Spring Primer: Defensive Line

TSD continues its position-by-position preview of the LSU Tigers heading into spring practice, which begins Friday. Come inside today to bone up on the defensive line, which has plenty of experience at end but a world of turnover at tackle.

In a few days gold helmets will again be bouncing around the LSU practice facility.

After a brief offseason following the 2014 Outback Bowl, Tiger football gets back in action Friday, March 7, with the first of 15 practices leading up to the spring game.

Before LSU hits the Ponderosa, TSD is taking a look at every position on both sides of the ball, previewing where the Tigers stand and discussing the biggest storylines. Already we've examined the following position groupings for LSU:

Quarterback
Offensive Skill Positions
Offensive Line

Today we'll turn our attention to the team's defensive line – defensive tackles and defensive ends.

WHO'S BACK

DT: Quentin Thomas (R-Jr.), Mickey Johnson (R-Jr.), Christian Lacouture (So.), Maquedius Bain (R-Fr.), Greg Gilmore (R-Fr.)
DE: Jermauria Rasco (Sr.), Jordan Allen (R-Sr.), Justin Maclin (R-Sr.), Danielle Hunter (Jr.), Kendell Beckwith (So.), Tashawn Bower (So.), Lewis Neal (So.), M.J. Patterson (R-Fr.), Frank Herron (R-Fr.)

- After an interesting offseason that saw some losses and some retention, LSU will welcome back an extremely deep crop of defensive ends while currently being on the short end of the depth stick at defensive tackle. All-told the Tigers bring back five tackles and nine ends, although one of the younger players counted in the end group is likely to move inside.

The name game is easier to play with the bookends, where a trio of familiar faces who played the bulk of the time last season – Allen (6-6, 254), Hunter (6-6, 241) and Rasco (6-3, 262) – are back in the fold. Hunter and Rasco were the most productive ends in 2013, combining for 113 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, while Allen chipped in 16 tackles and two sacks. Expect those three to reprise their roles at or near the top of the depth chart this spring and into the fall, only with more assistance from youngers players who've now spent a year in the system.

Chief among that next wave of ends are three sophomores – Beckwith (6-3, 246), Bower (6-5, 243) and Neal (6-1, 238). Bower is the prototypical end of the group, but the staff loves the energy and activity level of the under-sized Neal, who does have long arms for his height, as well as the raw power and strength Beckwith provides in pass-rushing situations. Maybe the most interesting thing to monitor from this group is how much the staff begins to trust Beckwith at end on all downs, not just third. Rounding out the Tigers' depth at end are Maclin, a 6-4, 242-pound redshirt senior, and Patterson, the smallest position player on the roster at 6-3, 215.

On the interior LSU and position coach Brick Haley have the unenviable task of starting from scratch, having lost both stalwarts, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, from last season. The first two players who will get a crack at replacing them are Thomas (6-3, 290), a fourth-year junior, and LaCouture (6-5, 298), a sophomore who received playing time in 2013 while his other DT classmates took redshirts across the board. Combined that duo registered only 20 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack last fall, giving a clear picture of just how much of a blank slate the position is going into spring.

Three redshirt freshmen will also receive their opportunities to dent the two-deep and possibly the starting lineup beginning in spring practice. They are Bain (6-4, 308), Gilmore (6-4, 311) and Herron (6-5, 275), who is listed at end but numbers dictate should move to tackle (he certainly has the frame). Gilmore, a five-star player on Scout.com from the Class of 2013, and Bain, a four-star, arrived in TigerTown with lots of hype, and the next month marks a crucial time period in their development. The final returning defensive lineman is Johnson, a 6-1, 307-pound redshirt junior. Publicly the staff has discussed him in the same vein as Bain and Gilmore for the past year, but Johnson will have to show something, and soon, to out-pace the young bucks.

WHO'S NEW

DT: Davon Godchaux (Fr.), Trey Lealaimatafao (Fr.), Travonte Valentine (Fr.)
DE: Deondre Clark (Fr.), Sione Teuhema (Fr.)

- None of the above additions are early entrants, hence you won't see them in pads at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility until August. They're listed just so that the scope of LSU's depth for 2014 can come into focus. A few position/personnel notes from this group: Lealaimatafao (6-0, 300), Valentine (6-3, 325) and Clark (6-3, 238) are all pretty well locked in to their respective positions, but there may have been some fluctuation for the other two tweeners for those who didn't follow their recruitment closely. Godchaux (6-4, 271), rated as an end on this network, will play inside at tackle for LSU while Teuhema (6-4, 215) will play as a rush end, not an outside linebacker.

SPRING STORYLINE

Are any of the young defensive tackles going to step up and show something?

It's amazing, but in the rotating door of college football, where new talented players arrive every single year, you never know how long of a window you have to truly make an impression or just when that window will open. For the redshirt freshmen defensive tackles, that time is now and, with what's coming on board at the position, it would be to wise to anticipate the window closes (or is at least closing) in the coming months.

The trio of Bain, Gilmore and Herron find themselves sandwiched in between the recently departed tandem of Ferguson-Johnson and the 2014 recruiting bumper crop of tackles that includes Valentine, Lealaimatafao and Godchaux. That latter threesome will be in Baton Rouge this summer, providing increased competition. All of these factors make this spring paramount for players not only looking for playing time in 2014 but also hoping to stay on the right side of the Haley's estimation for the next three years with more talent flooding the bayou.



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