2008 Football Preview: The Defensive Tackles

The defensive tackles are the foundation to the defense.  Every play starts with the defensive tackles battling the interior linemen on the opposing side.  I think so highly of defensive tackles that I once listed defensive tackles as both the 1st and 4th most important positions on the defense.  I'm not kidding.

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The top two are probably Ricky Jean-Francois and Charles Alexander.  I say "probably" because Charles Alexander's 2007 season was cut short by a knee injury and there is no guarantee he'll be completely healthy for the 2008 season.

 

The loss of Charles Alexander early in the 2007 season was a big blow to the team.  I think it's no coincidence that the defense with Alexander was dominant while the defense without Alexander gave up some pretty gaudy numbers to teams like Kentucky and Arkansas.  

Alexander's a big space-filler who occupies blockers.  Ricky Jean-Francois is a fierce penetrator who makes plays.  Like Dorsey/Alexander, Jean-Francois/Alexander is a pair that perfectly complements one another.  Alexander doesn't get headlines, but he's very important to the play of the defensive units.  Both of these guys will one day be early round draft picks by the NFL.  I could not be more pleased about this group of starters.

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If you're wondering how I justified listing "defensive tackle" as both the 1st and 4th most important positions on the defense, here is what I said back then:

If I have any complaint about how Miles or Pelini or whoever responsible has run the defense these last few years, it is in how they have managed the defensive tackle position. College football games are long. The clock rules call for a lot more stoppages of time than in the NFL, meaning there are more plays per game in college than in the pros. In that environment, I think it is very important to keep your players fresh, and nowhere is that more important than at defensive tackle. These guys run at over 300 pounds, and they play probably the most physically demanding position on the field, often being leaned on and pushed around by two 300-pounders. Unlike a wide receiver, who can come out for a breather and be OK in a play or two, when these guys run out of gas on a Saturday night, they don't come back until Monday or Tuesday. They're just too big . Not only do they get worn out during games, they can wear down over the course of a season. Not to mention there is a particularly heightened risk of injury at this position. For these reasons, I think you absolutely need a rotation of 4 defensive tackle, and you need to carefully regulate how many plays your best tackles play in a game, and get them out in games that have already been decided. The result is, backup defensive tackles should play quite a bit. I think Miles/Pelini haven't played backup defensive tackles enough, and it has worn down our starters, limiting their effectiveness.

Clift Notes:  You need backup defensive tackles, and you need them badly.  Backup defensive tackles are very important.  Above, from left to right, we have what I think is an excellent group of backup defensive tackles in sophomore Drake Nevis, junior Al Woods, and senior Marlon Favorite.

Drake Nevis is probably one of the next great defensive linemen at LSU.  His chance to start will come soon, probably next year.  Al Woods is a big, space-filling monster, but he's probably better suited for a nose tackle in a 3-4 system rather than a 4-3 system.  Marlon Favorite is an experienced veteran who started for Charles Alexander after he got hurt.  He's a good player, and I think he fits better as a backup in a rotation than as a starter, because his endurance is better suited for it.  Playing a backup role, he does not have to save his energy.

When I was watching the NFL draft this past April, one of the commentators said something I found very interesting.  He was talking about a low-round defensive tackle picked by some team.  He said that the defensive tackle had a "questionable motor", but then he qualified it.  He said, and I'll quote as directly as I remember, "Sometimes these guys are asked to play 60 plays a game in college and you question their motors, but if you put them in a rotation and ask them to play 20 plays a game, their motors are just fine."  I think Favorite is like that, and maybe Woods as well.  Ask him to play 60 plays in a game and he is average.  Ask him to play 20 plays in a game and he'll excel.

We have a huge advantage in having 5 defensive tackles who, if healthy, can all play at SEC starter-calibre.  We really should use them.  No one should be playing more than 50 plays in a game, so everyone should be kept fresh not only during the game, but as the season progresses.

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This is redshirt freshman Kentravis Aubrey, who will be fighting to get into the rotation and/or to get some garbage-time minutes while he waits his turn to play more extensively in the future.

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