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How Good Can the LSU Defense Be in 2024?

We examine the off-season changes so far at LSU to get a better idea of how good the LSU defense can be in 2024.

As the ever-evolving world of college football changes, the strategy of constructing a team also changes. Such is the case at LSU, where Brian Kelly has made sweeping changes on the defensive coaching staff. The addition of Texas and Oklahoma brings added pressure for current SEC teams to improve. Anxious Tiger fans might wonder how much the LSU defense can improve in one year. Multiple factors will determine how good the defense can be, and Kelly undoubtedly understands the urgency of the situation.

Coaching Changes

LSU relieved defensive coordinator Matt House of his duties along with every defensive position coach days after the ReliaQuest Bowl. Only John Jancek remains on the staff, who coached the defensive line after Jimmy Lindsey’s health rendered him unable to serve his role. Kelly then zeroed in on a proven defensive coordinator as the first domino to drop in replacing his staff.

Kelly hired Blake Baker from Missouri as his new defensive coordinator. Baker led an aggressive Missouri defense in 2022 just one year after coaching the linebackers at LSU. His defense held Ohio State, Arkansas, and Tennessee to 24 points combined. Baker had previous stints as defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and Miami.

The performance of LSU’s defensive line in 2023 reiterates the importance of position coaches. The unit was underwhelming even with multiple future NFL players. Kelly looked to fix that issue by surprisingly seizing Bo Davis from the Texas Longhorns. Davis was one of the highest-paid position coaches in the country. His defensive line produced both the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year for the 2023 season. Davis previously coached at LSU in the early 2000s.

Possibly the most exciting hire for locals was the return of defensive back coach Corey Raymond. Raymond’s 2021 departure was unsettling for many who had grown familiar with the coach that identified so prominently with LSU’s moniker of “DBU”. Raymond coached first-rounder draft picks Eric Reid, Tre’Davious White, and Derek Stingley. His recruiting prowess couldn’t have come at a better time, with 2025 cornerback Jaboree Antoine considering LSU and hailing from Raymond’s hometown of New Iberia, LA.

Finally, Kelly hired Kevin Peoples also from Missouri, who assisted on the defensive line. LSU welcomes Peoples’ expertise with edge rushers, a position at which LSU’s apparent strategy was to get blocked and give up outside leverage to ball carriers in 2023.

Potential Impact Player Additions

It starts up front, and the commitment of five-star defensive tackle Domanick McKinley was critical for the LSU defense. It’s not ideal to count on a true freshman in the trenches, but LSU needs all the help it can get after losing Mekhi Wingo and Maason Smith to the draft. Georgia transfer Shone Washington is older and should be ready to contribute at defensive tackle. Shreveport native Gabe Reliford is a freshman to watch at defensive end. Keep in mind, that these are only the new names. Don’t forget about returners who could be more productive in a better scheme like Jacobian Guillory and Paris Shand.

Jardin Gilbert is a Baton Rouge native who transferred from Texas A&M with experience as a starting safety for the Aggies. The transfer portal also provided former Ohio State cornerback Jyaire Brown. Brown played in 10 games as a freshman for the Buckeyes before falling in the depth chart in his sophomore year.

Realistic Performance Improvement

Defensive rankings can wildly fluctuate for better or worse with disruptions in staff continuity and roster volatility. The better side of change offers examples like UCLA, which went from 88th in 2022 to 10th in 2023 in total defense after hiring a new coordinator for the 2023 season. Of course, there are also examples in the opposite direction. LSU went from 43rd in 2022 to 105th in 2023 after losing its best pass rusher and top cornerbacks.

History shows that significant improvement on one side of the ball is not only possible but also realistic with the right pieces in place. Fortunately for LSU, the additions to the staff have proven track records in getting the most out of the players. Speaking of players, there’s still room for more Tigers on this roster. The transfer portal seems to never close, as players at programs that lose a coach get 30 days to enter the portal. The odds are in favor of Kelly continuing to add to this LSU defense in search of improvement.

 

 

Photo courtesy: Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

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