SPRING FOOTBALL: Defensive Overview

With an offensive-minded coach now at the helm of the LSU Tigers, one would think the team's image would change.

Gone is the hard-nosed defensive guru Nick Saban and the more laid back offensive specialist Les Miles is now in charge. However, do not expect a drop-off on the defensive side of the ball. Being an offensive guy, Miles had to ensure the gritty defensive mentality of the team stays in tact. So he hired one of the best in the business in Bo Pelini.


Pelini's resume speaks for itself in the fact he has coached in the NFL under Pete Carroll and has spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska and last year at Oklahoma. Not too shabby.


With what LSU returns on that side of the ball, look for more of the same from these Tigers. LSU has seven starters coming back from a unit that was among the national leaders in scoring defense (17.1 points), rushing defense (99.8 yards) and total defense (256.9 yards) last season.


Although Pelini must find suitable replacements for NFL Draftees Marcus Spears (DE) and both cornerbacks (Travis Daniels and Corey Webster), expect the strength of the team to lie in the middle with standout defensive tackles Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams to lead the way.





Three starters return to makeup up the best defensive line in the SEC.


Claude Wroten (6-3, 293) started slow a year ago but grew into one of the most dominant down tackles in the league. Teamed with Kyle Williams (6-2, 295), this tandem should be able to divert any activity by opposing teams' rushing attacks.


Melvin Oliver (6-3, 2774) has quietly been a steady force at defensive end the past two season and hopes to have his best season at LSU in his final year in purple and gold.


The debate this spring which should spill over into fall camp is who will replace all-everything defensive end Marcus Spears. Kirston Pittman (6-3, 242) is a quality rush end, but lacks the girth to be a dominant pass rusher or run stopper. Chase Pittman (6-4, 258), sat out last season after transferring from Texas and had flashes of brilliance during the spring scrimmage and is the odds-on favorite to be the regular starter in Spears' vacancy.


"Chase has had a really good spring and has shown the ability to play really well," Miles said. "He has learned how to play tough for long durations of time. He is going to be an excellent defensive end for us. I think we will be good there."


In reserve roles, sophomore Glenn Dorsey (6-2, 200) made quite an impression as a true freshman a year ago. Marlon Favorite (6-1, 310) will fill-in at defensive tackle as well as veteran Brandon Washington (6-4, 305). Sophomore Jarrod Carter (6-1, 276) will see action at defensive tackle while juniors Ryan Willis and Carnell Stewart will see valuable time at end. Redshirt freshmen Tyson Jackson (6-5, 289), Tim Washington (6-3, 291) and Charles Alexander (6-3, 295) will also all get looks at defensive end.





One key loss form last year's team is middle linebacker Lionel Turner.


After spending several years behind the likes of Bradie James and Trev Faulk, Turner made the most of his final two seasons being a captain on defense.


Turner will apply his services in the NFL now as Pelini will look for a new man in the middle on the defensive side of the ball.


Senior Cameron Vaughn (6-4, 237) will be the likely candidate to replace Turner's leadership ability. A highly cerebral type defender, Vaughn is highly though of by Miles and staff and should be one of the featured players on that side of the ball at the Sam linebacking spot.


Kenny Hollis will likely assume Turner's spot at Mike linebacker. It took the junior college transfer a while to get into the mix in this defense, but after a solid performance in last week's spring scrimmage, it is clear Hollis will be a play maker for Pelini's squad.


"Cameron Vaughn is kind of the glue of that group," Miles said. "Kenny Hollis will end up being a pretty good play. I think there are a number of guys that can lend support in that group, but that is as much improvement at one position than any other and it was one that we needed people to step up on the defensive side."


The Will linebacker position is up for grabs right now and the leading candidates are sophomores Luke Sanders (6-4, 222) and Ali Highsmith (6-1, 225) and senior E.J. Kuale (6-2, 225). Kuale was a starter at the beginning of last season but struggled learning Saban's complex defensive schemes after transferring to LSU from junior college.


However, Kuale will most likely be the favorite to land the job.


"I think we are getting the linebackers in the right spots and moving them around has been really good for us," Miles said. "I think EJ Kuale has shown he can put his hand on the ground or play standing up."


Other players in the mix at linebacker include junior Dominic Cooper (6-4, 220) redshirt freshman Quinn Johnson (6-2, 230) and true freshman Harry Coleman (6-3, 225).


"I think there are a number of guys that can lend support in that group, but that is as much improvement at one position than any other and it was one that we needed people to step up on the defensive side," Miles said.





Along with replacing Marcus Spears, Pelini and his staff are faced with having to find a pair of new cornerbacks as Travis Daniels and Corey Webster have moved on to the NFL.


The Tigers have a wide array of suitable prospects, but Miles says he doesn't want to give anyone too much praise due to the fact he wants the core group of cornerbacks to compete for the position.


Senior Ronnie Prude (5-11, 182) is sure to own spot already while the other is up for grabs. Sophomore Chevis Jackson (6-0, 185) got a long hard look at that spot in the spring scrimmage, but Miles said he is not making any definite plans just yet.


"I think Chevis, Sammy Joseph, Ronnie Prude, I think there are a number of guys there that can play," Miles said. "I think we have some good guys that play at the position. I think we are athletic enough. I have elected not to really focus on guys in particular at that position because I want so guys besides Prude to step forward and say this is my job. I think we are going to be good enough there I am just wondering who will that be."


Joseph (5-11, 179), a junior transfer from Colorado, had a nice interception in the spring scrimmage and fits the mold of a traditional cover corner. Mario Stevenson (6-2, 193) returns from an injury a year ago and Keron Gordon (6-1, 199) is another prime candidate for playing time.


While the future of the cornerbacks is still up in the air, it is a much different story at safety. Juniors Laron Landry (6-2, 187) and Jesse Daniels (5-11, 200) fill out the free and strong safety spots respectively and rank among the best in the SEC. Daniel Francis (5-11, 181), Nick Child (6-0, 165) and Jonathan Zenon (6-0, 174) are the likely back-ups, but Curtis Taylor (6-3, 196) and Jeffrey Jack (5-10, 177) are in the mix as well.





The Tiger special teams is pretty much a one man show with junior Chris Jackson (5-11, 165) handling both the place kicking and punting responsibilities.


Sophomore Patrick Fisher (6-5, 235) saw more action than usual in the spring due to the fact Jackson was playing third base for the Tiger baseball team. Ryan Gaudet (5-6, 156) will be used in a backup role primarily on extra points and short field goals.


Xavier Carter was featured mostly as the primary kickoff return specialist along with Ronnie Prude and Shyrone Carey. Skyler Green will hold down the punt return job along with Carey. Gant Petty (6-0, 208 is the Tigers deep snapper and Matt Flynn serves as the holder on PAT and field goals.

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