SB Nation Recruiting's interview series continues with recruiting analyst Paul Crewe of the excellent LSU site, And The Valley Shook. Previous installments of this series include Texas, Michigan, Notre Dame, Georgia and Oregon.
LSU failed to sign a consensus top-10 recruiting class in 2012. What was the primary reason?
From a pure nuts and bolts perspective, the No. 1 reason was the defections. In December, the class was right on pace to be top 10, with Gunner Kiel and Torshiro Davis in the fold and a handful of targets left on the board. Come mid-January, Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame, which was the first blow. A few weeks later Torshiro Davis pulls a puzzling Signing Day switch, inking with Texas. Add to that top targets such as Landon Collins choosing Alabama over LSU and Mario Edwards sticking with Florida State, and LSU wound up losing out on a lot of the top-ranked national guys they were after. They were able to add a couple more prospects, but only Kwon Alexander fit the bill as a national prospect.As for why all of this happened, it's unclear. Kiel and Davis were entirely unexpected, both by the fans and coaches. The coaches were also anticipating Collins staying home, so his decision to choose Alabama left them out to dry, a bit. They were able to flip Corey Thompson from A&M, and while he's a good player, he's not a Landon Collins type of talent. Many would point to failure in the National Championship Game as the reason for the poor finish, but I feel as if that's a bit shortsighted. Recruiting is generally much longer term than the results of any one game. Perhaps the staff overestimated their standing with some recruits, perhaps some of it was unavoidable (Collins to Bama, Edwards sticking with FSU). I don't know that I could point to any definitive reason why the class was somewhat sub-standard by LSU standards.
What was the most important thing that LSU did in its 2012 class?
Definitely revamping the LB core. Chavis' history coaching LB talent speaks for itself, but even the best coaches can only take limited talent so far. If the LSU defense had a major weakness, it was LB play, even extending to a time-tested veteran in Ryan Baker. With Baker graduating, LSU does return two starters, Kevin Minter (more of a two-down, run stopping LB) and Tahj Jones (a speedy, but light OLB). After that, it's a whole bunch of unknown, none of which qualifies as "name talent."
So the staff addressed the need in a big way, adding, count 'em, six guys to the mix. Of the six, two (Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist) are early enrollees, already competing for the one starting opening. I suspect one of them will nab the job. Of the other four you have Kwon Alexander, who is an elite prospect, but coming off an injury. If right, he could be the difference-making type of LB LSU hasn't had since Bradie James left the program. Lorenzo Phillips is a local kid that bounced around commitments to Florida and then A&M before finally calling Baton Rouge home. I suspect he is in for a RS, as he needs to add some bulk. Trey Granier is a true MLB, but doesn't seem to have sideline-to-sideline speed. He's a sound tackler, but considering all the other talented guys, I would be surprised if he was ever really in the mix for a starting gig. The most intriguing guy is Deion "Debo" Jones. Lightly recruited kid who was formerly committed to Nebraska, and although he's a bit thin at this point, he plays bigger than his listed size (6'2, 200). He's got elite speed and his tape is some of the best you'll see. He just makes play after play after play. He seems to be the exact type of LB that Chavis loves. It wouldn't surprise me at all if four, or even five, of these guys saw PT this year, at the very least on Special Teams.
What misses in the 2012 class must now be addressed in the class of 2013? Who are the top prospects LSU is pursuing to meet these needs?
The three biggest that come to mind are defensive tackle, big receiver and quarterback. LSU struck out on all the DTs it pursued in 2012, which wasn't a lengthy list to begin with. Landing some top talent at that position seems to be top priority for this staff. For 2013, they already have local product Tevin Lawson in the fold, but they are still after a handful of other players. I suspect College Station DE/DT Christian Lacouture may be the next to make the plunge. He's a strong-side DE in HS, but at 6'6, 265 right now, he projects more as a DT in our system. The other big three names to watch are Isaiah Golden, Greg Gilmore, and Justin Manning.
