DEVILLE: The SEC's best kept secret

If you check out the national publications and websites, you will find the same thing. Every pundit predicts LSU is an ultra-talented team, but a tough road schedule, including trips to Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas, and a quarterback derby (or controversy, if you will) will keep the Tigers from competing for the national championship.

They also like to point out the fact LSU got hit hard with losses on both the offensive and defensive lines, all of which will doom the Tigers to an 8-4 season in 2006.


I may have to agree the depth of the offensive line is a concern and it is the key question mark concerning the Tigers. Also, the schedule couldn't be tougher going to face four of the league's top teams in four of the most intimidating venues in the SEC.

But beyond that, all of that other stuff is rubbish.


Pssst… Hey, let's keep it a secret about that defensive line.


If you read on in this issue, you'll be sure to locate at least one story talking about the hidden talent on the defensive front. Sure enough losing all-Americans Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten and Peach Bowl Defensive MVP Melvin Oliver is a cause for concern, but what the talking-heads do not know is what was left behind when all three of those guys headed to the NFL.


Just from observing the defensive linemen during the short amount of time we are permitted in practice every day, it is quite obvious the Tigers' defensive front may be the best-kept secret in the SEC.


Led by Glenn Dorsey, a player who is being called upon to step up in the absence of Williams and Wroten at tackle, the 6-2, 300-pound junior is assuming the role of leader on the defense and from what the coaches say, he is walking the walk.


"Glenn Dorsey, I feel is as good a d-tackle as there is going to be in the country," said defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. "I feel real good about him. I think he's a tremendous football player and a great leader for our team."


No doubt a bold statement from Pelini.


But what lines up behind Dorsey makes it more and more evident the Tigers are not going to miss a beat on the defensive line.


Just call them "90 to Nothing." Every player on the LSU roster with the number 90 or higher is a defensive lineman that should play and contribute this season.


In order: 90 – Rickey Jean-Francois, 91 – Charles Alexander, 92 – Tim Washington, 93 – Tyson Jackson, 94- Chase Pittman, 95- Lazarius "Pep" Levingston, 97 – Al Woods, 98 – Lyle Hitt and 99 – Marlon Favorite.


Toss in Ryan Willis, Tremaine Johnson, heck , even walk-on Leo DeSelle is drawing praise from Pelini.


"Marlon Favorite has really stepped up, and he's a much better football player than he was last year and he's getting better every day," Pelini said. "I really like what I've seen from Marlon in the first seven practices. Charles Alexander has shown some good things. He's probably health wise in better shape than he has been for the first couple years. He hasn't missed a practice. He's been taking all the reps we've asked him to take. He's done a nice job, and he's just fighting a consistency issue. I'm looking for more consistency out of him.


"Tyson Jackson has had a really tremendous start to fall camp. We feel really good about where he is as we do Ricky Jean-Francois, who could play inside or outside for us, but we've been giving most of his reps at the end position. We feel we're really solid at the right end position with (Chase) Pittman and (Ryan) Willis. We think they're a really good combination over there and we like what they're doing. Tremaine Johnson and Tim Washington, those guys are fighting to be in the mix at a number of different roles. Pep Livingston has done a nice job for a freshman.


"A pleasant surprise for us has been the play of Leo Deselle, a walk-on who's done a nice job for us, and Lyle Hitt."


It seems the defensive line isn't quite the Achilles heel (no pun intended Kirston Pittman) that everyone expected. And from the remarks made by offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, neither is quarterback.


While coach Les Miles has somewhat danced around the quarterback issue most of the offseason, Fisher was quite candid in his assessment of the JaMarcus Russell-Matt Flynn-Ryan Perrilloux saga.


"First of all, they're all different sizes, they're all different weights, they're all pretty athletic, they all move well. I think it's just experience," Fisher said. "I think they all bring a uniqueness. JaMarcus (Russell) has pure size, arm strength and moves well and vision.


"Matt (Flynn) is a very good athlete, moves around, is a leader, moves the ball well.

"Ryan (Perrilloux) has a very strong arm and what's good about him is he grasps so much more every day. He's eliminating the mistakes he did last year and in practice making checks and doing things. It's just fun to watch him develop."


Fisher admitted the separation between the quarterbacks isn't as great as some may think.


"They're not as far apart as you think they are in all their talents because they all have arms, they're very accurate and they all have the ability to move their feet," Fisher said.  "They're more similar than they are different."


And as for reps, Fisher said Russell and Flynn are splitting reps evenly and Perrilloux is getting two fewer each rotation.


"We're trying to get them all reps," Fisher said. "We could be splitting JaMarcus and Matt in the first group, then we get Ryan probably 35 or 40 percent. For instance, in a 16 play skeleton drill Matt and JaMarcus have been getting six and Ryan has been getting four."


Now don't get your hopes up though Matt Flynn fans. Fisher was quite direct when saying Russell is the player to lead the LSU offense. He (Fisher) even fielded questions about involving different plays for all three quarterbacks just the way he did for Patrick Nix and Dameyune Craig at Auburn in the mid 1990s.


Fisher was also quite candid in talking about the quarterback battles between Josh Booty, Craig Nall and Rohan Davey in 2000.


"People are always happy most with the guy on the bench," Fisher said. "We always like what we don't know. JaMarcus is 14-2 as a starter, people are more familiar with him and have more knowledge to tear him down when he makes a mistake."


Fisher pointed out Russell's record as a starter, that he has led six, fourth-quarter comebacks winning four on the final drive of the game and the fact that he (Russell) spent the entire season last year injured.


From what Fisher is saying, with an older, wiser, driven and most importantly healthy Russell at the helm, he has big plans for the Tiger offense in 2006.




Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at

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