Sunday, January 6, 2008

Two Huge Commitments for the Tigers

Yesterday was the most newsworthy day of the year for LSU football recruiting. We picked up two very big commitments from two players who are very important to this program.
This is tight end Tyler Edwards, who I previously listed as the #1 player still on our board. He's the younger brother of former LSU tight end Eric Edwards. He is currently just a little small for a tight end at 220#, but a summer in the weight room may change that.

He is, by most accounts, a very good pass catcher, and that is the skill that most likely translate quickly to the college game. He probably needs to work a bit on his blocking, but he'll have time to do that.

Edwards is the second person listed as a tight end to commit to LSU this year, but the other, Matt Branch, may be destined for the offensive line proper. Edwards will join a slew of tight end recruits who redshirted last year, and compete for playing time.

Edwards was the #1 recruit left on the board for the simple reason that he was a Louisiana kid that LSU wanted, really the last Louisiana kid left on the board who was a definite take. Getting Edwards means that Les Miles and the rest of the coaches cleaned up Louisiana this year, not losing a single kid they wanted. That's the most important thing that can happen in any recruiting class.

A couple of other Louisiana kids have committed to play for other big schools, particularly cornerback Robby Green and linebacker Michael Mauti, who are going to Bama and to Penn State respectively. Neither was heavily recruited by LSU (though I have suspicions that we will regret not paying more attention to Mauti) because, allegedly, Bo Pelini decided they didn't really fit his system, and weren't great enough athletes to try to wedge in.

Does this mean they're bums? No. I like to retell the story of DeMeco Ryans, who really wanted to play for Auburn after high school. Auburn decided he wasn't big enough or fast enough to be a linebacker for them and politely told him to take a hike. He wasn't getting a scholarship from them. He turned to Bama who, facing probation, decided to take a chance on him. Ryans got on the field quickly and eventually became the best player on the team. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft and won defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Before Ryans' last Iron Bowl, Tommy Tuberville (who I think is a great coach and who I think has a tremendous eye for talent) acknowledged his mistake in not plucking Ryans. It's one of those stories that you hear about and you ask, "How could someone pass up a guy like Demeco Ryans?" It's sort of (but admittedly not exactly) like Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team.

But, Tuberville had his reasons. Ryans was a little small for linebacker, and probably was not a particularly great athlete coming out of high school. In an environment where you have to make choices because of limited scholarships, you have to find your reasons for thinking a guy isn't a good enough risk. Sometimes, your decision, inevitably, backfire. But that doesn't mean you didn't have good reasons to make the decisions you made. The same may end up being true of LSU's decision not to heavily recruit Robby Green or Michael Mauti. Mauti would have been a tough get no matter what because of his family ties to Joe Paterno and Penn State, but Green was ours for the taking if we wanted him. We've made our decisions, and we will have to live with them.

Which brings us to commitment #2 of the day yesterday. This is 5-star cornerback Patrick Johnson out of Pompano Beach, Florida. Patrick Johnson has everything you want in a football player. He's a tremendous athlete (a close blood relative of Santana and Sinorice Moss), a very good student (he's graduating a semester early), and is football smart (a coach's son). Some of this information I learned after I ranked him #5 on my list at Christmas. If I was doing it over again, I would rank him #3, behind only Edwards and EJ Manuel.

This is a kid of whom it is being said that he can come into school in the Spring (and get a valuable Spring Practice session) and compete immediately for one of the two open cornerback starting positions or the nickel/dime back position. He could be like Eric Berry of Tennessee, an immediate impact player on a unit lacking in returning experience.

I'm always a little skeptical of claims that a true freshman can come in and make an immediate impact, especially at cornerback, which has one of the longest learning curves of any position on the field, arguably longer than any except quarterback (and roughly even with offensive line). Cornerback is not, as it may sometimes appear, just a position where your job is to run really fast. There is a lot of technique and a lot of recognition involved. Those things take time, but Johnson has the benefit of a) a Spring Practice, b) supposedly high level of intelligence, and c) being the son of a coach. If anyone is set up to transcend the inherent limitations of being a young cornerback, it is Patrick Johnson.

Of course, he'll also have to compete with a bunch of other young cornerbacks who've been in the system longer than he has. Guys like Phelon Jones (also a coach's son and a very intelligent young man), Jai Eugene, Chris Hawkins, John Williams, Ron Brooks, and possibly even Jared and/or Chris Mitchell, who are rumored to possibly be switching over to defensive back.

LSU has a wealth of talent among its young defensive backs. I venture to guess possibly the best young defensive back talent in the country with this incoming class being added to it. Add Patrick Johnson, Derrick Bryant, Karnell Hatcher and our other highly regarded 2008 recruits to a list of young defensive backs that includes Chad Jones, Stefoin Francois, Shomari Clemons, and the above-mentioned players, and you have a scary-good group of defensive backs for the next few years, all coming of age right at the time we need them.

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