LSU football: Answering 5 questions on defense entering the 2023 preseason

Lafayette Daily Advertiser
BATON ROUGE — The 2023 LSU football season is nearly upon us.
The Tigers, entering their second campaign under coach Brian Kelly, are trying to live up to high preseason expectations after surprisingly winning 10 games and defeating Alabama last season.
And LSU's defense figures to be a critical element in the Tigers reaching that ceiling.
Here are five answers to five questions regarding LSU's defense before the start of preseason practices. You can read our five answers to five questions surrounding LSU's offense here.
LSU football: How will Harold Perkins' positional change affect his production?
Harold Perkins moving from the edge to weakside linebacker changes the complexion of LSU's defense this season. Utilizing him more as an inside linebacker allows Kelly and defensive coordinator Matt House to use their best athlete and defensive player across the line of scrimmage and not just as an edge rusher, making him a malleable weapon that offenses will have to adjust to throughout the field.
The positional change is a leap for Perkins, as it puts more on his plate in coverage and against the run game. But any risk of Perkins not grasping the position is worth it if the potential outcome is him becoming the most destructive and unpredictable defensive force in college football.
LSU football: Who will start at cornerback?
Ohio State transfer JK Johnson and Southeastern transfer Zy Alexander earned the nod during the spring game. But it's hard to glean much from that since Syracuse transfer Duce Chestnut was unavailable during the spring.
Chestnut will figure to have a big role in House's defense given his status as a former Freshman All-American. The junior will likely start next to Johnson, who had some starting experience at Ohio State before eventually losing his job.
But that starting duo isn't etched in stone. Along with Alexander, Texas A&M transfer and former five-star prospect Denver Harris is one strong preseason away from snatching one of those two starting spots.
"We saw some good things, clearly. But it's a work in progress for all those guys in terms of where they need to get to for the fall," Kelly said about LSU's cornerbacks room following the spring game.
LSU football: Do the Tigers have enough depth at safety?
LSU finished this past spring with a shallow room at safety. Greg Brooks, Major Burns and Sage Ryan were returning, but the only depth the Tigers had outside of that trio were freshmen and former three-star recruits with minimal playing experience.
That's why the Tigers added Marshall transfer Andre Sam following spring practices. Sam had 53 tackles in nine starts as a fifth-year senior with the Thundering Hurd last year.
But until Sam starts trying to make plays against SEC competition, it will be difficult to tell if his addition will be enough to supplement LSU's three lead safeties.
LSU football: How much will LSU miss BJ Ojulari on the edge?
Ojulari was a critical piece to LSU's rushing attack last season. But with Harold Perkins' role increasing and Maason Smith returning from injury, the Tigers have the top-tier talent to replace his production.
Adding Texas transfer Ovie Oghoufo and five-star freshman Da'Shawn Womack should help fill in the gap Ojulari left behind as well.
LSU football: Which newcomer will make the greatest impact this season?
Oregon State transfer linebacker Omar Speights has already made his presence felt in Baton Rouge. The veteran linebacker won the Iron Tiger Award for his efforts in the weight room this summer and was a standout for LSU throughout the spring.
He's the safest bet on LSU's defense to have a big season among their newcomers.
"I love Omar's approach, the way he goes about and handles his business," House said in April. "The focus he comes in with, the attention to detail he has in his work. He's not the most vocal guy. He's more vocal on the field. But what he does do is he does a great job of modeling to that whole (linebacker) room and Harold (Perkins)."

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