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LSU Tigers cornerback Laterrance Welch (27) and defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy (99) lead the defense out of the tunnel before the game against the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday, September 24, 2022 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

One by one a year ago, LSU’s starting cornerbacks left the team.

First sophomore Eli Ricks entered the transfer portal. Then juniors Cordale Flott and Derek Stingley declared for the NFL draft. Less than a week after them, sophomore Dwight McGlothern decided to look for another team. 

They all had eligibility left in their careers, and they were all gone. 

Their departures turned what had been a talented room into one precariously thin before coach Brian Kelly’s first season. So the Tigers rebuilt. They found experienced transfers who immediately plugged holes, and they signed two freshmen to accumulate depth.

The strategy worked, but it provided only temporary relief. Once again, LSU faces another major rebuild at cornerback, which will be one of the team’s biggest focuses this offseason. The starters either used their last year of eligibility or left for the NFL, and multiple backups have entered the transfer portal since a 45-day window opened Dec. 5.

As of now, LSU returns two scholarship cornerbacks next season, and neither freshman Laterrance Welch or Ohio State transfer Sevyn Banks are proven options. But unlike last year, Kelly said the Tigers won’t sign veteran transfers without much eligibility left, knowing they would have to go through the same cycle again.

“The way we feel is best is you don't want to every year jump into the transfer portal when it comes to the cornerback position,” Kelly said. “We did it this year because there was such a need to put together a representative group.” 

In the immediate future, Kelly thinks LSU has enough cornerbacks for the Citrus Bowl against Purdue, which will play without its starting quarterback and two leading receivers. Jay Ward moved from nickel safety to his original position after starter Mekhi Garner opted out, and starter Jarrick Bernard-Converse stayed for one more game. LSU has Welch and senior Colby Richardson as backups. Banks’ status is unknown.

“We feel like the depth there is certainly young, but we'll be OK there,” Kelly said. “We feel like our two starting corners are going to match up very well.”

After the Citrus Bowl, the room clears out. Ward, a senior who had another year of eligibility, declared for the NFL draft. Bernard-Converse used his last season after transferring from Oklahoma State. Same for Richardson after coming over from McNeese State. Garner already started preparing for the draft. Three backups — sophomore Damarius McGhee, redshirt junior Raydarious Jones and freshman Jaelyn Davis-Robinson — entered the transfer portal. 

That leaves LSU with Banks and Welch.

Banks started at Ohio State, but injuries there lingered into preseason camp. He then suffered a bruised spinal cord on the opening kickoff Oct. 1 against Auburn, which required him to get taken off the field on a stretcher and evaluated at the hospital. He hasn’t played since then, and now Banks hasn’t appeared in more than four games in a season since 2020.

Welch, a four-star recruit and top-150 prospect last year, contributed on special teams this season. Kelly said Saturday he looked good during bowl practices.

Even with such a thin room again, LSU won’t take the same approach. Kelly prefers to construct the roster by signing freshmen, and the Tigers have four cornerbacks committed in the 2023 class: four-star Javien Toviano, four-star Daylen Austin, three-star Jeremiah Hughes and three-star Ashton Stamps. They also could land five-star target Desmond Ricks next week. 

The group has a chance to play early.

“I think there's going to be a heavy influence on freshmen,” Kelly said. 

LSU will still look at transfers and may take one or two. It has been connected to Texas A&M transfer Denver Harris, a five-star recruit and the No. 23 overall player in the country last year. Harris broke up three passes in five games, but he was reportedly suspended against Miami for a violation of team rules and indefinitely suspended the second half of the season.

Kelly often talks about cultural fit, but Harris meets at least one other criteria LSU has for its potential transfer cornerbacks: three years of eligibility. After signing multiple transfers near the end of their careers last year, LSU wants cornerbacks with longevity.

“They were one year and done,” Kelly said. “We're not looking in that respect. Corners would have to have — if we were to move in that direction — they would have to have more than one season of competition.”

Otherwise, the cycle could repeat itself again.

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