by Joey Papania
Traditionally, at the heart of every great defense is a great linebacker. Tiger head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian have inherited not one, but two of the most talented young linebackers in the Southeastern Conference. Sophomores Treverance Faulk and Bradie James are the heart and soul of the Tigers defense this year.
Faulk is a product of Lafayette High School. As a true freshman last season, he earned his first collegiate start four games into the season against Georgia recording 10 total tackles. He was tied for third on the team with 68 tackles and saw playing time in all 11 of the Tigers games. His best performance came against the University of Alabama. The 1999 Freshman All-America registered 16 tackles against the tide, 10 of those solo stops.
James played his high school ball at West Monroe. In his true freshman season, he played a significant role as senior Charles Smith’s backup. He received Freshman All-SEC honors, both from SEC Coaches and the Knoxville News Sentinel. His top game as a Tiger came against Auburn where he recorded nine total tackles, six unassisted.
Now comes the undaunted task of learning a new system and developing a new relationship with a new coaching staff.
“Every player and coach should have a relationship,” James said. “And each year you build on that relationship. When one coaching staff leaves, it is difficult to develop a new relationship with a completely new staff. They have to get a feel for us and for a lot of different attitudes, and you really don’t know them because they didn’t recruit you. And that’s where the trust factor comes in. It comes with time, but a good player-coach relationship is a must.”
So far the players have taken to Saban and his work ethic. With almost two weeks of fall practice already completed, the adjustment period has already surpassed.
“The new coaching staff is intense, and they bring a different approach to practice,” Faulk said. “We just want to learn what they are trying to teach us. It’s still football, and we are ready to play.”
Both Faulk and James had outstanding spring practices. Faulk was awarded the Eric Andolsek Leadership Award for his efforts in spring drills. The award is given to those players who exhibit superior leadership. James received the Toby Caston Spring Performance Award for the improvement he showed during spring drills.
It is this type of leadership that the Tigers must rely on while learning a new system. Faulk, James and a large majority of this year’s team were recruited by the previous staff and they studied and learned a different system.
“Learning a whole new scheme can be difficult within itself,” James explained. “Its amazing how many different ways you can play defense. I never knew the game could be broken down into so many situations. Right now my game, and I think my teammate’s game as well, is maturing with the new scheme. We have to study day in and day out. If we can just get the scheme down to the point where we are playing on instinct, I’m confident we will have a good season.”
“We appreciate the emphasis being put on the linebackers this year,” Faulk added. “I hope we can exceed everyone’s expectations and live up to our own expectations. The expectations I have put on myself this year are very high.”
Having other guys to lean on can make the transition process easier. Faulk and James came to LSU at the same time and under similar conditions. It can be comforting knowing that someone out there is going through the same experiences.
“To have guys with the same talent level coming in at the same time increases your hunger and allows you to keep a level head,” James said. “You feed off each other. When one of us makes a play, it feels as if we all made the play. We gel together as one. And that’s what having a solid, core defense is all about. One person doesn’t make a great play, everyone makes a great play, and that’s how far we have come together.”