Jalen Mills injury puts LSU defense under pressure
With cover corner Tre’Davious White, and safeties Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams forming a strong core, LSU’s secondary looked to be a position of strength entering 2015. However, this week’s news that the veteran Mills is injured and expected to miss the first 2-4 weeks of the season, puts the Tigers’ depth to the test sooner than expected.
Earning a 77 pass coverage grade in 2014, Mills is at his best in coverage. He also spent more snaps covering the slot (176) than any other LSU defensive back. That poses a problem for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, given the Tigers play Mississippi State and Auburn in Weeks 2 and 3 of the season. The Bulldogs’ Fred Ross was very effective from the slot in 2014, producing 2.82 yards per route run from that alignment, while Auburn’s D’haquille Williams was even more of a game-breaker at 3.25 yards per route run from the slot. That’s a difficult pair of games for LSU without its best slot corner.
Adams has one safety spot locked down, likely leaving Rickey Jefferson as the man to replace Mills. Jefferson gained significant experience in 2014, playing 250 snaps as part of the rotation, with the largest snap counts coming against weaker opponents and in blowouts. With his coverage targeted 23 times, Jefferson held opponents to a lowly 24.9 QB rating when throwing his way. He also spent 44.4 percent of his coverage snaps over the slot, making him a logical replacement for Mills at that position as well.
That’s still a lot to ask for LSU’s second string, however. The Tigers will be tested early on in 2015, and that’s not even taking into account their unsettled quarterback situation.