For the past two weeks of practice, LSU has experimented with how it uses senior cornerback Kristian Fulton.
The Tigers have occasionally moved Fulton from outside corner toward the middle of the field, sliding him into the role of a nickel safety. When they do, they insert freshman Cordale Flott as a cornerback opposite freshman Derek Stingley Jr.
LSU tried the personnel grouping at times during its open date last week, and coach Ed Orgeron said the coaching staff will continue looking at it before LSU’s game Saturday against Utah State.
“Against certain sets,” Orgeron said, “you may see it.”
Before the season, LSU planned to use Fulton and Stingley on the outside with safeties Grant Delpit, Todd Harris, JaCoby Stevens and Kary Vincent Jr. roaming the middle of the field. Orgeron believed they formed the best secondary he had coached in college football.
Fulton entered the season as the highest-graded cornerback in the Southeastern Conference by Pro Football Focus College, and he landed on multiple award watch lists. Mock NFL Drafts have projected him to go in the first round next spring.
But the Tigers, who lost Harris to a season-ending injury against Northwestern State, have allowed 223.5 passing yards per game, ranking them 69th nationally in the statistic through five weeks. They have played average. Even Delpit, a unanimous All-American last season, has missed tackles.
LSU’s defensive struggles this season have mostly come from inconsistent tackling and injuries to four starters — outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, defensive end Glen Logan and linebacker Michael Divinity — but teams have also exposed LSU’s pass defense in the middle of the field.
In the first half against Northwestern State, the Tigers got beat on slants when they played zone coverage. They allowed two touchdowns. The Demons went 16 of 26 passing for 172 yards.
Holding a 10-point lead at halftime, LSU switched to man coverage. The Demons passed for 60 yards the rest of the game. They did not score another touchdown.
Experimenting with Fulton inside can bring another corner onto the field in man coverage. And at times against Vanderbilt, Fulton played in the slot next to Stingley when the Commodores put all their receivers on one side.
“A lot of offenses put their best receiver on the inside in the slot to get that matchup on a safety or maybe a linebacker in zone coverage,” Delpit said. “That's what offenses are doing, so we got to adjust to that.”
K'Lavon Chaisson, one of LSU's top pass rushers, may be returning from injury, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said, while three other injured defende…
The experiment reflects LSU’s rising confidence in Flott, a 6-foot-2 freshman. Flott began to earn praise from Orgeron early this season, and when Fulton felt pain in his shoulder against Vanderbilt, the Tigers replaced him with Flott for two series.
“(Defensive coordinator Dave) Aranda has the confidence to put him in the game early,” Delpit said. “That says he's balling.”
Fulton learning nickel safety can give LSU options. If Fulton can play multiple positions, LSU can rotate him and Vincent, who has started since last season, along with its freshmen cornerbacks.
That might help against Utah State as the No. 5 Tigers face an offense that snaps the ball about every 15 seconds. The Aggies run plays at a faster rate than any team LSU has faced under Orgeron, so the scout team offense has practiced at “warp speed” this week to simulate Utah State.
LSU may scrap the idea with Fulton at nickel safety. It may become a part of the defense. For now, the idea remains an experiment as LSU tries to shore up its deficiencies.
"It's about putting the best guys on the field in certain situations," Orgeron said. "We're just going to see."