At WR, LSU did add three players last year (Avery Johnson, Travin Dural and Kavahra Holmes). While Johnson and Dural both have above average size (6'1"-6'2"), the staff would still like to pull in a guy who is 6'3"+. The main targets right now are Eldridge Massington (may or may not have an offer) and Quantavious Leslie. Leslie is a JUCO kid who committed to West Virginia out of high school but failed to qualify. Just recently he named LSU No. 1. He's thin, but has great height, is really a hands catcher and big-play specialist.
At QB, I suspect LSU will add two players. If you believe Les Miles (and I'm not sure that you should) they were trying to do so last year as well, with Jeremy Liggins and Gunner Kiel. Opinions regarding Liggins' ability to play QB at the next level are truly mixed, but Les has been adamant that he is 100 percent QB. There isn't a lot of great tape of Liggins throwing, and he's certainly a project, but the one thing you repeatedly hear touted about him are his leadership qualities. I believe the cliched way to define him is that he's just a "gamer."
Regardless LSU is looking at a number of QB options. It seems they want to add both a pocket QB and a guy with some mobility. Reportedly, the guy at the top of the board is Jeremy Johnson from Alabama, who is considered a strong Auburn lean. J.T. Barrett from Wichita Falls is another top target. They are also in pursuit of Cooper Bateman, Connor Mitch, Riley Ferguson and Devante Kincade.
What position(s) were not a need with the 2012 class due to returning players, but will now be a need in 2013 due to graduation/attrition? Who are the top prospects LSU is pursuing to meet these needs?
I mentioned above that Defensive Tackle is the primary one. There isn't really another position that meet both criteria (both as need and as unaddressed last year). The position that will be most affected by attrition will likely be defensive end, as there is a chance that both Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo could opt to go pro after this season. LSU has some talent behind them, but their pursuit of Robert Nkemdiche and Torrodney Prevot, indicate they see a need at the position. QB and Safety will be addressed as well.
Which commitment(s) in the 2013 class have been the most important for LSU?
Undoubtedly, John Diarse. Diarse created some minor controversy when he openly cheered for Alabama on Twitter during the BCS Title Game. Add that to the losses of Collins, Davis and Denzell Devall (three of the state's top 5 prospects from 2012) and the perception that LSU was hemorrhaging in it's typical in-state dominance began to look like reality. Diarse is probably the biggest name prospect in the state of Louisiana for 2013, and he is being pursued by most every national recruiting power. For LSU to hire Adam Henry and him to earn Diarse's commitment just a month later, is truly remarkable. In many ways, his commitment was a sigh of relief, even though I think the already committed Jeryl Brazil is the top player in the state and will be the better player.
Which commitment(s) to other schools have been the most damaging? Will Louisiana State be able to flip the recruits committed to other schools, and if not, who will LSU pursue to fill the need?
Isaiah Golden picking A&M came as somewhat of a shock. Golden openly admits to growing up an LSU fan and many suspected he would be one of our top DT targets. His commitment was unexpected, but the staff will continue to pursue, though it's unclear their preference at the position. I'm guessing Greg Gilmore is the top target, but he may be a long shot since he's from the East Coast. Justin Manning is certainly high on the board as well.
How many recruits do you expect LSU to take in the 2013 class? If possible, can you provide a position breakdown?
LSU should fill all 25 slots. I'll put the number of current commits in parentheses.
QB: 2RB: 0WR: 3 or 4 (2) counting Diarse as a WR, he could also be a safety
OL: 4 (2)
TE: 2 or 3 (0)
DE: 3 or 4 (1)DT: 3 or 4 (1)LB: 0
DB: 4 (3) counting Brazil as a DB, but there's a slim chance he could play WR.
Projecting the high end on each of those numbers only brings us to 24, so there is some flexibility there. Our RB depth chart is so loaded with none of them eligible to graduate, that I highly doubt LSU takes any player there, unless a big-timer really wants on board.
