D-Line Preview

Having finished with the offense, TSD's 2008 preview turns to the defensive side of the ball. And of course any preview of LSU's defense has to start than with one of the deepest, most talented, and downright scariest units in the entire nation, the Tigers' defensive line.

A Look Back


You know you’re spoiled when utter dominance is a step back. After posting 43 sacks in 2005 and 40 in 2006, not to mention holding the opposition to under 100 yards rushing per game, the LSU D-line took a nose dive all the way down to 37 sacks in 2007 and a 106 yards-per-game average. Ouch. Never mind the fact that top-five draft pick Glenn Dorsey was at 50 percent for the entire second half of the season, minus the Ohio State contest, and that Charles Alexander, the other starting tackle entering 2007, went down just weeks into the campaign.


In other words, the line posted a more than solid season even without its intended starters. Dorsey went on to become the most decorated player in the program’s history, and plenty of role players got some good experience for seasons to come.


Dorsey lived up to his monstrous billing, pacing the line with 69 tackles (12.5 for loss) despite the gimpy leg. The real surprise of the season, however, was defensive end Kirston Pittman.


The Garyville native showed promise as a pass rusher in his freshman season…but that was way back in 2003. Following a progressive sophomore season, Pittman spent all of 2005 and 2006 on the sideline with major injuries. It seemed everyone had forgotten about him entering 2007 with fellow end Tyson Jackson getting most of the fan’s attention, but he would soon change that.


Pittman ended the national championship season ranked fourth on the team in tackles. He led the team in sacks (eight) as well as tackles for loss (13.5), adding 14 quarterback hurries and an interception of Heisman winner Tim Tebow.


Despite a good bit of hype entering 2007, Jackson did not exactly build on an excellent sophomore season.


After breaking onto the scene in 2006 with 8 sacks and 10 tackles for loss (not to mention a second team All-SEC selection), Jackson finished his junior year with 36 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. All three stats are roughly half or even a third of what Dorsey and Pittman cranked out. Jackson also developed an infuriating habit of hitting quarterbacks…when he wasn’t supposed to.


With the injury to Alexander, and the suspension of Ricky Jean-Francois, the other tackle spot turned into a bit of a carousel.


Junior Marlon Favorite got the bulk of the playing time, getting 28 tackles (1 for loss) in 11 outings. Dorsey’s injury muddied the situation even further, and super-recruits Al Woods and Drake Nevis were thrown into the mix.


Woods saw action in 12 of 14 games, notching 22 tackles and 2 sacks, while Nevis tallied 17 tackles in eight appearances.


The line gained a new dimension when Jean-Francois returned from his season-long exile for the two biggest games of the year.


The sophomore from Miami had three tackles against Tennessee, and his gigantic presence was a factor in holding the Volunteers to just 97 yards rushing. In the BCS Championship Game, Jean-Francois really had his coming out party. With six tackles (1.5 for loss), a half sack, a blocked field goal, and a quarterback hurry he terrorized the Buckeyes on his way to Defensive MVP of the game, and laid claim to one of the tackle spots vacated by Dorsey.



Spring Camp


The line had great things going for it entering the spring: it easily had the most depth, and it by far had the most returning starters.  There was just the little matter of finding two starting defensive tackles in a five man log jam, and developing the all-world talent that goes three-deep with this unit.


After finishing 2007 on such a high note, Ricky Jean-Francois split his time with the track team. When he did make it out to football practices though, the junior made his case for a starting role. He finished the spring game with five tackles as a starter for the white team.


Several key contributors spent time in LSU’s green non-contact jerseys. Still rehabbing his knee, Charles Alexander spent his entire spring in green. But that did not mean the senior wasn’t blasting the sleds, and it was obvious just being at practice that Alexander was establishing himself as a vocal leader in place of “Putt.” Very rarely was he not barking encouragement to the younger guys, or keeping someone in line.


Kirston Pittman also sported the green jersey, albeit nowhere near as often as Alexander. Fresh from securing a medical redshirt, it was more likely that Pittman was choosing caution.


