My, my, what a difference a year makes.
A year ago, the LSU defensive line faced quite a bit of questions. Coming off a rough 2009, the outfit was going through a talent transfusion, with some highly sought-after recruits working their way in around a few choice veterans with something to prove.
But Brick Haley's charges came through quite nicely. Sacks and tackles-for-loss increased, run defense improved and Drake Nevis turned in an all-conference season that gave his draft stock a nice bump. For the first time in a few seasons really, the unit had some quality depth in the face of a few injuries, with several backups having some nice moments.
It's still a young group. The only senior is a junior-college transfer who's only in his second season on campus and 10 contributors will be sophomores or freshmen. The good news is the talent infusion is only going to continue with the 2011 recruiting class.
77 Junior Josh Downs - 6'1, 278: 10 tackles, 2 TFLs (1 sack).
90 Sophomore Michael Brockers - 6'6, 300: 25 tackles, 1 TFL and one forced fumble.
93 Sophomore Bennie Logan - 6'3, 280: 5 tackles, .5 TFLs in three games.
91 Sophomore Chris Davenport - 6'5, 311: 1 tackle in two games.
9 Freshman J.R. Ferguson - 6'3, 286: redshirted in 2010.
56 Freshman Anthony Johnson - 6'3, 294: 129 tackles, 31 TFLs (17.5 sacks) as a senior at O. Perry Walker High School.
From a seniority standpoint, Josh Downs is the first name on the list, but I don't expect an inside track to a starting job. Downs is active as hell, and a lot of fun to watch - it's why he got on the field before any of his classmates in 2009. But he's undersized and has worn down in the second half of the last two years. He's perfect for a third-down role where he can just explode up the field and chase quarterbacks.
Michael Brockers showed a lot of potential as a run-stuffer last season. He's a big, strong run-stuffer that can hold things up at the line of scrimmage. He needs to work on playing with better leverage (a battle he'll probably always fight at his height), and continuing to develop his technique, especially his hands.
The other two sophomores on the list appear to be going in opposite directions. Bennie Logan is sort of like a larger version of Downs. Not very big (a converted end), but athletic and very active. He'd be a great three-technique tackle playing next to a bigger guy like Brockers, and has a great shot at earning a starting job. Classmate Chris Davenport, on the other hand, is kind of facing a make-or-break spring. If he doesn't make a move into the two deep now he could find himself asked to try offensive line next season. Davenport was a 5-star recruit and is a load, but has had issues with weight and effort level and plays very similar to the last 6-5 big-man LSU had on the d-line: Al Woods. That is to say, a problem with popping straight up out of his stance and losing all of his leverage. It's the kind of thing a 300-plus pounder can get away with playing 1-A high school football, but it won't fly in the SEC.
"Ego" Ferguson will supposedly cross-train between tackle and end. The big steal of the 2010 recruiting class is probably closer to the 290-pound range, so he's outgrown his high school position, it seems. But if you watch his highlights you see some high-level athleticism that would make for a dynamic tackle.
Speaking of prized recruits, Anthony "Freak" Johnson is probably the top high-school defensive tackle Louisiana has produced since Glenn Dorsey, and with him joining the team this spring you have to figure he's going to work his way into the two-deep. He's a big, incredibly strong and talented young man (he can even sing) with some incredible exploits both on the field (a state record 67.5 career sacks) and in the weight room - the man has thrown up a 225-pound bench press as many as 28 times. For a point of reference, Drake Nevis threw up 31 reps at the NFL combine. Also, he looks like he's 30 years old.
94 Senior Ken Adams - 6'5, 255: 27 tackles, 2.5 TFLs (1.5 sacks) and one forced fumble.
89 Junior Lavar Edwards - 6'5, 265: 21 tackles, 4 TFLs (2.5 sacks), one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.
99 Sophomore Sam Montgomery - 6'4, 250: 18 tackles, 6 TFLs (2 sacks) in five games.
49 Sophomore Barkevious Mingo - 6'5, 240: 35 tackles, 5.5 TFLs (2.5 sacks), 6 passes defended and one fumble recovery.
SophomoreJunior Chancey Aghayere - 6'4, 270: 21 tackles, 1.5 TFLs.
54 Sophomore Justin Maclin - 6'4, 240: 1 tackle in one game.
98 Freshman Jordan Allen - 6'6, 260: redshirted in 2010.
The d-line's lone senior is a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College and cracked the starting lineup last spring. He didn't do all that much during the season and it was clear that the juco-to-SEC adjustment hit him hard. Adams is a player that needs to find his tempo. At times, he was a little hesitant and suddenly found a runner passing him by, at others he would find himself in the backfield only to miss a tackle. But he did have a tackle in 11 of the 12 games he played in, and if the game slows down for him there's potential.
Lavar Edwards came on down the stretch this season, compiling just about half of his statistics in the final three games of 2010. Of course, he did the same in 2009 as well. The trick is putting that together into an entire season. He's got good size and plays the run well enough to man the strong-side, and he's pretty fast, as we all saw on his interception and fumble returns last November. Can he develop some consistency?
But if there's a potential star of this group, it'd definitely be Sam Montgomery. The former No. 2 defensive end recruit showed off that talent in the first five games, with speed to rush the passer and excellent technique against the run. Montgomery has a chance to be an outstanding end that can play on any down. Just a question of how he comes back from his knee injury. The most recent word was that he'd go through practice but in a green no-contact jersey, so his goals will be to keep working on things like using his hands and strengthening the muscles in his legs.
Barkevious Mingo's playing time only figures to increase, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Our Steampunk Emperor is probably the fastest defensive end I've ever seen at LSU (Dude runs down on kickoffs. And is really good at it.), but that speed needs to be harnessed. Mingo can take off out of the three-point stance and beat just about any offensive tackle to the corner, but at times he was just as likely to completely miss the quarterback - especially the ones who won't be standing there and waiting on him. Adding bulk (as much as he can without compromising the speed that makes him special, of course) and developing his handwork also needs to be a focus. None of this should be a surprise - if you watched Mingo in high school, the first word in the phrase "raw talent" jumped off the page as much as the second one did. That talent will keep him on the field, but how he refines it the next few months will decide how much. (Ed. Note: Speaking of pass-rushing, there's some great supplemental material here from Shakin' the Southland.)
Chancey Agahayere was a 5-star recruit at one time, but an injury his senior year of high school has slowed him up ever since. And while a lot of schools would love to have him as a rotation guy, he's never been able to break through with any sort of consistency here.
Class of 2010 members Jordan Allen and Justin Maclin are depth guys who will be looking to find a niche. Maclin is a converted linebacker who could probably use another year in the weight room before any sort of major role - luckily LSU has the luxury of time to work with him. Allen has the frame to add some size, and I could see him growing into a defensive tackle or maybe even an offensive one.
Conclusions: It's nice to have options. More so once Jermauria Rasco, Mickey Johnson and Quentin Thomas hit campus this summer. Montgomery is the key, and if he rebounds from his injury you can put him down for the right end spot. Adams and Edwards will battle for the left end position with Mingo back as the pass-rushing specialist. Inside, Brockers figures to lock down one spot. If I had to guess on the other, Logan or Ferguson seem like the most likely candidates, with Downs and Freak rotating in.