. He feels he can make it work with the two nose tackles he has: Greg Gilmore and Ed Alexander.
“I feel good about those two. That being said, I think we have the two best ineligible nose guards in the country,” Aranda, referring to Shelvin and transfer Breiden Fehoko.
Wry humor in the face of adversity. It’s a good sign for LSU that Aranda wants to accept the mission — and make it something less than impossible.
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 p…