TSD has been previewing the Tigers from several different angles. We’re still counting down our top 10 returning players, hitting sophomore safety Jamal Adams at No. 3 on Wednesday.
Each day this week we’ve also tackled individual storylines facing LSU in the spring. So far we’ve touched on: Kevin Steele’s new scheme, getting early enrollees ready and the Tony Ball effect at wide receiver.
Today the topic shifts to the front seven, now under the watch of Steele and Ed Orgeron, with plenty of candidates for playing time.
New coaches. New starters. Without question the defensive front seven will be one of the most interesting areas to watch for LSU in spring practice. Steele will handle Tiger linebackers while Orgeron will sink his teeth into the defensive line. In both cases there are returning starters but also at least one vacancy from a season ago.
Beginning up front LSU is bringing back the starting tackle tandem of Davon Godchaux and Christian Lacouture. Godchaux really excelled down the stretch of his freshman campaign and could play a more versatile role in 2015 (see below). Next in line are two players with high ceilings, Trey Lealaimatafao and Travonte Valentine. Both came to campus with great promise but had their freshman campaigns derailed for various reasons. This spring represents their first legitimate cracks at competing for time.
After those four at defensive tackle is a redshirt sophomore trio – Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron – that Orgeron will have to revive. They have a new lease on life with a new position coach, but the consensus is if Coach O can coax just one of them from their shell, the Tigers will be in good shape, depth-wise, on the interior.
There’s a lot more uncertainty at defensive end, where LSU must replace a pair of starters in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. Most expect Tashawn Bower, now a junior and part of the rotation a season ago, to claim one spot. Little is in stone beyond that. Sophomores Deondre Clark and Sione Teuhema figure to be two contenders for the post opposite Bower. But will Orgeron prefer an every-down guy (more the Clark mold) or is he going for an out-and-out pass-rusher (more in the Teuhema mold)?
Others included in the competition at end are Lewis Neal, a junior, and M.J. Patterson, a redshirt sophomore. They’ll both want to leave good impressions before freshman standout Arden Key arrives in the summer. One additional possibility at end is Godchaux. There have been rumblings that if Valentine and/or Lealaimatafao shine at tackle, the staff views Godchaux as versatile enough to play at an end. This would definitely be the case should LSU switch to a three-man front for stretches at a time, which may happen, but the word is they trust Godchaux at end even in a 40 front.
Moving back to the defense’s second level, LSU seems to have more answers than questions at linebacker. Kendell Beckwith, a junior, will reprise his role in the middle while Lamar Louis is projected as the starter on the strongside, where he played last fall (Louis did come off the field in two-LB sets for passing downs).
Things start to get interesting on the weakside, where the Tigers must backfill for Kwon Alexander. Historically a quicker player has manned the Will position, and Steele has given no indication that will change under his regime. So look for senior speedster Deion Jones (“Debo”) to have an early leg-up while players like Duke Riley, a junior, and Donnie Alexander, a sophomore, will provide depth and potentially challenge for platoon snaps.
Big sophomore Clifton Garrett is a mystery man to date. With Beckwith already in the middle, there’s seemingly nowhere left in the starting three to accommodate Garrett. But Steele could get creative. This spring should begin to show if Steele is willing to shift any of his pieces around to get Garrett and Beckwith in the game together or if he’s content with Beckwith patrolling the middle and smaller, quicker players on the outside.
All in all, with so many moving pieces and variables, there should be no shortage of intrigue in LSU’s front seven.