Midway Spring Review: Defense

At the halfway point of LSU spring practice, there have been several notable standouts on John Chavis' defense. Who's separated themselves and what are the biggest storylines to monitor going forward?

With a look-back at my five pre-spring questions and an offensive review already in the bag, it's time today to turn to the LSU defense.

Below are the biggest storylines for John Chavis' ‘D' through three weeks of spring practice as well as my vote for defensive MVP and best newcomer.

Biggest Storyline: Allen has leapfrogged Hunter at defensive end

It was very easy for the 10 weeks between LSU's bowl game and spring practice to envision Danielle Hunter as a starter at defensive end. His size, strength, speed and fluid strides all pointed toward a vast reservoir of untapped potential. The unknown variable, though, was apparently the rising sophomore's grasp of the technique needed to play the position. Three weeks into spring (really it took a lot less than that) redshirt junior Jordan Allen has overtaken Hunter as the starting bookend opposite Jermauria Rasco.

Now, it's not time to bury Hunter, who will still undoubtedly play plenty of football in 2013, but it is time to praise Allen. The West Monroe product has been in the system forever, sitting behind soon-to-be NFL Draft picks and overcoming injuries. This spring, albeit in a green no-contact jersey, Allen has upped his game while continuing to mentor some of the younger defensive ends. At 253 pounds, he'll also give LSU a quality run-stuffer at the position, a needed entity given fellow starting linemen Rasco and Anthony Johnson like to get up the field and behind the line of scrimmage. There's still plenty of competition left, but Allen has made an early statement and, in the process, infused a veteran presence on the line.

Runners Up: Welter the man in the middle; Shortage of bodies on line glaring

One of my pre-spring questions was devoted to the very topic of who would play middle linebacker. The main candidates seemed to be Lamin Barrow and Kwon Alexander. From the very first day of spring drills, it's been redshirt junior D.J. Welter. That's been an interesting development with some trickle-down effects. First, Barrow, who in the past has cross-trained in the middle, has been training exclusively on the outside this spring, per several sources. Second, Alexander is working with the second team and on the outside at that. Third, we've learned the current second-team Mike LB is Lamar Louis. Expect the competition to heat up even more in Fall Camp, but for now the story is it's Welter's job to lose in the middle.

It's been extremely obvious at each practice just how thin the Tigers are in the defensive line ranks this spring. In fairness, six players (Aghayere, Downs, Edwards, Logan, Mingo and Montgomery) did depart from 2012 while six more freshmen (Bain, Bower, Gilmore, Herron, Neal and Patterson) are yet to arrive on campus for 2013. But, spring has become that interim period in the middle where Brick Haley is just void of bodies with which to work. It also didn't help that redshirt sophomores Mickey Johnson and Quentin Thomas missed a few practices. On those days there were just three scholarship defensive tackles on hand. Bottom line: It underscores the fact that youth will be relied upon come fall in the four-man rotations at end and tackle.

Defensive MVP: DE Jermauria Rasco

While competition is brewing at one defensive end spot, the other is on complete lockdown thanks to Rasco, a rising junior. The only returning position player with real pedigree and actual playing time is showing he's the alpha dog for a reason this spring. Check out Rasco's production in LSU's two scrimmages. First scrimmage: four tackles, one for loss. Second scrimmage: five tackles, three sacks. He leads the ends through drills and has a motor that runs all the time, even if his mouth doesn't. Rasco, for my money, has been the defense's most impressive performer.

Runners Up: LB Lamin Barrow; CB Jalen Mills; DT Ego Ferguson

Barrow may not have moved to the middle, but he is continuing to produce from his customary spot on the weakside (showing Chavis knows how and where to squeeze the most from his guys). He led all defensive players with seven tackles in the first scrimmage and had four stops with one fumble recovery in the second scrimmage … Things have been fairly quiet in the secondary this spring, until you get around Mills. He makes plenty of statements with his mouth, but his play has also announced to everyone that he's the No. 1 corner, no questions asked. I think a big season is in store for Mills … Ferguson has been the less-heralded of the returning junior tackles. There was also speculation he'd be in a position battle with Quentin Thomas. Well, there's been no battle to date. Ferguson, who had two sacks in LSU's first scrimmage, has begun to cement his spot. He has by no means been a world-beater, but he's also been a lot better than I expected and deserves kudos.

Best Newcomer: DT Christian Lacouture

He may be the only option as the sole early enrollee on the defensive side of the ball, but LaCouture has still been impressive in spring workouts. The incoming freshman, who had four tackles in the Tigers' second scrimmage, is showing he belongs on the next level and will be a strong consideration for the second-team line come fall. Not too bad for a tweener DE/DT player who had to put on weight over the holidays just to get up to tackle playing weight.


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