LSU opponents are no doubt starting to pay attention to another Tigers cornerbacks. They already knew about junior Morris Claiborne, LSU’s only preseason all-SEC player, and they certainly knew about Tyrann Mathieu’s Defensive MVP performance in the Cotton Bowl, which capped his standout freshman season in 2010.
After his performance in the Tigers’ season-opening 40-27 victory against Oregon last Saturday, sophomore Tharold Simon is surely on radar screens as well. He made an interception finished third on the team with eight tackles, including one for loss, and he broke up three passes.
“I’m sure a lot more people know who I am now,” Simon said, “because I know the whole world was watching that game and there were a lot of people in the stadium.”
Simon, a sophomore from Eunice, is big for a cornerback ? 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.
“Everybody just kind of wants to test him a little bit,” coach Les Miles said. “What they don’t realize is he’s unbelievably competitive. He’s got great ball skills and he understands how to play out there with that big, strong body. He’s got surprising speed. Tharold Simon is a difficult guy to get beyond because he has great speed and athleticism. He plays with a lot of range. Frankly, when the ball is in the air, there is not a jump necessary. He is already there with his body presence and rangy length. He gives us a very quality corner physical against the run and as a cover guy.”
LSU was leading the Ducks, 9-6, early in the second quarter when Oregon decided to test Simon. Darron Thomas lofted a pass downfield looking for a big play, but Simon outfought the receiver to come down with the interception.
“It was a great interception,” said Simon, who had one intereption in eight games as a backup last season. “I backpedaled, turned around, saw the ball thrown and just made a play on it.”
Simon’s ability to play tight man-to-man coverage allowed the Tigers to keep Mathieu at nickelback, where he’s able to be more of a playmaker all over the field, knowing Simon candle any receiver on the outside.
“Tharold Simon gives us a big body, and when you’re fortunate enough to have a big body you can put on a guy who can play press man and do the things he can do, it’s unusual,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “It’s highly unusual to have a guy with that kind of height who can turn, run, play bump and run and do the things we like our corners to do.”
Mathieu established himself as a playmaker last season, and Simon appears capable of doing the same this season.
“He’s just a big playmaker,” Simon said of Mathieu. “He was making plays before I was on the outside. He’s a very good playmaker, but it helps at times too because you can’t throw the ball and you’ve got him rushing you, blitzing you. That’s scary for any team to face.
“He sets the tone before the game. He lets you know before the game, I’m going to make a big play, I’m going to make a few big plays, so I need ya’ll to have my back. So we all make big plays.”
Simon emerged during the offseason as a key member of the defense after having a limited role last season.
“Practice makes perfect,” he said. “I just practice hard. I just work hard at everything I do and I got better than what I was.”
The whole defense opened a lot of eyes with the way it slowed down Oregon’s offense.
“The defense played great,” Simon said. “We played big. We played aggressive. We showed them we weren’t playing around with them. We were physical with them. We played hard in every aspect. We’re physical, fast, aggressive. We just let people know, don’t plwith us. It’s as simple as that.
“We’ve just got to keep practicing real hard, keep playing real hard. Every team we play we still have to play them real hard. We can’t take a step back just because we beat Oregon. We have to keep going even harder than what we did last Saturday.”