With that premise in mind, even before we reach National Signing Day or spring camp, I’m rolling out my first projections on Tiger starters entering the 2015 season.
Yesterday I gave my take on the LSU offense. Today it’s time to examine the defense under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele.
Be sure to keep reading below the projections for a series of personnel and depth chart notes to dive deeper into the Tigers’ defensive rotations and identify players that could be rejuvenated in Steele’s system.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARTERS
DE: Tashawn Bower
DT: Davon Godchaux
DT: Christian Lacouture
DE: Sione Teuhema
WLB: Deion Jones
MLB: Kendell Beckwith
SLB: Lamar Louis
CB: Tre’Davious White
FS: Jamal Adams
SS: Rickey Jefferson
CB: Jalen Mills
DEPTH CHART/PERSONNEL NOTES
- Three of the four starters feel fairly locked in up front with LaCouture and Godchaux on the interior and Bower, entering his junior season, taking over a starting post at defensive end. About the only pause I had in tabbing this trio is considering Travonte Valentine at a defensive tackle spot. He’s a monster at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds (thinking this listing by LSU is light) and would bring a whole new level of run-stopping to that front. Valentine could also be useful as the center cog in a 3-4 alignment should Steele opt to run a little more of that, which he has hinted he may do. But ultimately, even though I believe Valentine will play, it’s hard for me to put him ahead of a third-year player like LaCouture (because I think Godchaux’s spot is the safest).
As for the other starter at end I went with the player that showed the most natural pass-rushing ability in 2014 – Teuhema. In his freshman season he was really only used on obvious passing downs, and in the middle of the three-man front, but another year of development could see him become one of the defense’s best threats to reach the quarterback. Also in the mix, and expected as part of the rotation at end: sophomore Deondre Clark and junior Lewis Neal, who like Teuhema played some at tackle based on position scarcity. Finally, it will be extremely interesting in spring and fall camps to see what new line coach Ed Orgeron can do with the group of redshirt freshman question marks that have now become redshirt sophomore question marks – tackles Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron. Herron is the most versatile of the three and can play both end and tackle. If one or more steps up, LSU will have legitimate depth.
- The only real mystery among the three starters is the weakside position as Beckwith is well entrenched in the middle and Louis returns for his senior season on the strongside. For now I’m leaning toward Jones, who will be a senior, taking over Kwon Alexander’s old haunt at Will ‘backer. That position in Chavis’ defense always tended to be a quicker player who maybe sacrificed a little weight for that “suddenness” that Chief always liked to describe. Well, no linebacker is more sudden that Debo Jones, but in Steele’s defense it’s possible that others could fit better. Still, at this early juncture, I’d imagine Jones is a rung or two higher on the latter than Duke Riley, who will be a junior, and Donnie Alexander, who will be a sophomore after featuring on special teams in 12 games last fall.
Then there’s the Clifton Garrett situation. Should LSU venture into the 3-4 (which for the record I think may happen in time with recruiting but for 2015 I expect the Tigers to base from a 4-3) it’s easy to foresee him lining up next to Kendell Beckwith and clamping down on the interior run. But, under the assumption of a 4-3 base, it’s fair to wonder how much time he’ll really see in his second year on campus. Beckwith’s position is among the most secure on the either side of the ball for LSU. Bottom line: There’s not a bigger wait-and-see player on LSU’s defense than Garrett. If he shows signs of life this spring and/or August, it stands to reason Steele, who coached linebackers at Alabama, will carve out a role for the 2014 five-star.
- The read here is obvious: LSU’s cup runneth over with safeties in 2015, so much so that the last line of defense can send back to the cornerbacks one of their own from seasons past. With Adams a no-doubt starter at safety and no less than four other candidates for the other spot, it makes sense that Mills return to an island opposite White, the Tigers’ only returning starter at corner with Rashard Robinson gone. Mills said in interviews last week that he’s not sure where he’ll play, but he reminded he’s definitely capable of moving back to cornerback, where he started almost two full seasons to kick off his LSU career.
As for the second starting safety position, Jefferson produced the most a season ago and earns the early cap tip from me, but don’t forget about Corey Thompson, who will return as a redshirt junior and has started games before, and second-year players John Battle and Devin Voorhies. When it comes to nickel and dime packages, position coach Corey Raymond will almost certainly stick with Mills as the primary nickel back and use a rehabilitated Dwayne Thomas in the dime role. Of course there will be plenty of competition for the dime spot and to replace Mills on an island when he goes inside. Three players who could easily factor in here: sophomore Ed Paris and incoming freshman Kevin Toliver, already on campus as an early enrollee, and recent commit Donte Jackson.