The accolades came as quickly as the sacks (11 in total).
The Associated Press voted Nevis a second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC performer. He earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times, and against Alabama he grabbed Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors with a seven tackle, one sack game where he forced a crucial fumble to help give the Tigers the 24-21 victory.
Now, Nevis is long gone, spending his days fighting his way up the defensive tackle depth chart with the Indianapolis Colts.
Back in Baton Rouge, defensive line coach Brick Haley is left looking for the next best thing.
In what could be the position with the biggest question marks, there is one constant: Michael Brockers.
Brockers, a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder, recorded just one start as a redshirt freshman last fall, but appearances in all 13 games helped ease the soon-to-be starter into SEC competition.
“That playing time was really big for me,” Brockers said. “I am going into this season confident that I can get the job done. I feel like I know what to expect when I get out there.”
Defensive coordinator John Chavis shares the same confidence.
“Michael Brockers has had an outstanding offseason,” Chavis said. “He’s played a lot of football for us and is ready to take on that roll.”
Who will occupy the right defensive tackle spot next to Brockers?
Will it be junior Josh Downs, who has appeared in 22 games over two seasons? Or the newcomer Anthony Johnson, who soared towards the top of the depth chart after enrolling early last January and working with the team throughout spring camp.
If you asked Brockers, he would tell you how he’s torn.
“They both bring a lot to the table,” he said.
“Josh brings a lot of experience, and he has explosiveness. He gets in trouble sometimes, but when it comes to pass rush and beating someone off the line, that’s what he brings to the table.”
“Freak is fast and quick. He’s a stout guy who can play the run and the pass. He’s versatile … He came in and took some of my reps with the ones, and I felt comfortable because he was learning fast.”
Of course, the discussion doesn’t end there.
If Chavis has his wish, Haley will continue a steady rotation of bodies – meaning names like sophomore Bennie Logan and redshirt freshman Ego Ferguson will have to step to the field for their first significant action.
“What we try to do is play five or six tackles in every single ball game, and that’s what we’ll do again this year,” Chavis said. “There will just be some different names in there.”
With the aforementioned expected to be the five-man rotation, Brockers is confident the unit will squash any worries that linger about depth at the position.
“Bennie and Ego know how to practice, they just haven’t gotten a chance to shine,” Brockers said. “This year they are fighting for playing time. If they practice like they play, then those guys will be great.”
Position coach: Brick Haley
Starters returning: 0
Lettermen returning: 4
90 Michael Brockers (6-6, 310, So.)
77 Josh Downs (6-1, 287, Jr.)
OFF THE BENCH
56 Anthony Johnson (6-3, 310, Fr.)
9 Ego Ferguson (6-3, 283, RS Fr.)
93 Bennie Logan (6-3, 287, So.)
97 Dennis Johnson (6-2, 285, Sr.)
96 Mickey Johnson (6-1, 312, Fr.)
95 Quentin Thomas (6-3, 279, Fr.)
Out of action: None
Veteran difference-maker: Michael Brockers
Rising star: Freshman Anthony Johnson
Something to chew on: Johnson has always had plans of playing during his freshman year of college, which is why he graduated last December from O. Perry Walker High in New Orleans and enrolled at LSU in January – in time to spend the entire spring semester working out with the football team. With Johnson set to see significant action as early as week one, good planning has evidently paid off.
Numbers of note: 1. That’s the total number of starts that the defensive tackle rotation has under their belts headed into the season (credit Michael Brockers for getting the nod last fall against Alabama). There are plenty of promising names to go around, but at this point Haley doesn’t have many proven bodies.
This unit will shine if: Josh Downs can stay healthy. Brockers appears ready for the big time, and if Johnson plays anything like he did in high school and these past two camps at LSU, then the Tigers will add a second versatile body to the front group. But can Downs contribute through 13 games to give the Tigers the three-some? If he can manage, then the unit could surprise teams hoping to expose the middle of the LSU defense.
This unit will struggle if: Michael Brockers doesn’t live up to expectations. Right now the LSU staff is banking on Brockers as the one constant in their quest for a dominant interior. If he falters, the Tigers lose their biggest hope for a run-stopper up front.
Prediction: Brockers will perform as expected, and Johnson will get adjusted to the level of play quickly enough to earn a mid-season start. If the next bodies in line – namely Ego Ferguson – can step up and surprise with their play, then the Tigers have quality depth for not just season – but the next few years.
Quotable: “(Anthony Johnson’s) very, very talented and when we were here last year no one would have predicted what Tyrann Mathieu would do for us last season. At his position I think he’s close to being as talented as Tyrann was at his position.” – John Chavis
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