TSD is running a story a day over the coming week-plus, combing through each position with a detailed look at who and what is being lost and the names/games of the 2015 targets that will be groomed as replacements in the short- and long-term.
CLICK HERE for yesterday’s look at the situation at offensive tackle.
Next position up: Defensive End.
LEAVING A VOID
The situation LSU will face entering this offseason at defensive end is eerily similar to that of offensive tackle. A senior starter will for sure depart in Jermauria Rasco (6-3, 247); the other starter, a third-year player, is seriously flirting with the notion of joining him in Danielle Hunter (6-6, 240); and some depth will be lost as a redshirt senior leaves, in this case Justin Maclin (6-4, 240). There are only two differences in the comparison to the offensive tackle outlook: First, at defensive end, the underclassman is a (marginally) better player than the senior – making it a bigger pull if LSU somehow convinces Hunter to stay – and, second, Maclin hasn’t been the utility force Evan Washington has been on the offensive line.
Rasco’s had an interesting career at LSU. He managed to see the field some as a true freshman during the Tigers’ wrecking ball season of 2011, memorably recording a sack in not-quite-yet-garbage-time of LSU’s 45-10 rout of Auburn. And, over the course of the following season and a half, didn’t particularly live up to the hype he generated not only as a freshman who played but as a former blue-chip recruit. The Shreveport native started to deliver on that promise, however, as a junior, and this season has played his best ball to date. Rasco finished the 2014 regular season fifth on the team in total tackles (63) and first in both sacks (four) and quarterback hurries (eight). Position coach Brick Haley will lose a reliable player – Rasco started all 12 games this fall – and one that used his experience to find ways to the quarterback, even if he wasn’t the fleetest of foot.
That is in no way how one would describe Hunter’s game, though. A flat-out speed merchant and physical freak, from his height to his quickness to his ripped-up biceps, the Katy, Tex., native has excelled at tracking down ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Hunter finished the 2014 regular season fourth on the team in total tackles (64), but he obliterated the rest of the Tigers in tackles for loss – totaling 12 while the next highest total was 7.5 (Kwon Alexander). The tall defensive end also showed some maturity in his game, batting down six passes this fall, which is the most on the team for any non-DB. Oddly enough Hunter is still a relatively raw player, learning the chops/technique that players like Rasco have when it comes to pass rushing (Hunter recorded only 1.5 sacks this season). None of that will deter NFL teams too much as Hunter is considered by many mock draft services an early-round pick. There have been rumblings that Hunter will give legitimate thought to returning for a senior season, but given his draft prospects, it’s hard to see LSU winning out here.
FILLING THE VOID
LSU could be in a position where it has to replace both starting defensive ends. Tashawn Bower appears ready to accept a larger role, while Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema each got enough playing time that the coaches can feel good about their progression. But beyond those three, the rest of the rotation should be up for grabs entering next season, and the Tigers are recruiting several guys that could step in immediately to compete with third-year guys like Lewis Neal and M.J. Patterson.
LSU has only one defensive end committed so far in the 2015 class. Isaiah Washington pledged earlier this year and followed that with an impressive senior season. Most feel his ceiling is still very high. He hasn't nearly reached his potential yet, and the Tigers are hoping to add several highly rated prospects to this class.
The two biggest names to keep an eye on moving forward are Kyle Phillips and CeCe Jefferson (pictured above). Phillips took his official visit for the Ole Miss game in October and has the Tigers in his final three along with Tennessee and the Rebels. His decision should come within the next couple weeks, and he intends to enroll early. LSU's positioned itself very well, but the Vols will have a lot of momentum as they'll get his final visit. Jefferson still has a long way to go in his recruitment. Florida, Florida State, Alabama and Ole Miss are some of the other schools consistently mentioned at the top of his list, but with him waiting until National Signing Day, everyone has plenty of time to make their move.
Outside of these two, LSU's aiming to flip some other very talented pass rushers. South Carolina commit Arden Key plans to take an official visit in January after attending the Alabama game last month. He's often said the Tigers are the team battling the Gamecocks most, and that commitment is far from firm. Dylan Jackson, on the other hand, is much stronger with his commitment to Tennessee. His relationship with John Chavis has kept the Tigers in it, but he seems a harder flip. Also keep an eye on Virginia commit Rasool Clemons. LSU hasn't yet made the big push, but if/when they do, he'll certainly be one to watch. Devonaire Clarington is also one to monitor. Though most are recruiting him as a tight end, LSU likes him for defense, and he has legitimate interest in that option. If he does make it to Baton Rouge for an official visit, things could get interesting.