As LSU heads into spring practice, head coach Ed Orgeron has talked about moving more towards a true 3-4 look under Dave Aranda. This spring there will be a lot of time to experiment with different personnel groupings. A lot of starting jobs are up for grabs and the big push before freshmen arrive in the summer will be made.
With that, LSU heads into Year 2 under Aranda's direction and here's what we're watching for on defense when spring ball opens on Saturday.
***Depth charts are projected.***
What to Know: Losing two big-time playmakers along the defensive line like Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux are tough to replace, but the Tigers have a boat load of talent on campus to step up. Christian LaCouture will return to the team after tearing his ACL and being out for the entire 2016 season. Orgeron said on Tuesday that the senior will occupy Godchaux' spot at defensive end in the defense. Orgeron raved about what having LaCouture back means for LSU as he's a leader in the defensive line room. Another returning player is Isaiah Washington, who also tore his ACL. Where Washington ends up in the mix remains to be seen. The 6-5, 250-pound defensive end can be used at the Buck linebacker spot as well. A big question for LSU is where does the pass rush come from outside of Arden Key when he returns? Neal and Godchaux both were solid in applying pressure to the quarterback. This group will have to find some pass rushing weapons to get LSU into its more desired 3-4 look more often rather than the 4-man from LSU used much of last season to generate pressure.
Names to Know: The trio of 2016 signees along the defensive line in Glen Logan, Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander are poised for huge springs. Joining the Tigers this January was 2017 signee Justin Thomas, who will get a chance to make his first impression to the staff as well. Seniors Deondre Clark and Frank Herron return, but will they be jumped by the young talent on the roster? Clark got limited opportunities as a junior and Herron stayed home from bowl practices, but was expected back for spring practices according to Orgeron in December. That leaves the door open for the young trio to push for starting spots this spring. The spots at defensive end mirroring Greg Gilmore are more than open for the taking.
Breakout Candidate: Ed Alexander. One of Orgeron's favorites to work with along the defensive line is Alexander, who is one of the strongest players in the program and has impressed since being on campus, although it didn't exactly translate into playing time. The 6-2, 333-pound nose tackle is a perfect mix of strength and size that LSU wants in the middle. With Travonte Valentine out of the picture, there's even more opportunity for Alexander to seize playing time.
2-Deep Depth Chart
DE1: Deondre Clark
DE2: Glen Logan/Isaiah Washington
DT1: Greg Gilmore
DT2: Ed Alexander
DE1: Christian LaCouture
DE2: Rashard Lawrence/Frank Herron
What to Know: After losing Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith inside for LSU, this spring is definitely going to be thin, but that's fine with help on the way in the fall from Tyler Taylor and Jacob Phillips and getting much-needed reps for guys like Devin White, Donnie Alexander and Devin Voorhies.
Names to Know: Devin White has the opportunity to take a leadership role in the middle of this LSU defense before the freshmen arrive this fall. White showed at the end of 2016 some flashes of the talent that Aranda is high on. At the same time, Alexander and Voorhies will see expanded roles this spring with the seniors having departed. At middle linebacker after that, it's a relative unknown what LSU will do as far as extra bodies to fill the depth chart with. This trio will get plenty of time to work this spring though.
Breakout Candidate: Devin White. Known for his 1-on-1 teaching sessions with Aranda during the season, White saw his playing time increase when Beckwith went down with an injury. Against Texas A&M, White forced a fumble and in the bowl victory over Louisville, White had a huge sack. That glimpse of the future is what has LSU excited about the former running back turned linebacker.
2-Deep Depth Chart
MIKE1: Devin White
MIKE2: Donnie Alexander
ROVER1: Donnie Alexander
ROVER2: Devin Voorhies
What to Know: Without Arden Key at the Buck linebacker spot this spring, LSU will have a chance to work in some young, but talented names at outside linebacker. Even with senior Corey Thompson returning of an injury, Thompson doesn't have much experience in Aranda's defense at the F linebacker spot having missed all of the 2016 season with injury.
