Last Friday, former LSU safety John Battle greeted his old teammates on a video chat.
Tigers safeties Todd Harris and Grant Delpit could sense Battle's happiness, still glowing from his first NFL preseason game with the Buccaneers against the Steelers on Thursday night.
In fact, there had been three 2018 Tigers at Heinz Field that night: Battle, former All-American linebacker Devin White, Tampa Bay's No. 5 overall draft pick, and offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield, an undrafted free agent with the Steelers.
Battle took a picture with Brumfield on the field after Pittsburgh's 30-28 win.
"A lot of positive talk from him," Harris said Monday.
It was a timely reminder of what the LSU secondary is constantly chasing at a school that calls itself "DBU," and for Harris, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior, the reminder came from the player he was probably around the most last season.
Harris was the backup free safety behind Battle in 2018. He earned the first start of his career when Battle was suspended for the first half of a 38-21 win over Louisiana Tech for a targeting penalty. Then, when Battle suffered an injury on the first play of the Alabama game, Harris stepped in and recorded a career-high 12 tackles in LSU's 29-0 loss.
The Plaquemine graduate was the first person to intercept Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who set an NCAA record in 2018 for passing efficiency rating, starting the season with 26 straight touchdowns before Harris snagged his second-quarter pick.
That's old news for Harris, though he acknowledged the interception "showed me I can play." He played in four areas of special teams a season ago, and he's encouraged that coaches have decreased that to two areas this year so he can dedicate more energy on defense.
"I've been in those big-time games already," said Harris, who recorded 31 tackles in 2018. "So I pretty much know what to expect."
Harris has recently been practicing at first-team strong safety, filling in for the absent Delpit, who has missed five practices with what LSU coach Ed Orgeron called a "minor camp injury" — a growing theme for the early portion of the 2019 preseason, with as many as 25 players absent in a single practice.
Delpit was one of three defensive starters injured going into LSU's first scrimmage Saturday, and the defense still had a "dominant day," Orgeron said, with five sacks, two interceptions by freshman cornerback Derek Stingley and a 40-yard fumble recovery by senior defensive end Breiden Fehoko.
The defense gave up a 56-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, but the depleted secondary held up for the most part with Harris filling in for Delpit.
"With Grant being out with a minor injury this fall, he's stepped up and he's been playing like a vet," nickel safety Kary Vincent said. "I mean, he's coming down, he's hitting, he's covering — he's doing it all."
How defensive coordinator Dave Aranda uses his safeties, who include five-star freshman Marcel Brooks, will be one of the most interesting developments of the season.
Orgeron said LSU will "put a lot of speed on the field" and said they could run a defensive package called "Bandit" made famous by Orgeron's mentor, Pete Carroll. It uses seven defensive backs at once.
But while Delpit is recovering from injury, junior safety JaCoby Stevens said the standard first-team rotation has been Harris at strong safety, Vincent at nickel and himself at free safety. Stevens started in the final four games of last season while Battle was out.
"I always brag on this defense," Stevens said. "We just have a lot of versatility, and all these guys are athletic and very versatile. It's hard for an offensive coordinator to put personnel on us."