While the Bayou Bengals are on hiatus, TSD is running a story per weekday on breakout candidates for 2015.
These players may be new to the program, fresh off a redshirt or been around and just never had a chance to start. Whatever the case may be, if LSU is to author a successful 2015 campaign, they'll need these five players to break through.
CLICK HERE for Monday's piece on OLB Deion Jones.
CLICK HERE for Tuesday's piece on OL K.J. Malone.
CLICK HERE for Wednesday's piece on TE Desean Smith.
NO. 4 - Lewis Neal
The previous defensive line coach, Brick Haley, liked Neal. After all he occasionally subbed in the native North Carolinian as a true freshman at defensive end, part of a platoon system that included Tashawn Bower, then a freshman as well.
But 2014 wasn’t exactly the next step in Neal’s progression.
The team needed more interior linemen, and as such, Neal willingly moved inside to tackle. He was woefully undersized but served his purpose as a passing down specialist until Sione Teuhema proved better suited for the role.
Now, heading into his junior campaign, Neal is back at end and getting a chance to impress a new position coach in Ed Orgeron. So far this spring Coach O has liked what he’s seen as well, enough to favor Neal as the second starter at end, opposite Bower, over sophomores Deondre Clark and Teuhema.
Neal originally arrived on campus at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds. He’s tacked on 17 pounds in two years and is still very explosive coming off the edge at 255 pounds. While he’s not the tall type that KeKe Mingo or Danielle Hunter were, Neal has long arms, great leverage and is a freakish athlete in his own right, just a few inches shorter than what LSU fans have become accustomed to at defensive end.
In 2013 he played in 10 games, registering seven tackles and a half a sack. Last fall he played in all 13 contests and had three tackles, 1.5 for loss. Expect a lot more this season from Neal, who should thrive on third down and may have to split time with other ends on the first two downs.
However the rotation works itself out, Neal is showing he can be reliable in new coordinator Kevin Steele’s system. Fast and athletic is the name of the game, and even at a pedestrian 6-foot-1, Neal has both of those attributes and continues to demonstrate he can wreak havoc behind the line.
Bower has the NFL body and should be a more consistent every-down player. It’s Neal, though, who could well be the genesis of more sacks and turnovers.