On Tuesday, I dove into my impressions on the depth chart from the offensive side of the ball. As I noted then, LSU is in the fortunate position of having most starting positions settled, though the defense offers more question marks about who will fill in where. At some positions a host of bodies await opportunity, though we have little idea who is leading the back (like the CB 2 spot) and other positions have a host of bodies but a lead dog candidate (like Freak Johnson at DT). LSU will also be replacing three of three starters at LB (at least according to the depth chart, though Minter and Tahj Jones had more or less overtaken the MLB and SLB spots by season's end).
The 2011 LSU defense ranks as one of the best in school history. Freakish athlete flew all over the field, making plays, forcing turnovers and all in all wreaking havoc on SEC offenses. Is there any way the 2012 LSU defense could best that effort? It's unlikely... but not out of the question.
Montgomery returns for his third go around, and he is questionably the heart and soul of the LSU defense, if not the entire team. Sam has an infectious energy which makes him a favorite of both fans and teammates alike. Sam has ungodly upside and plays with a rare effort for a defensive linemen. He reminds me a bit of current Eagles defensive end Trent Cole because they are both relentless guys that can both rush the passer and be a productive run defender. That being said, Sam does struggle some at the point of attack. For a DL his base is on the thinner side, so I wonder if he projects better as the coveted 3-4 OLB pass rusher at the next level. That being said, his size and strength are serviceable for LSU and will only improve this year.
Lavar Edwards is a guy who really is somewhat of a "victim" of the switch to Chavis' preferred personnel. In the Pelini defense, where bigger, stronger DEs who play more disciplined, gap-control techniques, Edwards would likely be a starter in this defense. I think he has SEC-starter quality talent. I don't feel like we've ever seen the best out of him, and why I'm not exactly sure. He flashes some athleticism (the pick against Ole Miss in '10 comes to mind) and he's very sound on the edge, but he's never been "dynamic." He's listed at 6'5, 264, which is prototypical NFL size, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't more like 275-280 just by looking at him.
Rasco got a bit of run last year and showed some of the prolific pass rush skills which made him a coveted HS prospect. Still tons of upside here and I suspect he'll see an increased workload in 2012. Hunter is a near lock to RS, but his future is here at RDE.
I express absolutely zero reservation in stating that I think Mingo is the most talented athlete on the team. This kid is rare, really rare. He absolutely flies all over the field, and to think he's only been playing the position for a couple of years... and football not much longer. Everything about him screams upside, upside, upside. I'm remarkably impressed every time I watch this kid play. He gets pushed around in the run game sometimes, but not for lack of effort. Another year of added bulk and continued improvement and Mingo could be staring at a top 10 draft grade in 2013... which is frightening to think that both of our starting DEs from this year are top 10 pick worthy talents by my estimation.
Aghayere played so little last year. In fact, I'm not sure he registered a single appearance. If he did, I don't remember it. He may rank 2nd on the depth chart, but I think Rasco (and maybe Maclin) will see more time than him. He seems like a candidate who may be better suited to move inside, but the depth there doesn't make him a great candidate there either. Aghayere, unfortunately, just never returned to the explosive player he was pre-knee injury in HS.
Maclin is an interesting candidate. HS linebacker converted to DE his freshman year and saw some game time, but he took a RS last year. I think he'll be a heavy part of the rotation in 2012. Allen seems like the type of great HS athlete that will simply never make a splash at LSU. He doesn't seem to have a true position. I'm unsure about his future.
Logan, to me, is the surprise breakout player from the 2011 Tiger Defense. He was one of the most unknown commodities heading into the year and he emerged as a very solid, at times outstanding, DT throughout the year. I'm not sure people know just how good of an athlete this kid is. He played on the outside in HS. No one had tape him, including the LSU coaches, until the end of his senior season. When Rivals got a hold of the tape, they said he was a top 100 talent, unfortunately it was outside the time when they set their final list. I expect him to continue to progress and be one of the standouts in the 2012 season if...
Freak Johnson can emerge. I'm not sure anyone knew how good Michael Brockers really was... until lately. I'm telling you, week after week, you put on the tape, and you'd just see no. 90 week after week. That undoubtedly made life a bit easier on Logan, so can Freak offer the same type of help? Freak has more natural burst than Brockers, and at times he looked unblockable. Look for him to make that leap into national recognition much like Dorsey did his sophomore season.
Ego is a formerly highly ranked DT that just hasn't put it all together yet. Never fear, he's only a SO. Seeing him last year, the athleticism is obvious, though his technique is still lacking. I expect him to be heavily involved in the rotation this year. Josh Downs is a high effort, one-gap DT that's battled injuries his whole career. Solid depth, but not an SEC starter.
Johnson and Thomas are the wildcards. Johnson is probably one of the strongest players on the team already (HS State Weight Lifting champion), and Thomas has the NFL bloodlines and athleticism to make him intriguing, though I've seen virtually nothing of him. I'm not sure how heavily they'll be featured in the rotation, but I do think they'll see snaps.
I'm sticking to my opinion that I think Jerald Hawkins projects best to the DT spot as a tall, athletic guy like Brockers. He's listed at OL on the roster, but we'll see if that sticks.
Barrow is a guy that looked ready to breakout against UNC in 2010 and then he just sorta disappeared. Honestly, we've hardly seen him after that. He plays undisciplined and wild, but flies around the field and delivers big hits. Can he reign that in and turn himself into a force... that is one big question heading into the Spring.
Muncie could be the back-up WLB and MLB, or nothing at all. He seemed like a candidate to move up the depth chart his freshman season, but after the crushing concussion, he hasn't really stood out. He's a guy that showed some upside on tape in HS, so should be interesting to see what happens.
