Freshman safeties will contend for playing time this fall at LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. – Several factors compelled Todd Harris to sign with LSU last week, one of which developed in Orlando, Florida, about a month before national signing day.

Harris was one of eight eventual LSU signees who made the roster for the Under Armour All-America Game, and he knew the friendships he built there in Florida -- particularly with fellow defensive backs JaCoby Stevens and Kary Vincent -- would instantly help LSU feel more like home when he arrived on campus.

“At the Under Armour All-America Game, we hung out all the time,” said Harris, the No. 83 overall prospect on the ESPN 300 and No. 8 safety. “We were on the same team, so it was [snaps fingers]. That kind of motivated me a little more, too, just being with those guys and seeing how I bonded with those guys for that weekend.”

Of course, it also helps that LSU’s campus is about as close as a campus can get to actually being home for Harris, whose hometown of Plaquemine, Louisiana, sits just across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge.

Harris was one of his home state’s top prospects this year, and it felt a bit more important for Ed Orgeron’s staff to land his signature on signing day once it became clear that several of Louisiana’s top prospects planned to leave the state. Five Louisianans joined Alabama’s signing class, which left an especially bitter taste in LSU fans’ mouths.

“We’re so excited about Todd coming in right there from Plaquemine, announcing on TV and keeping our best players from the state of Louisiana,” Orgeron told fans at LSU’s “Bayou Bash” signing-day celebration, referencing Harris’ live commitment on ESPNU. “I know we’ve got work to do, but I promise you we’re going to get it fixed.”

In Harris’ case, this felt like a no-brainer. LSU is not just close to home, it is a program that has playing time available at his position.

The Tigers lost All-American safety Jamal Adams to the NFL, senior nickelback/safety Dwayne Thomas and senior safety Rickey Jefferson, who was also a starter before breaking his leg midway through the season. The Tigers return rising senior John Battle, who started the final seven games of 2016 in Jefferson’s absence, but the safety depth chart is otherwise littered with inexperience.

LSU expects the NCAA to grant Corey Thompson a sixth year of eligibility, but should that happen, he will continue his shift from safety to outside linebacker. Otherwise, LSU returns a collection of safeties – senior Ed Paris, redshirt sophomore Xavier Lewis and redshirt freshmen Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis – whose contributions at safety are either extremely limited or nonexistent.

Harris certainly noticed that when considering where to continue his football career.

“I saw a lot of guys leaving,” said Harris, who expects to compete at safety and nickel. “They were going to have two senior safeties and I was like, ‘Man, the rest is just like freshmen.’ The guys from last year [Monroe and Cameron Lewis] redshirted, so everybody’s really going to be like freshman year, too. I feel like this is a perfect time for me to go in and show what I can do because there’s basically going to be a position battle. I’m just ready to go in and work.”

The problem Harris will face once he arrives this summer is that fellow safety signees Stevens (No. 25 overall, No. 3 athlete) and Grant Delpit (No. 47 overall, No. 4 safety) got a jump on their competition for playing time. The two early enrollees are already on campus for winter workouts and will open spring practice with the Tigers in March. Speaking of Stevens and Delpit, Orgeron told the crowd at the Bayou Bash that “we need safeties to take Jamal’s place. Those guys will help us,” inferring that he anticipates at least one of them playing a key role as a freshman.

Claiming a starting job will not be easy for any of the freshmen, however. LSU’s safety group might lack experience, but the talent level is just fine. All three safety signees in LSU’s 2017 class were ESPN 300 honorees, as were Paris, Monroe and both Lewises.

Contributing beyond special-teams play is far from impossible for the freshman safeties if they come in ready to compete. That will be Harris’ game plan for when he arrives this summer.

“If I go in with a good attitude, have a little dog in me, don’t back down from competition and show that I can play, I can definitely see the field this year,” Harris said.