BATON ROUGE - When you play at LSU, a school that has put more players on season opening NFL rosters than any other for several years, including 2017 with 51, there tends to be a lot of competition at practice.
If you miss for whatever reason or do not perform at your best, you may go from first team to second team in a snap.
This has been the case with junior cornerback Kevin Toliver II, a starting cornerback in 13 games over the last two seasons after signing with LSU in 2015 as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation out of Jacksonville, Fla. He missed LSU's season opener against Brigham Young because of a disciplinary suspension and did not start when he returned to action Saturday against Chattanooga.
Junior starting right cornerback Donte Jackson is believed to be the Tigers' fastest player and was expected to be the starting punt returner this season, but he fumbled some returns one too many times in practice. And he has not returned a punt yet this season.
Andraez "Greedy" Williams, a redshirt freshman who was the No. 37 ranked cornerback in the nation out of Calvary Baptist High in Shreveport in 2016, has started both of LSU's games at left cornerback over Toliver. And he will likely start Saturday when the No. 11 Tigers (2-0) open Southeastern Conference play at Mississippi State (2-0) at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Williams, who got his nickname from his aunt because he ate a lot and drank a lot of milk as a baby, is eating more than other SEC defensive backs so far this season as he leads the conference in interceptions with two and in passes defended with five.
D.J. Chark, a senior wide receiver from Alexandria Senior High, had not returned punts since he was at ASH, but he was promoted the Thursday before the season opener against BYU. He leads the SEC and is ninth in the nation with 19.8 yards a return as he has brought back five for 99 yards with a 65-yard touchdown against Chattanooga Saturday that was preceded by another touchdown on a 79-yard return that was called back by penalty. He is expected to remain at punt returner.
"It's a good problem to have," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday when asked how do you manage Toliver, who is an established starter suddenly out of a job. He had one tackle in limited action Saturday.
"Greedy waited his turn, and someone blinked," Orgeron said with a smile. "He moved in, and he's holding on to that spot. He doesn't want to give it up. That's what we like about competition."
Some coaches, particularly older ones, like to give a player his starting job back if he missed because of an injury or suspension regardless of whether his backup has played better or not. This was the case with former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo.
"There's no sacred spots on our football team," Orgeron said. "We're going to play the best players regardless of seniority or anything. And we want the guys who are playing the best. And right now, Greedy is doing that."
And Chark looks pretty good, too, in his new role returning punts.
"He has great vision," Orgeron said. "And he's just starting to learn how to do it. He's getting excited about it. I think it was an effort on all 11, but give him a lot of credit, too."
Meanwhile, Donte Jackson, like Toliver, waits.
"We'll see," Orgeron said. "Donte is a game breaker. We just have to get him comfortable catching the ball the way we want him to. Once he does that, we're going to be in good shape."
Chark got the job the first week because of his hands and Jackson's blink. He leads LSU in four receiving categories - seven catches, 180 yards, 90 yards a game and with a long of 52 yards.
"We felt that ball security was of utmost importance, and we thought D.J. had the best ball security out there. It was his first time doing it in a game, but we knew he was going to catch the football. We knew he had better ball security skills, and that's why we did it."
In the meantime, Williams and Chark are going to make sure they don't blink.
"Every day is a competition," Williams said. "Coaches are going to play who they want to play, so we've got to compete every day. I've still got a lot of learning to do. And it's about not getting complacent with myself. It's every day trying to improve."
Chark was reluctant to return punts at first, but the confidence of the coaches in him made him more confident.
"I see the big hits. And I see the muffed punt returns, and you can go from being loved to being hated on a punt return," Chark said. "But the coaches really had a lot of confidence in me, and I felt like if they're behind me, it doesn't matter. So I just came out and did what I was supposed to do."
One can also go from No. 1 to No. 2 very quickly.
"Donte's been very supportive," Chark said. "And I know if they put him back there, the same type of returns are going to happen."
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