No. 4 LSU defense looking strong under Steele
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban and LSU coach Les Miles can agree on one thing: when it comes to defense, Kevin Steele knows what he's doing.
That's why a few years ago, after Clemson fired Steele, Saban found a place for him on his staff. And that's why Miles was confident Steele was the right coach to replace John Chavis, who left LSU to take the defensive coordinator post at Texas A&M.
''Kevin Steele did a really good job for us in every way, coaching on the field and teaching the players,'' Saban said this week. ''He is a great administrator and a very good football guy. It looks to me like their defense is playing really well. It is no surprise to us that he's doing a really good job.''
Steele will have his most challenging test of his brief LSU career on Nov. 7, when the unbeaten, fourth-ranked Tigers take on once-beaten, seventh-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
So far, there has been no drop-off in the Tigers' defensive performance under Steele through this season's first two months.
Teams are scoring a few more points a game against LSU under Steele, but there have been two special teams touchdowns included in those statistics. The LSU defense is allowing 315.9 yards per game and 4.8 yards per play. The 2014 Tigers gave up 316.8 yards per game and 4.9 yards per play.
''He's a quality teacher. He's very organized. He gives a perspective that allows a strategic advantage in my mind,'' Miles said. ''And I think there's the same enthusiasm and speed (to the ball) that has been a part of us, certainly for my time.''
LSU's defense almost always ranked among the best in the country during six seasons under Chavis.
Miles was not happy when Chavis left to join A&M's Kevin Sumlin and lawsuits have been filed between the former coach and LSU officials.
Yet it was partly because of Chavis that Miles was familiar with Steele. A close friend of Chavis, Steele had spent some time around the LSU program when he was away from coaching three years ago.
Steele and Chavis both grew up in Dillon, South Carolina, and Steele played his senior season at Tennessee where Chavis was a graduate assistant.
Steele had mixed results at Clemson. In 2011, the Tigers won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 20 years with Steele coordinating the defense. However, that season ended with Clemson losing by an embarrassing 70-33 score to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fired Steele after the game.
After a year out of coaching, Steele became the Crimson Tide's director of player personnel in 2013 under Saban and inside linebackers coach in 2014. In 2007-08, Steele also worked for Saban, first as defensive coordinator and then as linebackers coach.
Miles' assistant coaches are not regularly available for interviews during the season, and Steele was not this week.
''Coach Steele has brought a different energy to the defense this year,'' junior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. ''I didn't know anything about coach Steele when he came here. Coach Steele is a very energetic guy. He moves around a lot at practice. He wants everyone to be professional.''
The veteran defensive players have stressed that Steele's system is very close to the one used by Chavis. LSU has lined up in its nickel package for about 90 percent of the snaps this season. During the spring, the players said Steele exhibited more of a NFL approach to practice.
One change is the coach's role at practice. Chavis was also the full-time linebackers coach, while Steele rotates among all position groups.
''Coach Steele gets involved with each part of the defense,'' Thomas said. ''He is in the defensive backs' room a lot. He helps us understand where our eyes on the field should be and he helps our communication. He is like that with every other group on the defense.''
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