Let's talk negative recruiting. LSU was rumored to have been the victim of some negative recruiting, perhaps even by some of its own players in the instance of Torshiro Davis. Do you buy the rumors? If so, what can Miles do to combat the practice?
I'm usually not one to cry wolf. In fact, I tend to be pretty cynical when it comes to recruiting in general. It's a dirty game, and to play it well, you gotta get down in the dirt. That being said, the Davis thing stinks to high heaven all the way around. Just weeks before NSD, Davis asked the Texas coaches not to waste their time coming in for an in-home visit, because he was firm to LSU. Then he inexplicably flips. I'm not going to levy any accusations, but frankly, it just doesn't add up.
Let's talk recruiting base. How has the talent level changed in Louisiana over the years? What positions does the state produce well on a consistent basis, and what positions cannot usually be filled by an in-state talent? Is it getting harder to keep the top kids in state? East Texas has long been LSU recruiting territory as well. With Texas A&M moving to the SEC, how will that impact LSU's recruiting in the area? Additionally, discuss the increased competition in Mobile now that Saban has Bama rolling and Auburn is still willing to play ball in the area.
The talent in Louisiana is about as stable and superb as ever. The two major areas where we consistently fail to see top talent are at QB and LB (until this year). There's usually OL, DL, DB and WR/RBs in spades, though. So much so, that plenty of other programs cash in on the fact that LSU simply can't take them all. For instance, Otha Peters this year, was a 4-star LB that LSU just didn't offer. He played in the Offense-Defense All-American game and held a handful of great offers. He's a good player that in most any year would be an automatic take, but the deep LB class this past year meant he was looking at playing OOS. As for LSU's grip on in-state talent, it's been strange of late. Two years ago, LSU pulled in an in-state haul that in due time will likely rival the best in LSU history. It was really just a magnificently deep and talented bunch that all got together and wanted to play at LSU. Eight of the top 10 chose LSU, including all of the top 5. Then in 2012, you lose three of the top 5 (according to Rivals). The hiring of Frank Wilson two years ago seemed to signal a death grip on the state, but a year later Saban is beating down the doors, even stealing our top prospect. 2013 seems to be a return to the death grip, though. Josh Boutte, John Diarse, Jeryl Brazil, Tre'Davious White, and Jeremy Cutrer are committed prospects all considered top 10 in the state. Desean Smith is a top 100 prospect from La. that recently named LSU his leader. They feel good about their position with Tim Williams, but both he and Kendell Beckwith will be the major battles to watch with Alabama. Bama did land Raheem Falkins, who 24/7 lists as No. 10 in the state, but the LSU coaches don't rank him as highly.
I think if you look at Miles' last few hires there's a repeated effort to broaden the horizons in Texas. Our recruiting of Texas has dipped off from the earlier years of the Miles regime for whatever reason. But two years ago LSU hired Thomas McGaughey to coach Special Teams (he has Houston ties and went to Houston). That already yielded Danielle Hunter and Corey Thompson in his first recruiting cycle. LSU hired Steve Kragthorpe, who has made a lot of big splashes with QBs who previously would have never given us a second thought, including Gunner Kiel. Kragthorpe also has Texas ties, dating back to his time at A&M. This season, LSU hired Adam Henry, who is both from Beaumont, Texas, and recruited it during his time coaching at McNeese State. All three guys were good fits for various reasons, but the ties to Texas were certainly a big part to it.
As for Mobile and Alabama in general, I don't imagine will be an area LSU hit too hard. If there's a prospect with legit interest there, sure, but I would imagine the staff perceives it more of a waste of time than a good application of resources. Most kids there will favor Alabama or Auburn anyhow, so it's kind of a losing proposition. Would it be a nice PR victory to go in and swoop out a top prospect that both Alabama and Auburn want? Sure. You could argue that's exactly what taking Kwon Alexander was (though there are endless debates regarding how much interest both had in him). But I doubt that's any sign of LSU trying to establish a pipeline there. Basically, if they see a kid they think they can get, they will go for it. But I doubt they are going to grind the ax to no avail just to say "Hey, the Tigers recruit in Alabama!"