Feist is the wild card. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if game one, he was your WLB starter. Why? He's gifted athletically. He's got the size. He's already on campus. Reports say he struggled with the transition to LB at the UA All-American game (he played with his hand in the dirt in HS), but in the game he ran downfield with speedy Texas RB Jonathan Gray... stride for stride. So he's got some athleticism to him. Chief has a history coaching guys like this into studs. I think Feist will emerge as a big-time player in short order. He could be a candidate for MLB as well.
Kwon has as much physical upside as anyone in this class. I love his tape. Is he healthy? If yes, he plays this year. If no, he redshirts. I think it's really that simple.
Not a lot of established depth here. Minter is your classic, downhill, tackle-machine LB that lacks the sideline-to-sideline speed. Minter will always be a 2-down LB in my eyes, and he's best suited against more classic offenses as opposed to spread attacks. He's a solid defender, but I imagine he'll share duties with one of the freshmen.
Welter is a career ST type of player in my eyes. I penciled him in as the backup only because it's really not clear where any of the freshmen will wind up. Jones is a kid I love... but he's a bit light at this point. We'll see if he's ready to play come summertime.
Tahj Jones, JR.
Josh Jones, JR.
Lamar Louis, FR.
Lorenzo Phillips, FR.
Jones is the clear starter here. He was basically the stater over the back-half of last year. He weighs about 97 pounds soaking wet. Kidding, of course. He's still very light, but he has great speed and plays with great effort. He flashed some in 2011, but I have no strong opinions of his play.
Johns is a special teamer and the backup here will likely also be a FR. Louis is already on campus, and he's an athletic freak. But is he a workout warrior? Or can he play ball? We're gonna find out. Phillips is likely head for a RS unless he makes a heavy impression after arriving in the summer.
LB is the spot with the most uncertainty. It wouldn't surprise me if the three returners all took the starting jobs, and it wouldn't surprise me if the freshmen up and comers stole them from them. Chavis shows little deference to class rank in his decision-making processes. He'll play the 11 he thinks are best. And frankly, that may be 2 or 3 freshmen in the LB core.
Simon is so good. The riches continue for us at CB. He's got 1st round NFL ability... we've heard that before right? It's crazy the type of run we've been on lately. Simon's length is unreal, but what's truly impressive is the amount of fluidity he exhibits for a giant corner. Most guys 6'3+ tend to struggle playing CB, but Simon seems to effortlessly glide around the field. There's a link out there somewhere breaking down that Simon had the lowest balls completed against percentage on the team. That's pretty impressive... when you are playing against a future top 10 pick.
Jenkins is a guy some think may be the starter at RCB (and he very well could be), but I'll pencil him in as a primary backup now. Rated by Rivals as the best cover man in the country last year, Jenkins took a RS in 2011 and should be ready to go this season. He'll be heavily in the mix.
Raymond is such a good athlete, he was getting offers sight unseen. He's still raw so I think he could be a prime RS candidate.
Jalen Collins, RS FR.
Dwayne Thomas, FR.
Jalen Mills, FR.
This is one that may shock a lot of people. Admittedly, I'm basing it on one (probably flimsy) piece of evidence. Leading up to the title game, Bruce Feldman tweeted that teammates say Collins is our "most athletic guy." Further, he says they think he'll be special. When a national reporter of Feldman's status makes note of something, it makes your ears perk up. Not a lot was known about Collins coming out of HS other than he was a tremendous athlete. Could Cooper have struck gold AGAIN? I think so.
Thomas is already on campus and working with the team. I think he stands a great chance of locking up a back-up spot and getting into the rotation in 2012. He's pretty willing in run support, so I think that aids his case. Mills is another freshman coming in, but I think he could be a prime RS candidate, depending on how things sort out.
Reid took his play up a level in 2011, so I imagine he'll take that leap into elite territory in 2012. He's big, physical, and can both run and cover. Really, the total package at the position, and this year he will likely be asked to fill the Brandon Taylor role of calling the back end of the defense.
Gibson is a guy who turned some heads at camp last year, but he didn't really make an impact during the season. He's got some athletic upside and should get in the mix some this year to give Reid a blow. Vinson seems buried, but there is still time. His tape lead me to believe he could be an SEC contributor down the line. Sandolph is headed for a RS.
Is this the year Poppa Loston puts it all together? Outside of a few knockout blows here and there, he's failed to make a lasting impression as a Tiger thus far. Luckily, there's time. Some players emerge later than others. I'm hoping this is the year he becomes that menacing safety we always thought he could be. But if he doesn't...
Ronald Martin already played some in his stead last year. Kid has a lot of athletic ability, and if he's good enough to get on the field as a true frosh, he can play. Don't be surprised if Corey Thompson gets into the mix at one of the spots either. He can really play. Duplessis is a lifer on ST but a good one at that.
Did you think I had forgotten him? How could I? Mathieu is the tour de force defensive playmaker that seems to be followed by spectacular things. How can he possibly top last year? I guess we're gonna find out.
Eugene is a bit of a tweener. A bit too slow for CB, a bit too small for S. But he's an aggressive playmaker that I think could best be suited for the nickel.
Tyrann Mathieu, JR.
Russell Shepard, SR.
I really don't know here. I suspect Paul Turner gets an early shot. Shep should hold down one spot, but who goes across from him? Do you want Mathieu there as well? Or is that a good chance to give him a blow? Beckham Jr. should have a shot as well.
Josh Alleman, SR.
Continues the trend of solid LSU kickers, back for his senior campaign.
Brad Wing, SO.
Aussie, aussie, aussie!