LSU Preview 2001: DL

Two years ago, after LSU defensive line coach Jerry Baldwin resigned to become the head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, a familiar figure from recent Tiger history was hoping he might fill the vacancy. Pete Jenkins, who spent all of the 1980s in Baton Rouge, wrote a letter to then-head coach Gerry DiNardo, expressing his interest in the position. Jenkins was turned down, but ironically, it was a good thing

After DiNardo's dismissal, his job was open again. Nick Saban hired Jenkins for his third stint at LSU, despite the apprehension from Jenkins' wife.

"Donna was concerned that I'd be disappointed going back, like you can't go home again," Jenkins said. "But really, in the spring when I walked to practice, it was like I've never been gone."

Before long, the old magic came back for Jenkins and his Tiger linemen. A group of lesser-knowns, some of whom were criticized for taking plays off or lacking talent, were soon performing much better than they had in past seasons.

"Coach Jenkins is a great coach," said defensive end Kenderick Allen. "The one thing I don't like to do with coach Jenkins is when you do something wrong and he gives you that look — like, ‘you are letting me down' — I just don't want to disappoint (him). It's like you're upsetting your grandpa."

Now, with higher expectations for 2001, Jenkins is charged with erasing a "good enough" label from his troops in favor of one that reads "dominant." There's reason to believe he can do so.

Beginning at left end, Allen — who turned into the player most thought he could be last fall — will look to become a full-time starter. Should injuries or performance hinder his overall results, senior Kyle Kipps, who started eight times in 2000, is capable of filling in.

Senior tackle Muskingum Barnes, who started all 11 games for the Tigers last season, can focus almost entirely on football this fall. Barnes, a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, graduated from LSU with a degree in management information systems. Occasionally, he needs as much time explaining his name (pronounced Mus-KEEN-gum) as he does explaining how he can play effectively on the interior at just 269 pounds.

"I think my father saw (Muskingum) in a book and he liked it, so that's my name," Barnes said. "I tell people my name and they say, ‘Who?' So I say, ‘Just call me Tyrone. That's my middle name.'"

Byron Dawson, a junior is slated to back up Barnes on the left side. He made three starts last season, totaling 14 tackles, and has spent some time reflecting on life since his old teammate at Evangel, Cole Pittman, died in a one-car accident on his way back to Texas.

But both Barnes and Dawson may face another personal battle as pre-season practices begin, as junior-college transfer Torran Williams will come to the Ponderosa with plenty of hype. Florida battled with the Tigers until signing day for Williams' services, but the Miami native eventually reneged on a commitment to the Gators and signed with Saban.

Ranked among the SuperPrep top 30 junior-college prospects, Williams earned first-team All-Conference honors at defensive tackle for Dodge City after recording 67 tackles and five sacks.

On the right side of the interior is Chad Lavalais, who admitted he didn't expect to play much last year after a two-year layoff from competitive football. But he started the last four games of the season and emerged as a burgeoning star in spring practice. Howard Green, who started the other eight games in front of Lavalais, provides more depth inside.

Manning the right end of the line is Howard's cousin, Jarvis Green. Now a senior, Jarvis battled through more injuries to play in nine games during the regular season, including eight starts, recording 31 tackles along the way. Despite a declining pattern in his statistics, Jarvis Green is still believed to be an NFL prospect after this season, and he'd like to finish off his LSU career with something for scouts to rave about.

"We're going to need a good inside-and-outside defensive line play to have an effective pass rush," he said. "We can make it work."

That's what Jenkins had in mind.

IN 2000: Backed by reliable performers behind it, the defensive line — full of question marks entering the season — often did enough to help preserve wins or keep the Tigers close in competitive games.

IN 2001: Deeper, tougher and battle tested, the defensive line should create more than enough havoc for LSU's outstanding ends and linebackers to come through.

ON THE SPOT: Barnes. Although a solid player, a hard worker and a popular guy, Barnes may be outdone by Williams, who carries a world-beater reputation with him from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.

THE X-FACTOR: The backups. Kipps and Howard Green aren't chopped liver coming off the bench. Depending on their progress, they could give the starters some much-needed rest in certain down-and-distance situations.

LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: In a column dated June 28, Sporting News writer Tom Dienhart tagged LSU's defensive line as the No. 7 unit in the nation. "Jarvis Green brings the heat from the edge, while Barnes mucks it up inside," he wrote. "Williams is a JC transfer worth watching."

PRE-SEASON GRADE: B-.

QUOTABLE: "From year to year, it doesn't matter what you have or what you don't have. The most important guys for us to recruit is the defensive line — more important than quarterbacks, more important than receivers. The defensive line is the key." Stan Hixon, associate head coach

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