(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
It’s the college football off-season, but unlike Johnny Manziel, the staff here at Crystal Ball Run hasn’t spent the last few months gallivanting around Mexico or hanging out with LeBron James (mainly because, well, our lives aren’t nearly as awesome as Johnny Manziel’s), but instead, 100 percent, totally focused on football.
This week is no exception, as we’ve started a new series, on some of the best position battles this spring titled “Filling the Void.” And understand that in the grand context of college football, these aren’t just the position battles which will help solidify things over the next few months, but also ones which ultimately could help determine the 2014 BCS National Champion next January.
On Tuesday we looked at USC’s quarterback battle, on Wednesday we did the same at Penn State, and today it’s to shift down South and into the trenches, where we examine the age old question of this: How the heck does Les Miles plan to replace all that talent along the defensive line?
Since the day Nick Saban arrived on the Bayou almost 15 years ago, it seems as though we’ve grown accustomed to three certainties in life: Death, taxes and some really naaaaasty defensive line play at LSU. From Marcus Spears to Ricky Jean-Francois to Glenn Dorsey straight through Michael Brockers, it’s almost unfair how much trench talent has come through this program over the past decade and change.
And the 2012 Tigers were certainly no exception. Although Brockers left a year ahead of schedule following last season, LSU was still stocked top to bottom with a handful of guys who could’ve quite literally played for anyone in the country. Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan formed the heart and soul of a squad that finished No. 8 nationally in total defense (307 yards overall) and also allowed the ninth fewest rushing yards in the country (101 per game) during 2012.
Unfortunately as we transition into the spring of 2013, the seemingly endless well of defensive line talent has apparently been tapped at LSU. To the surprise of few, all three of the players mentioned above declared for the NFL Draft this spring, and all three are expected to go in the first three rounds of the draft. To make matters worse, seniors Lavar Edwards and Josh Downs exhausted their eligibility and are off to the pros also.
That leaves a very inexperience group at LSU battling for playing time this spring. Anthony Johnson is the only regular starter returning, with only two other players back who’ve seen any sort of serious playing time as well.
Safe to say that with so few able (or should we say ‘capable’) bodies on the defensive line, these are certainly strange times down on the Bayou.
Bennie Logan (2012 stats): 45 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, two sacks
Barkevious Mingo (2012 stats): 38 tackles, 8.5 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks
Sam Montgomery (2012 stats): 37 tackles, 13 TFL’s, eight sacks
Lavar Edwards (2012 stats): 26 tackles, seven TFL’s, 4.5 sacks
Josh Downs (2012 stats): 19 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, 3.5 sacks
Who’s filling the Void?
Anthony Johnson, junior (2012 stats): 30 tackles, 10 TFL’s, three sacks
Ego Ferguson, redshirt junior (2012 stats): 14 tackles, one TFL
Danielle Hunter, sophomore (2012 stats): 12 tackles
Jermauria Rasco, sophomore (2012 stats) 10 tackles, two TFL’s
Justin Maclin, senior (2012 stats): N/A (played in two games and recorded no stats before suffering a season-ending injury)
Jordan Allen, senior (2012 stats): N/A (played in one game and recorded zero stats before suffering a season-ending injury)
Christian LaCouture, early enrollee freshman (2012 stats): N/A
What’s happened this spring?
Johnson returned at defensive tackle as the only established starter, but the good news for LSU is that the puzzle pieces seem to be coming together around him.
For one, Rasco has proven to be nothing short of a straight beast this spring and has firmly established himself as a starter at one defensive end spot. In LSU’s most recent scrimmage, Rasco finished with three sacks, and did it going against the first team offense. Reports also indicate that in a bit of surprising news, Allen has outplayed Hunter so far this spring and has taken over at the other defensive end spot.
However, the real story out of Baton Rouge may be that early enrollee freshman Christian LaCouture has stepped in, stepped up his game, and has looked more like a seasoned veteran so far than a guy just a couple weeks removed from high school.
Understand that LaCourture was considered to be the least prepared, and most likely to redshirt amongst LSU’s 2013 defensive line signees. However, if he continues to play the way he has, LaCourture might force the coaching staff’s hand, and force himself into the line-up by the fall.
What to expect heading in to the summer and fall?
Unlike a lot of position battles (like say at quarterback, MIKE linebacker or even kicker or punter), LSU plays so many defensive linemen over the course of a game, that regardless of if the coaching staff technically names “starters” or not is irrelevant. What’s more important (particularly as it pertains to this spring) is for some of the younger and inexperienced guys to simply get reps, and for depth to be built overall. That depth will on be fortified this summer, when a talented group of defensive line recruits- including highly-touted, five star recruit Frank Herron- arrive to help out the returning veterans.
What might be most important to remember is this: When it comes to LSU and the defensive line, hasn’t history told us not to worry? Haven’t we learned that while the names may change up front, ultimately the production doesn’t? Haven’t we been concerned about attrition before, and haven’t Les Miles and his staff always had the next crop of guys ready to go?
Remember, there are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and some naaaaasty defensive linemen at LSU.
And even though a lot of guys have left LSU since last winter, we don’t expect that to change.
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