Favorite entered the spring as Jean-Francois’s main competition for the right tackle spot. Marlon made it out to all scrimmages and practices and got his work in. He seemed to really keep the fun in the offseason workouts, especially when he was smashing sleds. It seems likely that he’ll be the go-to reserve at DT, though he’ll have every opportunity to take a starting job in the fall.


Tyson Jackson was also an ever-present force in the spring, and he brought his lunch pail to work with him. He earned the praises of his coaches all spring, including one of just two awards for overall leadership at the end of practice. Jackson is entering what is essentially a contract year, and more than wins or losses will be riding on his performance.


Spring is a time to look around the corner at the rest of the depth chart, and the defensive line is enough to make Tiger fans salivate.


The backups at defensive end, Rahim Alem and Tremaine Johnson, could start at a number of other programs.


Alem got extensive work at end with the first teamers throughout spring practice, and the junior is likely going to play a major role as a contributor. He also received an award for progress in the conditioning program. Johnson ended the spring as the first option behind Tyson Jackson.


Going even further into the depth chart, there was Lazarius Levingston who had an outstanding spring. One needs to only talk to Sonny or read our spring practice reports to know how impressed we were with the redshirt sophomore.


As mentioned before, Drake Nevis and Al Woods got a chance to shine in the 2007 season when they were needed, and that trend continued in the spring. With Alexander out and Jean-Francois with the track team, both Woods and Nevis were consistently asked to go with the first team in drills. Furthermore, Woods was often seen working alone with the coaches, honing his ability to get that huge frame into the gaps.



Fall Practice


It doesn’t seem 100 percent certain what the starting line will be in 2008. What is certain is that it will be four very talented and very terrifying young players.


Pittman and Jackson have the ends locked down and could become quite a memorable tandem in their second season together. Both enter the season on the 36-player watch list for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, and Jackson is also on the watch list for the Nagurski Award, which honors overall defensive leadership and performance.


If that isn’t enough, both of them will be playing with the knowledge that a big-time season could be just what they need to reach the green room at Radio City next April. If that isn’t motivation I don’t know what is.


Tackle is where the battles will be.


Jean-Francois has the edge over the competition based on his sophomore body of work and his 2007 two game explosion. And as one of just two seniors at defensive tackle, Charles Alexander will be looking to make up for lost time and grab the other spot. But at 6-4, 314 pounds, Al Woods is too freakish of an athlete to be kept off the field for long provided he can put everything together from the mental side down to the physical part. Marlon Favorite stepped up big when he was called on last fall, and I’m sure he’ll have something to say about who makes the starting roster.



My take


If you’ve spent even just 5 minutes perusing an NCAA preview magazine this summer, you’ve heard a rendition of this statement: “You don’t get better by losing Glenn Dorsey.”


This is absolutely true. But as I pointed out, 2007 was not the best year of Bo Pelini’s tenure for the rushing defense and for total sacks, even with one of the greatest defensive players in LSU history.


Obviously that had a lot to do with injuries, but that is hopefully something that can be remedied. LSU’s defensive line is head and shoulder above about 110 of the programs in FBS football. The ingredients of talent, scheme, and depth are there for another year of utter domination. So what I’m basically saying is that there will be LAD (Life After Dorsey, or lack thereof for opposing ground games) statistically.


That being said, it’s not every day a program lands a top-talent who not only completely lives up to the hype, but surpasses it on his way to being one of the most decorated defenders in recent memory. Not to mention Glenn Dorsey put his future millions aside once as a junior, and again after sustaining an injury as a senior, and played hurt afterward all in the name of achieving his goal of a national title and cementing a legacy.


Bravo, Mr. Dorsey and mission accomplished. His production was exceptional, obviously, but it was the way his defense (not the defense) rallied to him, the way that all of Tiger Stadium took themselves to another level when he told them to (which was basically after every play) that made him special.


With a three-deep of killing machines, and Chris Davenport fresh off of committing himself to LSU, the talent is undoubtedly there for the foreseeable future. With everyone healthy, this year’s line is ready to do just as well as the last three before it (perhaps even better with Dorsey finally done terrorizing the SEC).


The real question for the line, and for the entire defense in 2008, is who is going to bring the pain on every play and then hop back up and demand that all 10 of the guys around him, and all 93,000 people in Death Valley bring it even harder?

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