Fall Camp Preview: DL

TigerSportsDigest.com is taking a look at each position as LSU prepares for the start of fall camp and we move on to the defensive line.

LSU continued its trend for sending defensive linemen to the NFL when Tyson Jackson was selected with the third overall pick in the 2009 draft. The reputation of the Tigers’ defensive line being one of the most feared in the Southeastern Conference, however, took a bit of a hit in 2008.


But was that hit warranted when in fact it performed just as well in terms of stats as LSU’s line did the year before?

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After registering 37.5 sacks – good for second in the SEC – and 67 quarterback hurries in 2007, the Tigers did not have nearly as much success in 2008 with applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Last year LSU finished sixth in the conference with 28 sacks and their 44 hurries ranked third in the league.


The entire defense has to be held accountable for the drop in production so it’s not fair to simply point the finger at only the men in the trenches.


One look at the numbers illustrates just that.


Of LSU’s 28 sacks in the ’08 campaign, defensive linemen accounted for 24.5 of them and 26 of the 44 hurries.


In contrast, the previous year LSU’s front four had only a half a sack more (25) in the national championship season with one more game under their belt. Of the 67 hurries, 46 came from the linemen.


A closer look at the stats from the last two seasons further indicates that LSU’s lack of pressure last season may have had more to do with scheme and the back seven as opposed to the defensive front.


In 2007, LSU’s linebackers were in on 5.5 sacks while the safeties accounted for seven. The linebackers were also credited with 17 hurries compared to four for the safeties.


Under co-defensive coordinators Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory, LSU’s linebackers logged just 2.5 sacks while the safeties notched only one. The safeties did account for 10 hurries to go with two from the cornerbacks, while the linebackers picked up only six in 2008. That is a noticeable drop-off in terms of support that the defensive line received in just one year’s time.


Last season’s 8-5 finish can be rehashed over and over until one turns blue in the face but the bottom line is that LSU did not perform up to its capabilities and that’s across the board.

Chase Clement is one of the young guys LSU will count on in 2009

The good thing is that last year is in the past and with an entire new defensive coaching staff in place, with the exception of defensive ends/special teams coach Joe Robinson, it’s best to just rip that page out of the book and toss it into file 13.


That’s exactly what defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive coordinator John Chavis are doing because what happened prior to their arrival in January means very little.


The makeup of LSU’s defensive line in 2009 will hardly resemble much from last season as five guys from last year’s two-deep have either graduated or moved on to the NFL. That leaves plenty of new faces up front but it’s not as if Chavis and Haley were left with a bare cupboard.


“I think we’re on our way to describing who’s going to be there and there’s still some competition going on but we feel good with several guys,” Chavis said. “We made good progress in spring practice but that’s an ongoing deal and it’s a good thing because you have competition and guys working hard, trying to earn reps on the field.”


Only one starter returns from last year’s front in Charles Alexander who has been a starter since the middle of the 2006 season. The encouraging news is that the Tigers have someone who has been through the battles. On the flip side, though, Alexander has only started 11 games the last two years and did not start in 14 others due to nagging injuries that have plagued him his entire career.


A healthy Alexander, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to medical hardship, will go a long ways towards helping the Tigers restore their defensive dominance that they were known for in Les Miles’ first two and a half years at the helm.


Having Alexander at full strength will make the Tigers stronger up the middle and will also help free up Rahim Alem coming off the edge.


Alem, who played in all 13 games but started only once, was LSU’s best pass rusher last season as he finished third in the SEC with eight sacks and had a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss, to go along with seven hurries which tied Jackson for the team lead. His 29 tackles also ranked third on the team amongst defensive linemen.


Entering fall camp, Pep Levingston has the inside track to play opposite of Alem. The redshirt sophomore is reportedly as healthy as he’s ever been since tearing his ACL in his junior season at Ruston.

Will this be Pep Levingston's breakout year?

The 6-foot-4, 269-pounder, who logged three tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble in the spring game, received the Mike Miley Leadership Award, which was given to four players on the defensive side of the ball who showed outstanding leadership in spring drills.


Levingston will be pushed by three redshirt freshmen – Chase Clement, Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards – along with three true freshmen –  Sam Montgomery, Mike Brockers and Bennie Logan. Odds are a few of those youngsters will see the field in 2009 according to Chavis.


“You have to be two deep and have a third one coming and we’d like to be able to play five defensive ends and we’ll get to that point,” he said. “Same thing with defensive tackles, we’d like to be able to play five or six guys and keep them fresh.”


Just like at defensive end, LSU will need some players to step up inside.


Along with Alexander, the Tigers have Al Woods and Drake Nevis battling for a spot. Woods started three games last year and registered 11 tackles (4 solos and 7 assists), while Nevis started only twice but was more productive with 16 tackles (9 solos and 7 assists) including 5.5 for loss, with one forced fumble and he also recovered one.


After that, though, LSU has sophomore Sidell Corley and redshirt freshman Cordian Hagans, to go with junior college transfer Akiem Hicks and a pair of true freshmen in Chris Davenport and Josh Downs.


Of course, the possibility exists for some of these players to experiment both inside and outside during fall camp in an effort to get the best players on the field together. But it’s no secret that LSU will need some of these young guys to grow up quickly and that is going to be crucial to determining just how good this unit can be.


“We have a bunch of young guys and what’s going to be key is them maturing and understanding what we’re going to do,” Chavis said. “I think we got a good bit of that accomplished in the spring with them understanding the kind of effort you have to play with in the SEC and how physical it is in this conference.


“That’s the biggest adjustment for guys from the high school level because it’s a lot faster and it’s a lot more physical. Our guys are going to have to play and are going to have to be physical.”



Defensive Ends

84 Rahim Alem   6-3, 254, Sr.

95 Pep Levingston   6-4, 269, Jr.

88 Chase Clement   6-5, 255, Fr.

87 Chancey Aghayere   6-4, 269, Fr.

89 Lavar Edwards   6-4, 280, Fr.

99 Sam Montgomery   6-5, 260, Fr.

90 Mike Brockers   6-6, 255, Fr.

93 Bennie Logan   6-3, 272, Fr.


Defensive Tackles

91 Charles Alexander   6-3, 310, Sr.

92 Drake Nevis   6-1, 294, Jr.

97 Al Woods   6-4, 323, Sr.

71 Cordian Hagans   6-4, 285, Fr.

98 Sidell Corley   6-4, 273, So.

94 Akiem Hicks   6-6, 300, Jr.

50 Chris Davenport   6-4, 318, Fr.

77 Josh Downs   6-1, 277, Fr.



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