Note: This is part five of a series that takes a look at each position heading into spring camp.
Projected Spring Depth Chart
DE 95 – Pep Levingston 6-4, 269, Jr. Ruston (La.)
DT 97 – Al Woods 6-4, 323, Sr. Elton (La.)
DT 91 – Charles Alexander 6-3, 310, Sr. Breaux Bridge (La.)
DE 84 – Rahim Alem 6-3, 254, Sr. New Orleans (La.)
DE 88 – Chase Clement 6-5, 255, Fr. Thibodaux (La.)
DT 71 – Cordian Hagans 6-4, 285, Fr. Snellville (Ga.)
DT 92 – Drake Nevis 6-1, 294, Jr. Marrero (La.)
DE 98 – Sidell Corley 6-3, 274, So. Mobile (Ala.)
DE 81 – Chancey Aghayere 6-4, 269, Fr. Garland (Texas)
DT 89 – Lavar Edwards 6-4, 280, Fr. Gretna (La.)
DT 83 – Dennis Johnson 6-1, 304, So. Amory (Miss.)
DT 96 – Kentravis Aubrey 6-3, 285, So. Bastrop (La.)
A Look Back
For a program that has thrived on the consistency of their defensive unit, the 2008 season was, for all intents and purposes, a letdown.
The Tigers allowed opponents an average of 24.2 points per game, good for ninth in the Southeastern Conference. The group finished in the same spot in total defense, allowing an average of 325.5 yards per game.
The unit moved through conference play at a sluggish pace, rarely putting any pressure on quarterbacks or bottling up the opponent’s run game in the trenches.
The result was clear, seeing the Tigers finish fifth in the SEC in run defense (110.2 ypg) and 11th in pass defense (215.4 ypg).
LSU finished sixth in the conference in both sacks (28) and opponent first downs (16.2 apg). They were also one of the most penalized units in the SEC, averaging 49.9 penalty yards per game, which ranked 10th in the league.
The Tigers saw some bright moments, most notably the breakout season off the sideline by junior Rahim Alem. Yet, if the group hopes to return to form next season, the output amongst the players must be more widespread.
Losing Tyson Jackson, Ricky Jean Francois, Marlon Favorite and Kirston Pittman from the rotation, the Tigers are looking to turn a new leaf.
Everything begins with Alem, who earned First-Team All-SEC honors last season despite starting in just one game. The six-foot-three, 254-pound senior thrived in passing downs, leading the team with 8.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss.
Pep Levingston looks to earn the job opposite Alem, with Chase Clement, Sidell Corley, Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards battling Levingston for the job as well as for the other two spots on the two-deep roster. Edwards is expected to cross-train between playing on the edge and playing inside this spring.
Levingston served in relief last season as part of the Tigers’ “express package,” a nickname that landed with former defensive line coach Earl Lane’s unit as a result of going with four defensive ends on the front.
Both Clement and Edwards took redshirts during their freshman season last year, while Corley saw limited action and is looking to have a breakout spring.
On the inside, presumably Al Woods will join Charles Alexander to form the tandem at defensive tackle. Alexander played in 12 games in 2008, earning eight starts on the year. The Breaux Bridge-standout finished the season with 24 tackles, 1.5 coming for a loss, and one sack.
Cordian Hagans, a redshirt freshman, and Drake Nevis will push Woods and should get plenty of reps this spring as Alexander’s reps will be limited as a precautionary method.
Nevis, who saw two starts as a freshman in 2007, served as one of the Tigers’ rotating inside linemen. With Francois and Favorite out of the picture, Nevis should look to make his biggest splash yet.
Two Burning Questions Heading into the Spring
1) Will the Tiger front four turn around under new defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive coordinator John Chavis?
Last season, defensive line coach Earl Lane and co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto took a brunt of the beatings from media and fans surrounding the unit’s poor performance.
Not long after the team’s bowl game in Atlanta, Lane, Mallory and Peveto had all moved on to other stops.
That departure made way for LSU to bring in a veteran defensive mind in Chavis and a line coach in Haley that brings both SEC and NFL experience.
Chavis comes to LSU with 20 years of experience in the SEC, spending the last 14 years as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee.
Haley, who arrived in Baton Rouge after spending his last two years as the defensive line coach with the Chicago Bears, coached three years at Mississippi State from 2004 to 2006. With experience on eight different collegiate staffs since 1990, the Gadsden-native has the résumé to impress.
Yet, in the cases of both Chavis and Haley, the return path to the top of the conference will be a hard road to navigate.
The group inherits a line that, while deep in talent, has lost nearly all of the household names that have dominated the headlines over the past couple of seasons.
Starting from scratch could be the quickest remedy, and Chavis and Haley will begin their work this Thursday. With a healthy group of Tigers ready to take the field, LSU has just short of six months to get everyone on the defensive front working as one.
2) Who will be this year’s Rahim Alem?
Alem broke out in a big way last year, recording a team high in sacks (8) and seeing 11 of his 27 tackles result in lost yardage. The senior also had seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and blocked a kick.
Despite seeing his time in a reserve role, Alem’s impact was felt in nearly all of the Tigers’ games.
Heading into his first season, Haley will look to tap the reserves once more, hoping to find fresh legs and a dominating presence outside the starting four yet again.
One player to keep an eye on is Nevis.
The junior earned starts at Florida and South Carolina in 2008, also making appearances in nine other games for the Tigers. The Marrero-native recorded 16 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, on the year.
A potentially dominating presence on the inside with a quick first step, Nevis should begin to put the pieces together in his third season of action. After recording a pair of sacks in last spring’s final scrimmage, he entered the season with high expectations, despite Jean-Francois and Favorite working ahead of him on the depth chart.
With just Alexander, who has battled injuries his entire career, returning on the inside, Nevis should look to get worked into the rotation more frequently. If he can impress in the spring once more, the six-foot-one, 294-pounder will have a chance to earn a starting spot when fall camp rolls around.