Names to Know: When freshman Andre Anthony joined the LSU team for bowl practices, Orgeron was quick to point out how impressive he was. Joining Sci Martin in the mix at Buck, Anthony got some work in for the first time since his senior year of high school. Martin is a sophomore now after getting some time this fall, but needs to develop more consistency, something that any player new to college football has to do. Martin will also get an extended look along with other Field linebackers Ray Thornton, who Orgeron praised on Tuesday, and Michael Divinity, both who were expected to do a lot as freshmen for LSU.
Breakout Candidate: Andre Anthony. It's no secret that Ed Orgeron has raved about Anthony's play since joining the team in December. The former Scout 300 member and Edna Karr standout will have a chance to make a big push for playing time ahead of five-star K'Lavon Chaisson's arrival this summer. If there's a position that is arguably the most stacked on this team, it's the Buck linebacker spot. This is a big opportunity for Anthony to push for time.
2-Deep Depth Chart
BUCK1: Andre Anthony
BUCK2: Sci Martin
F LB1: Corey Thompson
F LB2: Ray Thornton/Michael Divinity
What to Know: The Tigers lose probable Jamal Adams Top-15 NFL Draft pick Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson from its safety corps. Jefferson was lost prematurely due to injury, but LSU returns John Battle, who took over for Jefferson after his injury. Without Adams, LSU lost the leader of the secondary and one of the leaders of this team. Now, LSU looks to the next wave of DBU to take the reigns.
Names to Know: The veteran of the group John Battle heads up the group now void of a lot of experience and will be relied upon to get the secondary in order out on the field. Xavier Lewis and Eric Monroe are two young safeties that can certainly stake a claim to playing time this spring after Lewis played in all but one game last season with Monroe redshirting. Jacoby Stevens and Grant Delpit are the two freshmen safeties to watch out there and come in with a lot expected out of them.
Breakout Candidate: Jacoby Stevens. The five-star safety comes into spring camp with an opportunity alongside fellow freshman Grant Delpit to make a big push for the starting job vacated by Adams. Orgeron said he smiles every time he sees Stevens and Delpit working out on the field together. That being said, Stevens is the one that might be the more ready of the two to push right away for playing time. Both are going to be outstanding safeties from the looks of things, but Stevens is our early pick as a a breakout candidate.
2-Deep Depth Chart
FS1: John Battle
FS2: Xavier Lewis
SS1: Eric Monroe
SS2: Jacoby Stevens/Grant Delpit
What to Know: Gone is the No. 1 cornerback in college football last season in Tre'Davious White and senior Dwayne Thomas, who came on strong in the latter stages of the season at the nickel spot. LSU has to replace even more leadership in the secondary at the cornerback spot, but the fastest man in college football, Donte Jackson, returns to the Tigers defense. Where will Aranda use Jackson remains to be seen. Jackson has great length and speed, of course, to burn so nickel might not be his natural spot. Ed Paris and Kevin Toliver return as well with Toliver's game really tailing off thanks to injuries and then couldn't get back on the field due to consistency issues. Finding the right mix is key when LSU goes to the nickel defense, something Aranda operated out of for a lot of the year. Can some of the young talent overtake some veterans? There's about as much competition as anywhere at cornerback.
Names to Know: Jackson is the household name of the bunch and outside of the Florida game, had a pretty solid showing for his sophomore season. Sophomores Saivion Smith and Kristian Fulton are two big-time players in the secondary, albeit unproven players that have a chance to shine. Andraez "Greedy" Williams and Cameron Lewis are also names to watch that can get some work in at one of the cornerback positions as well.
Breakout Candidate: Kristian Fulton. Can a sophomore without one start under his belt earn the trust of Aranda and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond to man the nickel spot? Raymond was working Fulton in during the bowl practices and that appears to be the early plan for the former four-star defensive back from Rummel. Fulton has been impressive in workouts this spring so its no surprise that he's an early pick to breakout.
2-Deep Depth Chart
CB1: Ed Paris
CB2: Saivion Smith
CB1: Donte Jackson
CB2: Kevin Toliver
Nickel1: Kristian Fulton
Nickel2: Greedy Williams