Summer Top 50 - No. 24 Lewis Neal

Continuing the second half of TSD's top 50 countdown of LSU players for 2015, we reach a projected starter at defensive end at No. 24.

Because everyone loves to rank things, and because summer is the best time to argue and debate, TSD is spending the coming weeks through the end of July rolling out its top 50 LSU football players for the coming season.

Many are seasoned veterans and a select few are new to the roster, but all 50 Tigers figure to make an impact on the gridiron in 2015.

So we hope you enjoy this list, updated once each weekday and compiled by the TSD staff of Ben Love and Hunter Paniagua (who, naturally, had disagreements of their own along the way).

Today the countdown rolls on at No. 24 with a player angling for a first-time starting job at defensive end, junior Lewis Neal.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM


A strong first impression is hard to beat. That's exactly what Neal reportedly had this spring at defensive end under the watchful eye of brand new D-Line coach Ed Orgeron. A player who's bounced around the line, pinching in as an undersized tackle in 2014 due to position scarcity, Neal (6-1, 255) is back out at end full time and exited spring a starter opposite fellow junior Tashawn Bower.

So, provided Neal can stay healthy, a crack at playing time early in the season shouldn't be hard to come by for the North Carolina native. Neal's biggest strength is in his leverage, using long arms as an effective pass rusher, even if a couple of inches shorter than most of LSU's other options.

If he can keep progressing in his game and bulk up a bit more, Neal may give Coach O a consistent option on all three downs. That's still in front of Neal, but for now his experience (played in 23 games in two years in Baton Rouge) plus glimpses of brilliance this spring with his tremendous closing speed have given him a leg up. Neal is one to watch for LSU fans wondering about defensive playmakers this fall.

STILL LEFT TO PROVE


While there's been experience for Neal, it's been in very limited doses defensively. As a true freshman in 2013, he participated in 10 games (actually coming on more toward the end of the season), making seven tackles including half a sack. A season ago he played in all 13 games, factoring in on special teams and making just three tackles, 1.5 for loss.

Now Neal, along with Bower and a host of first- and second-year players, must replace a pair of starters in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco who in 2014 combined for 144 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

So it's obvious Neal will be counted on for more production that's he's been able to provide yet in a small sample size. And it remains possible that against the bigger, run-heavy fronts in the SEC, Orgeron would prefer a guy like Maquedius Bain as an every-down end. Neal is ahead of some of his counterparts, like Bain and Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark, for now, but he'll have to keep his foot on the gas this August.





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