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The Steelers should look to the Bayou in search for next Defensive Backs coach

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Few colleges have cranked out defensive backs over the last six years like LSU. Few NFL teams are in dire need of both a new defensive backs coach and a shot in their secondary’s arm like the Steelers. On the surface, it would seem like a potential match made in heaven. But there could be a huge bump in the road to Cajun Country.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ somewhat tumultuous off-season continued Wednesday when defensive backs coach Carnell Lake unexpectedly announced he is leaving the team to focus on his son’s final year of high school, leaving a coaching vacancy that many fans were happy to see open up.

Lake joins former wide receivers coach Richard Mann, whose eventual retirement had been announced before the start of the 2017 season, and former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose contract was not renewed. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak also had been considered for the Arizona Cardinals’ head-coach position, but ultimately withdrew himself from consideration to stay put in Pittsburgh.

The question, of course, is obvious: who will be the proverbial “next man up”?

Names have been thrown around: Ray Horton, who held the same position for the Steelers from 2004 to 2010 and coached the likes of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor; Dom Capers, who was a defensive backs coach at the collegiate and professional levels from 1977 to 1991 and served as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994, while both Lake and Rod Woodson were standout players in the secondary; and even a few calls for both Polamalu and Taylor, though both are likely pipe dreams and possibly even ill-advised due to a lack of coaching experience.

One name that has come up, but not nearly at a level I would have expected by now, is Corey Raymond, who has been the defensive backs coach at Louisiana State University since 2012. Prior to that, he had a two-year stint at Utah State, followed by one year with Nebraska in the same position.

His record is nothing short of astounding.

  • Curtis Marsh Jr. was the first defensive back drafted from Utah State in 12 years
  • Three of his defensive backs at LSU have been drafted in the first round: Eric Reid (2013), Jamal Adams (2017) and Tre’Davious White (2017)
  • Three others have been drafted in rounds two and three: Marsh Jr. (3rd round, 2011), Tyrann Mathieu (3rd round, 2013) and Jalen Collins (2nd round, 2015)
  • In three different seasons — 2013, 2016 and 2017 — at least two of his defensive backs have been selected in the NFL Draft
  • Seven of ten drafted DBs coached by Raymond have started at least 50 percent of the games in which they have appeared
  • Two more LSU cornerbacks, Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II, are expected to be selected in the first four rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, while safety Ed Paris could be a darkhorse, late-round selection

Those same ten defensive backs have combined for 38 interceptions, 171 passes defended, three touchdowns and 967 tackles in 326 games (222 starts).

First-round picks Reid and White, in particular, have been excellent, while seventh-round pick Jalen Mills has been a resounding success given his lowly draft slot. Mills has three interceptions and 102 tackles in 31 games, starting 17 of them.

Raymond’s own numbers as a player weren’t too shabby, either. An LSU graduate, himself, he picked up 11 interceptions and 258 tackles, along with one touchdown six-year career. Passes defended were not a tracked stat the time.

The question, of course, is whether or not Raymond will leave his Alma Mater to become a professional coach. He signed a two-year contract extension with LSU following the 2016 season that would pay him a total of $875,000 over the 2018 and 2019 collegiate seasons. Given his success in developing NFL-caliber defensive backs, it’s hard to imagine he hasn’t already had more than his fair share of suitors.

Regardless, there would be no good reason to not have him on the short list of candidates to replace Lake.