What is Les Mile's recruiting style? Where would you rank him against the other recruiters in the conference?
If I had to do it in one word, I'd say fatherly. He's a living-room winner. Les seems to believe that if he can win momma, he can likely win the player. Recruits repeatedly state how much of a "family" atmosphere it is at LSU. I'm sure they try any number of your typical tactics when it comes to recruiting (playing time, chance to go to the NFL, playing in the SEC, competing for national championships), but I think his greatest strength is convincing both the parents and the players that LSU will be home away from home and he will be a father-like figure to the kids.
As for where I rank him? I'd say he's probably second to only Saban in the conference. In a given year, he's right on par with the Chiziks and Richts of the world. To the public, he may come across a fumbling buffoon but his personality plays really really well in the recruiting world.
Of course, Miles doesn't do it all himself. Let's talk assistants and staff. Who are the recruiting assistants we should know?
This was actually a point of concern coming off last season. The 2011 staff didn't seem to have quite the recruiting juice needed. Brick Haley is probably our heavy lifter. He's the guy who is out there landing a lot of the big timers out of state (notably Sam Montgomery). Billy Gonzalez came to LSU with a great recruiting reputation, but he didn't yield great results for us. Ron Cooper wasn't a great recruiter in a traditional sense (going out and winning prospects over), but his eyeball for talent I would consider second to none. Cooper is the guy who wanted Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu and we see how that turned out. Many times LSU would bring kids into camp with little recruiting following and Cooper would offer, and there would be a ton of the "What? Who the heck is this guy?" responses. Jalen Collins is a pretty good example of that. And he's expected to be our third CB this year, as a redshirt freshman.
But those guys are now long gone (except for Haley). Frank Wilson gets things done in-state. His connections run deep, and he's a revered entity for the work he did as a high school coach at O. Perry Walker. If early returns mean anything, I think Adam Henry is going to be a big hitter. He flipped Diarse in a short time. He's young, has an NFL pedigree and seems to have some natural recruiting chops. Corey Raymond is another guy I could see adding as well. Overall, LSU majorly upgraded the quality of its recruiting staff.
With nine commitments, LSU is well on its way to rectifying the slightly down year (how good is LSU that an 11th-place finish is deemed a let down on the recruiting trail). Which recruits do you feel confident in the Tigers chances of landing?
The picture is still so murky. The staff really prefers to offer guys they can lay their eyes on in camp settings. I imagine after the summer, the picture of who they are after may change quite a bit. That being said, I think they'll really put the press on Greg Gilmore. It's tough to pull a kid from the Carolinas, but Chavis has ties there, and having a living testament to the ability to make it work still on campus (Sam Montgomery) I think will win him over (though it will be a dog fight).
I'm interested in Robert Nkemdiche. Everyone and their dog swears he's a mortal lock for Bama, but he did recently name us his leader and rave about his visit. Could be (and probably is) recruiting bull, but I do think he's a better fit in our system as a 4-3 DE (which could also make him a lot more money) than he would be at Bama as either yet another Jack LB (they seem to promise that position to 10 guys every year) or a space eating DL. That being said, I don't expect him to pick LSU, but stranger things have happened.
DeSean Smith will be at LSU, I feel confident in that. I don't think they'll let Tim Williams get out of state either. Kendell Beckwith is one I'm unsure about. Torrodney Prevot was a guy I thought they may land, but his recruitment has gained so much steam, it's hard to know what will happen there. Though he did just recently name LSU No. 1. I think they'll pull one of those Texas DTs (Manning or Golden). I think they'll wind up with Eldridge Massington, and probably Quantavious Leslie as well.
QB wise, I suspect they'll miss on Jeremy Johnson, but land J.T. Barrett. They'll pair him with one of Connor Mitch/Cooper Bateman. They'll mine out an OT or two that they like as well, but I can't put a finger on who just yet.
While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together: