LSU Spring Football 2013: Defense -- Who the Hell are These Guys?

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

2010: Patrick Peterson & Kelvin Sheppard 2011: Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Barkevious Mingo & Sam Montgomery 2012: Tyrann Mathieu, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery & Eric Reid 2013: ??????

For the better part of this golden era of LSU football, we've associated the defenses with individual stars, and in each of the last three springs, John Chavis' side of the football has had some of those types established, whether they were All-SEC or All-American. For the first time in a while, the Tigers enter spring drills looking for those players to emerge.

Sure, there are some well-known star recruits like Anthony Johnson and Craig Loston, and guys like Jalen Mills and Lamin Barrow that were incredibly productive in 2012. But the star power just isn't there.

Yet.

There's certainly some things to like. Young talent that could be ready to emerge at defensive end. A secondary that, despite its relative youth, has seen a lot of football. And the deepest, most talented group of linebackers LSU has had in recent memory.

But there's still question marks. The defensive tackle group only has two members with appreciable playing time -- not the ideal for one of the SEC's premium positions. Aside from Craig Loston, the safeties, while talented, haven't shown they're quite ready for prime time yet. It's just more question marks than we, as fans, are used to seeing from this side of the ball.

College football fans are especially fond of the cliché "we don't rebuild, we reload." I hate it. Everybody rebuilds. It's a very relative term. Sometimes it's subtle, and in areas that opponents might not be able to exploit. For this defense, how they come together, particularly in the first half of the season with big games like TCU and Georgia away from Baton Rouge, will be what decides whether 2013 is a great year, or merely another very good one.

We start with a best guess at a depth chart.

Position

Player

Ht./Wt.

LE

59 Jermauria Rasco (Jr)
98 Jordan Allen (Jr)

6-3, 255
6-6, 253

LT

90 Anthony Johnson (Jr)
95 Quentin Thomas (So)
91 Christian LaCouture (Fr)

6-3, 304
6-3, 294
6-5, 290

RT

9 Ego Ferguson (Jr)
96 Mickey Johnson (So)
91 A'Trey-U Jones (Sr)

6-3, 308
6-0, 306
6-0, 282

RE

94 Danielle Hunter (So)
54 Justin Maclin (Jr)

6-5, 235
6-4, 237

Sam

58 Tahj Jones (Sr) - or -
25 Kwon Alexander (So)
35 Lorenzo Phillips (RS-Fr)

6-2, 205
6-2, 215
6-2, 215

Mike

57 Lamin Barrow (Sr) - or -
25 Kwon Alexander (So)
31 D.J. Welter (Jr)
22 Ronnie Feist (So)

6-2, 232
6-2, 215
6-0, 226
6-2, 230

Will

45 Deion Jones (So) - or -
57 Lamin Barrow
23 Lamar Louis (So)

6-2, 202
6-2, 232
6-0, 220

LCB

28 Jalen Mills (So)
13 Dwayne Thomas (RS-Fr)

6-0, 185
6-0, 175

SS

6 Craig Loston (Sr)
34 Micah Eugene (So) - or -
12 Corey Thompson (So)

6-2, 205
5-11, 190
6-2, 210

FS

26 Ronald Martin (Jr)
12 Corey Thompson (So) - or -
39 Jerquinick Sandolph (So)

6-1, 202
6-2, 210
6-2, 190

RCB

32 Jalen Collins (So)
19 Derrick Raymond (RS-Fr)
36 Kavahra Holmes (RS-Fr)

6-2, 195
6-1, 175
6-2, 180

Nickel

32 Jalen Collins (So)

6-2, 195

Up front, LSU will have just five scholarship defensive tackles going through these drills, and only two of those saw any significant action last season: J.R. "Ego" Ferguson and Anthony "the Freak" Johnson. Granted, that's a pretty damn talented twosome; the fact that a 30 tackle, 10 tackle-for-loss season was seen as a disappointment for Johnson is a testament to his talent level. Behind them, you have Quentin Thomas, Mickey Johnson and newcomer Christian LaCouture. Thomas has always drawn rave reviews from program insiders, but has yet to show much of anything on the field. There's also senior walk-on A'Trey-U Jones. I shouldn't really need any reason to bring him up though, should I?

Outside, Jermauria Rasco will almost certainly man one of the defensive end spots after seeing a good amount of rotation snaps the last two years. Sophomore Danielle Hunter has the inside track on the other side, and could be poised for big things. Behind them are veterans Jordan Allen and Justin Maclin, neither of whom have seen much action due to various injuries. This defensive line will almost certainly give the rest of the class of 2013 ample chances to see the field once they arrive this summer.

Linebacker will be the site of some very interesting competition and shuffling. Lamin Barrow returns after, quietly, producing at a very high level in 2012 next to Kevin Minter. The question is, does he slide over to Minter's "Mike," or middle position, or stay at the "Will" or weakside spot. Senior Tahj Jones and uber-talented sophomores Kwon Alexander and Deion "Debo" Jones will vie for the other two starting spots. In a radio interview a few weeks back, Chavis stressed that he'd look for the best three linebackers, and sort the positions out later, and Miles more or less re-iterated that stance in yesterday's press conference. Behind these four there's veteran stalwart D.J. Welter and the rest of the loaded 2012 linebacker class, Ronnie Feist, Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips.

Behind them, there's a nice blend of youth and experience. The starting corners are the sophomore Jalens, Mills and Collins. They took their lumps in 2012, especially as the temperature dropped, but Mills was still a worthy freshman All-American. Behind them, Loston has one safety spot locked down following his best year in purple and gold. Could he be ready to meet that 5-star promise? Ronald Martin tops the depth chart at the other safety spot, but he'll likely compete with sophomores Corey Thompson, Jerquinick Sandolph and Micah Eugene. Additional depth will come from redshirt freshmen Dwayne Thomas, Derrick Raymond and Kavahra Holmes.

Not that anybody is going to feel bad for LSU, and nor should they. The Chief's track record is established, and with the players on hand, the defense is never going to fall off any sort of cliff. But there will likely be an adjustment period, and the offense may have to pick up the slack for the first half of next season's schedule. Makes for a very interesting next five weeks.

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