For the last few seasons, there wasn't a whole lot of anonymity on the interior of LSU's defensive line. Drake Nevis and Lazarius 'Pep' Levingston removed any doubt about who the stars were up front.
Things are different now, though, with Nevis and Levingston both gone to the NFL.
That left two gaping holes for the Tigers, spots that – for now at least – stick out sore thumb-like as potential weak links on a defense that LSU coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis have both pegged as the most talented collection of defensive talent the Tigers have compiled in several years.
Not that there aren't plenty of candidates to step in. The last two recruiting classes have featured the kind of defensive building blocks any coach would crave – Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson.
But one name that rolls off the coaches' tongues before anybody else when they're rattling off who will set the tone on the interior line is universal: Michael Brockers.
The 6-foot-6, 306-pound sophomore will take over at the left tackle spot vacated by Levingston after last season recording 25 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble as a redshirt freshman.
Brockers has no qualms about stepping into the shoes of a veteran. In fact he's ready to embrace whatever expectations are placed on his massive shoulders.
"It puts a lot of pressure on my back and I want that," Brockers said. "It's time for me to really show the world what I have to offer. Last year I started one game and was in a lot but I didn't really show what I had."
That only seems like a matter of time.
With a chance to be the field on a more permanent basis, Brockers will get his chance to be the same kind of disruptive force Nevis was for two seasons and Levingston emerged as last season.
"I think Mike has really blown up over the summer," defensive line coach Brick Haley said. "He's put in the work and understands what's at stake and that he needs to be a leader inside. He's got the most playing experience and he's going to have to take that and run with it."
It helps, of course, that Brockers had Nevis and Levingston to follow as role models.
When he arrived in 2009, Brockers was a defensive end carrying defensive tackle weight – strange form of defensive line 'tweener. With a wave of talented ends already in place or on the way, the LSU coaches shifted Brockers inside and he started learning.
Now that Brockers has observed Nevis and Levingston, he's taken bits and pieces of what they did well technique-wise and has blended those things with his skills.
The result? Potentially the kind of run-stuffing tackle the Tigers haven't featured since Glenn Dorsey was last seen famously high-stomping at the Superdome in New Orleans in January of 2008.
That's a key for an LSU defense that allowed 137.3 rushing yards a game – a middle-of-the-pack stat in the SEC that doesn't sit well with Brockers and his teammates.
"We have to be better all around – better than last year," Brockers said. "We have something to prove. We have to show we're going to be better against the run."
A better Tigers rush defense starts up front with Brockers and whichever other tackles rotate in with him – Josh Downs, Bennie Logan, Ferguson and Johnson all factor into the mix.
"I'm playing the run a lot better," Brockers said. "I've tried to get my technique down, get off blocks better and make tackles on the running backs. I'm not saying I'm not a pass rusher, but that's something I have to keep getting better with."
While improved pass-rush skills would undoubtedly benefit Brockers, the chances to get to the QB hinge on how well LSU's defensive ends perform.
Sam Montgomery is back and healthy to give the Tigers a blind-side rushing threat from the right side and Ken Adams is back on the left side as a steady but not spectacular anchor on the left side.
Lavar Edwards started seven games after Montgomery's season-ending injury and will see plenty of action and sophomore Barkevious Mingo is a wildcard pass rusher.
"When those guys are coming off the edge, the quarterback has to step up and that's when we have to get to him from the inside," Brockers said. "When those guys are healthy and going full-speed, that really helps me a lot.
So does the competition for playing time.
Haley prefers to play 4-5 defensive tackles every game to keep players fresh, which means Brockers is going to be on the field.
What he wants to lock down is his role as the leader of the defensive tackle group, especially with budding stars like Johnson and Ferguson breathing down his back.
"We're all fast, we're all quick and we all know what we're doing," Brockers said. "I have to watch my back. These guys are learning fast. I'm trying to help teach them because if I go out, they have to be ready to come in and play, so then need to know their techniques and what to look for."
Nevis and Levingston did that for Brockers, just like Dorsey did for them and Kyle Williams did for Dorsey. The legacy of defensive tackles at LSU and their impact on dominant defenses is impressive.
Now with his turn in the spotlight, Brockers hopes to etch his name into that group.
"It's time for me to start showing who I am as a dominant player," Brockers said.
Pieces of the puzzle: Michael Brockers
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