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Losing Jalen Mills Stings, But Not a Huge Blow for LSU

Injuries happen in football. That’s dog-bites-man type of stuff.

Sometimes the impact of a player having a season redirected or ended is felt a little deeper, though. Then again, sometimes the impact at a certain spot lessens the pain somewhat.

LSU absorbed what to many likely seems like a major blow when senior safety Jalen Mills suffered a lower leg injury, apparently at practice on Wednesday, and will miss a minimum of four-to-six weeks according to several media reports.

The injury came just days before the end of pre-season camp and the transition into a less physical phase when the Tigers begin game prep and game plan installation for the season opener.

Yes, losing Mills hurts, in large part because he is one of the most veteran players on either side of the ball and he may be the most versatile of all of LSU’s defensive backs – having started at cornerback, safety and nickel back during his career.

But if there happens to be a spot on the roster where the Tigers can survive an injury to a veteran better than anywhere else, it’s in that secondary that is chock-full of NFL-caliber talent with some just-as-promising freshmen waiting in the wings.

First things, first, the injury is a punch in the gut emotionally for Mills in particular. The DeSoto, Texas, native has established a role as a leader and one of the more popular players on the team. That took some doing because like so many other college players, Mills has had some off-the-field issues, and he had spent much of the offseason between the 2013 and 2014 seasons regaining the trust of his coaches and teammates.

Schematically, playing without Mills until likely October will be seen and felt at times because he has started 39 games in his three seasons and has always been steady and solid, if not spectacular. He is a sound open-field tackler (106 in three seasons) and has shown a knack for being a ball hawk at times.

Thing is, that could be well be something that will be written about Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thompson, Jamal Adams, Dwayne Thomas, Donte Jackson … in case it hasn’t hit home yet, there are a lot of players standing ready to jump in.

11 October 2014: LSU Tigers safety Rickey Jefferson (29) during pre-game warm ups before the NCAA Football game between the LSU Tigers and the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville, Florida.

11 October 2014: LSU Tigers safety Rickey Jefferson (29) during pre-game warm ups before the NCAA Football game between the LSU Tigers and the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville, Florida.

Jefferson is the most likely to get the first shot, in part because there are a lot of similarities between the two in style and abilities. What will be interesting to watch is how big a rush the LSU coaches/trainers are to get Mills back on the field because Jefferson has laid the foundation of being a really good college safety.

Don’t expect this to be a next-man up scenario, though, at least not just one man. Instead, look for DBs coach Corey Raymond and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to use a lot of different bodies in Mills’ spot.

Which is nothing different than might’ve been in the works anyway and why the sting of losing Mills isn’t as bad as it seems.

Because with or without the player who has started the most games for the current LSU defense, the depth and talent in the secondary was going to be a team strength and four  — and more likely five – spots where a lot of players are going to see action.

Steele has indicated that he wants to keep his first-team defense intact for the most part, but the abundance of talent at the cornerback and safety spots make that a necessary impossibility. He simply can’t keep talented players on the sideline.

That means LSU might show a lot of 4-2-5 as it has the last several years, especially against spread and read-option offenses, which means doling out more snaps for all the players listed above, as well as Tre’Davious White, Ed Paris, Kevin Tolliver and Xavier Lewis – who figure in as the four primary cornerbacks.

Would Mills help the LSU defense as far as providing a savvy veteran who has endured his share of ups and downs against SEC foes? Absolutely.

But there aren’t any shortage of talented replacements and LSU figures to be in very good shape to move ahead.

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