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Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones fields questions during a news conference at TCO Performance Center on Feb. 11, 2020, in Eagan, Minn. LSU hired Jones on Tuesday as its new defensive coordinator, putting him in charge of a unit that struggled throughout a 5-5 season.

There was a key root word new LSU defensive coordinator Daronte Jones used during his introductory news conference.


Jones used the word — or some form of it — 10 times during a conversation with reporters Tuesday that lasted about 10 minutes.

First, on describing his "players first, scheme second' vision for LSU's defense: "We want to minimize error, make sure we're over-communicating, have an attacking-style defense where we can dictate the terms and play fast."

Jones used it three times specifically talking about LSU's secondary and working with cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond: "We want to make sure our communication is clear and precise and make sure everyone's on the same page... We'll be working together, so when the safeties and corners are working together, it minimizes any miscommunications."

And, in case anyone hadn't gotten the point yet, Jones used the word twice more once his interview was beginning to wrap up.

"Again," Jones said, "I want to keep stressing the ability to over-communicate across the board on defense because when you over-communicate, you minimize mental errors. That's the first thing we want to focus on is minimizing mistakes and minimizing mental errors, so everyone's on the same page."

The repetition was warranted. For most of the 2020 season, LSU's secondary often conjured up a scene from the film "Cool Hand Luke." After a compilation of coverage busts and wide-open touchdown receptions, the job description of LSU's next coordinator called for someone who'd ensure there wouldn't be "a failure to communicate."

Although LSU recently finalized its $4 million divorce with former coordinator Bo Pelini after the defense's worst statistical season in school history, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron has often stated his ultimate accountability for the team's overall performance, and the sixth-year coach said Tuesday that he's "going to be involved with the defense" this year, especially when it comes to the defensive line.

"I've let that go a little bit, and I wish I wouldn't have done that," Orgeron said. "And so I'm going to be more involved with the defense, and every time that I interviewed every guy I told them, 'Listen, here's what I expect. Here's what I'm going to do. Do you agree to it?'"

What does Orgeron expect? He said he envisions a unit that gets "back to playing LSU defense," the "physical," "tough" kind he grew up watching that didn't give up big plays and made it tough to score.

"Tough to score" is relative these days, Orgeron admitted. LSU and Alabama's record-breaking, championship-winning offenses of the past two seasons epitomize the modern college football philosophy that holding opposing offenses to 30 points and just under 400 total yards ain't all that shabby.

A defense just can't appear lost.

So, by communicating a clear vision of the defense during the interview process, Orgeron's three new defensive staff hires were all centered on a collaboration of communication.

There's already a familiarity with the new coaches.

Jones and defensive line coach Andre Carter were both assistant coaches on the Miami Dolphins in 2018 and 2019.

Jones and linebackers coach Blake Baker both have previously coached in Louisiana. Jones was a part-time coach at Nicholls State and a high school assistant coach for a season each at Franklin and Jeanerette. Baker, a former Tulane linebacker whose wife, Roslyn, is a Mandeville native and former All-SEC soccer player at LSU, was Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2018.

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Orgeron also said "it was important to get minority coaches on our staff" in Jones and Carter "that can relate" to a roster of majority Black football players. Jones acknowledged his role as LSU's second Black coordinator in history, particularly in the wake of a year that saw national protests against racial inequity, to help a player "become a better man" "regardless of the ethnicity of the player I'm coaching."

"For a player to go out and want to lay it on the line for you," Jones said, "he's got to be able to trust you and that you have his best interests at heart."

The average age of LSU's coaching staff — including offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, 37, and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas, 31 — has dropped from 54 to 45 compared with last season.

"I'm the old man on the staff now," said Orgeron, 59. "These guys are young, they can relate to our players."

Baker's experience as Miami's defensive coordinator the last two seasons bolsters the staff collaboration, Orgeron said.

Baker said he "absolutely" could've stayed under Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz — despite a regression from a defense that ranked in the Top 25 nationally in scoring defense and total defense in 2019 — and that LSU was the only "place I would've left Miami for."

Jones and Baker have been out to lunch since their hiring, and Baker told him that he's "here to be a sounding board for him," that "if I do make a suggestion, it's out of a good place."

"I'm not here to be the defensive coordinator," Baker told reporters Tuesday. "I wanted him to know that up front."

The 38-year-old Baker is a Houston native whose brother, Beau, was an offensive lineman at Texas with former quarterback Major Applewhite, a Catholic High graduate. Applewhite, now South Alabama's offensive coordinator, officiated Beau's wedding in 2018 and helped hire Blake as a graduate assistant when they were on staff together in Austin from 2010 to 2012.

Beau said his brother didn't immediately enter coaching after his Tulane career, during which the 5-foot-10 Blake gained a reputation as a hard-nosed, undersized linebacker who recorded 87 tackles in three seasons. Blake started out in sales, Beau said, both in construction and wholesale wine, before football became "a calling that he couldn't ignore."

He started out as a wide receivers coach at Clear Springs High in Houston, met Applewhite and other Texas coaches on the recruiting trail, which led to his graduate assistant position, and, when Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin became Arkansas State's head coach in 2013, he hired Baker as his safeties coach.

Diaz, Texas' defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2013, hired Baker to his defensive staff at Louisiana Tech as a safeties coach in 2014. Baker was then elevated to defensive coordinator the next season, when Diaz joined Dan Mullen's staff at Mississippi State, and, when Diaz was named Miami's head coach in 2019, he hired Baker as his defensive coordinator.

Baker is linked to Diaz's aggressive, attacking four-man front philosophy, which made him an attractive candidate for Orgeron, who wanted to maintain LSU's transition to the 4-3 base defense after its commitment to the 3-4 under former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Orgeron said there were "a couple of great candidates" for defensive coordinator who wanted to run a 3-4; but he found Jones agreed that LSU's deep talent on the defensive line best suited a four-man front, particularly second-team All-SEC defensive end Ali Gaye.

Every starter on the defensive line decided to return for the 2021 season, including second-time seniors Glen Logan and Andre Anthony. A recruiting haul that contained five-star tackle Maason Smith will build depth behind young contibutors like tackle Jaquelin Roy and BJ Ojulari.

Once the communication gets shored up on a secondary that includes All-American cornerbacks Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks, Jones said the defensive front can "disrupt the passing game" and "be very physical in the run game."

"The biggest thing we want to do is do everything as violent as possible," Jones said. "That's the aggressive mindset we want to set going forward."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.