Countdown to camp: Depth on defense

GeauxTigerNation writers David Helman and Gary Laney break down the competitions, issues and talking points of LSU's August camp. Players report to campus Aug. 1 and we'll have a preview segment every weekday in July leading up to the day the players report:

If one were to look at an LSU defensive depth chart, he'd see four linemen, three linebacker and four defensive back positions.

But in the last two years, John Chavis' defense hasn't really looked that way very often. Forced to match up with the ever-popular spread offenses and faced with personnel where the Tigers defensive backs were a bit stronger as a unit than the linebackers, the five-DB look has been more the norm for LSU.

Two seasons ago, adding a fifth defensive back meant bringing in rising star Tyrann Mathieu instead of a linebacker. Last season, with Mathieu established as a starting cornerback, it was talented Tharold Simon who would come in as a cornerback, allowing Mathieu to slip back to the nickel spot where he excelled as a freshman.

How about this year?

After a sub-par performance from linebackers last season, LSU brought in six linebackers in the 2012 signing class and its highest-rated recruit was linebacker Kwon Alexander, rated the No. 29 prospect overall by ESPN. Les Miles said it was perhaps his best group of linebacker recruits since he arrived.

With the influx of new talent at the position, will LSU be tempted to use three of them more often?

After the loss of defensive backs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor to the NFL, it's a possibility. The Tigers also lost three underclassmen from the secondary who transferred to other programs, so depth may be a little thinner in the secondary than in recent years, while linebacker depth and quality is on the upswing.

But not so fast. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Collins made a huge impression as the third corner in the spring as did redshirt freshman safety Micah Eugene. Many around LSU are also excited about the prospects of true freshman cornerback Dwayne Thomas.

At linebacker, LSU looks pretty steady with Kevin Minter in the middle and Tahj Jones at another spot. The question is, will Chavis rather play another cornerback like Collins or Thomas, or might he insert a talented linebacker like Alexander or Ronnie Feist, another promising recruit.

So which way to go? Bringing in a fifth DB allows Mathieu to play inside, which is desirable. But if the incoming linebacker talent is as good as advertised, all bets are off.