TSD returns with the sixth installment of our early position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 LSU football team. Today we flip things over to the defensive side of the ball, beginning with the defensive line, a group which figures to deal with personnel losses to the pros and turnover at both tackle and end.
Returning Players at DE: Jermauria Rasco (Jr.), Jordan Allen (R-Jr.), Justin Maclin (R-Jr.), Danielle Hunter (So.)
Added Recruits at DE: Frank Herron, Lewis Neal and Michael Patterson (all players incoming freshmen)
Starters at DE: Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter
Key Rotational Player at DE: Jordan Allen
Darkhorse at DE: Lewis Neal
Returning Players at DT: Anthony Johnson (Jr.), Ego Ferguson (R-Jr.), Quentin Thomas (R-So.), Mickey Johnson (R-So.)
Added Recruits at DT: Greg Gilmore, Christian Lacouture, Tevin Lawson (all players incoming freshmen)
Starters at DT: Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson
Key Rotational Players at DT: Quentin Thomas
Darkhorse at DT: Greg Gilmore
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that as LSU's defensive line goes in 2013, so will the Tigers.
Brick Haley's first line of defense will be one of the big question marks on this team heading into the spring due to a heavy amount of expected turnover.
Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and KeKe Mingo are probable entrants into April's NFL Draft (with Montgomery a bit more solid than Mingo). LSU will definitely lose seniors Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere, versatile players who could play inside and out on the line. On the interior, the Tigers are also likely to lose junior tackle Bennie Logan and will be without senior Josh Downs.
That's six players more than likely subtracted from the mix, meaning there will be a virtual overhaul of the two-deep in 2013. If Haley's bunch can battle through these losses and get some instant impacts from a couple of young and inexperienced players, then the Tiger defense (and, in some ways, the Tiger team) will be more complete and battle-ready in the SEC.
At defensive end, the leaders in the clubhouse to play significant minutes – at least among returning players – are Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen, probably in that order.
Rasco, in his true sophomore season in 2012, has 10 total tackles, two for loss, a season after he kicked off his Tiger career with 17 tackles and two sacks. The 6-3, 255-pounder has been the fourth man in the rotation at end for the majority of this fall. With the top three leaving – and four of the top five – from 2012, expect Rasco to be the lead player at the position entering spring drills. He is still blossoming into a more reliable run-stopper, but the Evangel product will do his best to pick up the role formerly played by Mingo. His pass-rushing presence will be needed in 2013.
After Rasco it will be interesting to watch a potential Fall Camp battle between Hunter and Allen. Hunter, a 6-5, 235-pound physical freak coming off a true freshman season which primarily saw him cover kicks, has loads of potential to go with phenomenal speed and athleticism. It's easy to see him developing into a monster for LSU before he leaves campus, but Allen does give a veteran edge and great size of his own (6-6, 253).
Allen, who gives the group perhaps its best option against the power run, will be in line for plenty of snaps, whether he starts or not, given that he's all the way back from injury. The West Monroe native tore up his knee in Fall Camp this August, and he will have to continue rehabbing well to come back in 2013, after sitting out a year of football.
Considering Haley prefers a four-man rotation at end, that leaves one vacancy open to fill out the two-deep of players who will rotate. The candidates for that position include Justin Maclin and a host of freshmen.
Maclin sat on a redshirt year in 2011 and hardly played in 2012 after seeing limited time toward the end of his true freshman season in 2010 (giving the team numbers after Montgomery went down). He'll have to show improvements to ward off the three incoming players at the position – Frank Herron, Lewis Neal and Michael Patterson. Herron projects a bit more as a project of the future, but Neal and Patterson have a chance to stick in 2013. At this early juncture, I'd give Neal, at 6-2, 240, a slight edge.
Moving down to defensive tackle, the starting tandem will return with a lot more experience than their perimeter counterparts. Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will both be juniors, and both were in the four-man rotation used exclusively in 2012, although Johnson played noticeably more and better than Ferguson.
The Freak finished with 30 tackles, 10 for loss (third on the team) and three sacks. Ferguson registered 11 tackles, one for loss. They'll be expected to resume many of the responsibilities left behind by incumbent starters Bennie Logan and Josh Downs – the former in run-stuffing capability and the latter in pass rush as well as energy and movement. Johnson helps fill a lot of the gaps getting up the field and pressuring the quarterback, but the duo collectively will be challenged most to clog up lanes and keep down rushing attacks.
Which is where third-year player Quentin Thomas comes in presumably. The Breaux Bridge product has had the opportunity to sit and watch studs in front of him for two full seasons, and it will be his turn to step up finally in 2013. Thomas is a whale of a player at 6-3, 294, and he's next in line to fill in the rotation at tackle. In my opinion, he'll be called on at tackle in much the same way and for the same purposes as Allen at end.
Rounding out the depth chart on the interior are redshirt sophomore Mickey Johnson and three more freshmen, assuming Christian Lacouture ends up playing tackle (which seems possible given Hunter Paniagua's recent note that the player claims he's up to 275 pounds).
Johnson, a short but very powerful player, finds himself in a similar situation to Maclin – having to make up ground to end up in the regular rotation instead of starting to fall behind a group of newcomers. He will enter Fall Camp behind Thomas on the pecking chart, but he'll have an opportunity to compete with freshmen Greg Gilmore, Lacouture and Tevin Lawson.
Gilmore, who spurned Florida in favor of LSU, figures to be the most advanced prospect of the trio. At 6-4, 270 pounds, the North Carolina native and No. 8 overall DT on Scout's board is a strong candidate to get to the field in year one and steal a spot in the two-deep. Lacouture, at 6-5, 275, is no slouch himself, and the Lincoln, Neb., native has the size and skill set to replace much of what Lavar Edwards brought to the table the past few seasons – playing inside and out. Lawson remains an academic concern, but the Denham Springs player is definitely a take, adding depth at the position, if eligible.
2013 Position Preview: Defensive Line
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