Last March a lightly recruited, 6'5", 255 lb. Strongside DE named Christian LaCouture (a Texas A&M commit since his Sophomore year) expressed strong interest in LSU. At that point, it was really unclear if LSU reciprocated the interest. Hailing from College Station, Texas, he declared LSU his leader. Two weeks later he named a top three of LSU, Michigan and Nebraska. Three weeks after that he pledged to Nebraska. Two months later he packed up and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska due to a job change with his mother. As an early enrollee, his recruitment seemed all but sewn up. Except... he couldn't shake LSU. He talked of seeing himself playing in the LSU defense. He talked glowingly of Haley, Kragthorpe and Chavis. In the end, it all proved too much to turn down. LaCouture pledged to LSU in mid-November and never looked back. Describing his change of plans he said he made a mistake with his initial commitment. What LSU had to offer was just too good. By January he was on campus, and by March he was practicing with the team. It was a wild journey. Three pledges to three different schools. A move for his family. All for a guy set to be in school in January. Regardless if the recruiting services considered him elite (3 star on Rivals, 4 star on Scout, 4 star on 247), the lengthy offer list says otherwise. LSU, Nebraska, and A&M as mentioned. Throw in Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Texas and you'd think he'd be a consensus 5-star. The rankings matter only as much as they matter. It's basically statistically proven that there is some level of accuracy to them, but there's absolutely zero percent chance for 100% accuracy. Players will be missed and under evaluated. There's too many human pieces in play for us to believe otherwise. I'm not one to argue that every LSU commit is undervalued, but from year to year, I do think a couple of guys slip through the cracks. A couple years ago it was Mo Claiborne. In 2013, that guy could very well be Christian LaCouture*. *To be clear, LaCouture is only modestly "under ranked." Being a consensus 4 star (which 247 composite rankings confirm) is not exactly a "low ranked" recruit.
Embedded above are Junior year highlights. Let's dive into the tape a bit and look at what's to like about LaCouture as well as possibly identify some areas of potential improvement.
On the very first play you'll notice LaCouture is lined up inside in what looks like a 2-tech (nose up with the guard) or more likely 3-tech (outside shoulder of the guard). This is a good picture of LaCouture future at LSU. 3-tech DTs are one-gap players who primarily penetrate and seek to cause havoc. These are typically quicker, more athletic types of guys.
What you can see is that LaCouture uses his superior quickness to defeat the guard. Notice he takes one step upfield to set the guard up and then immediately hits an angle toward the QB. The guard is barely able to get his hands on him and to that LaCouture uses the strength of his arms to swat off the contact and continue pursuit and make the tandem sack. One major advantage to LaCouture having played on the outside is that he developed a set of pass rushing moves you don't commonly see for a DT. He doesn't have the blazing type of speed off the edge that could allow someone like a Barkevious Mingo to simply fly by HS opponents. LaCouture is a good athlete (especially for DT), but he needs technique to win on the outside. Slide that inside and it's advantage LaCouture.
Fast forward to the 1:05 mark now. Firstly, I want to note this is a pretty substandard form of blocking, but what should be noted is LaCouture's quickness. Again he lines up inside. Pause at the 1:10 mark. You'll notice LaCouture is a full step out of his stance while his other DL mates are mostly still upright. Further, the OL are still getting out of their stances and he's shooting a gap... while the QB is just receiving the snap. The RB has nowhere to go and LaCouture gets an easy TFL.
Now check the 1:35 mark. Unlike the first clip, LaCouture doesn't set up the blocker with a step upfield. Here, likely because of the wide splits between C/G, he takes the direct line for the gap to lead to the QB. The G is able to get a bit of a punch on him but he uses a nice swim move to go right over the top of him and keep on pursuing without being knocked much off track. His pressure results in an easy INT.
He's not all quickness, though. The 2:09 mark is a good example of what may make him a special player. Here he's again lined up in the 3-tech. He gets out of his stance well again, but this time the LG is able to engage him better and direct him into the C for a little help. LaCouture keeps his legs driving so as not to be defeated, slowly inching the blocks backward. More impressively he keeps his eyes in the backfield and shows instincts anticipating the QB scramble by spinning out of the blocks and bringing him down right near the LoS. This play flashes it all... the quickness, the strength, the football smarts.
The next play (2:22 mark), he again shows the necessary power to play in the run game. This is a much tighter, bunch formation, clearly going for a power run look. LaCouture explodes into the guard and does a tremendous job engaging him his hands. As an OL you are taught never to let the DL get into your body. This is perfect technique by LaCouture. He gets into the guards chest, drives him back toward the motion of the play and at the perfect time disengages and makes the tackle.
What I see from him is a consistent use of hands (very important in DL play), as well as some natural strength and explosion. This is Texas level competition so not the worst in the world either. But if you are unimpressed with his opponents, let's take a look a LaCouture in a camp setting.
Fast forward to :34 second mark to see LaCouture's first clip. Denver Kirkland is a consensus 4-star OG that is headed to Arkansas. He's a big framed kid but a pretty good athlete for his size. He's considered a top 150 talent.
You'll see LaCouture is lined up a bit wide. That's probably not quite where he'll play in college but does test his overall quickness. A lot of times the temptation in this drill is to go upfield to get around your blocker. Notice how LaCouture immediately attacks his outside shoulder. He's going right at it. No a lot of wasted motion upfield. He engages low and keeps driving before spinning back.
At the 1:27 mark LaCouture is matched up against a lesser player, Skyler Phillips. However, he is lined up in a spot which is more natural to him and more aligned to his future. He's back as the 3-tech. Again he goes to his favorite move with that little baby step upfield to set up the blocker, only to swim over top of him to beat him inside. Here, he clearly has an athletic and skill advantage on the player, but it's a very clear picture of the quality of his move. The very next clip he squares off again and defeats the guy with a solid inside spin move. *
*Note: The next clip is Frank Herron dominating a USC commitment. Tashwan Bower is at the 2:43 mark.
From an improvement stand point, what LaCouture will most need to focus on is firing off low consistently. At 6'5" he's a taller breed of DT and has a tendency to come out of his stance straight up (as many taller DTs do). This is something he can get away with in HS, but in college it will lead to him being easily defeated at the point of attack. The good news is, it's not something you see on every snap. The higher level of coaching he should receive from Brick Haley and John Chavis should help eliminate some of that inconsistency.
At 6'5", 290 lbs (listed height/weight on LSU roster) he's got good natural size but he will continue to need to add strength and bulk to be an every down DT.
One of the things I most like about his game is that he's more "developed" than many DL his age. As mentioned above he actually has an array of pass-rush moves. With each level you progress in football, technique becomes more and more invaluable. The levels of athleticism start to match up and then it simply becomes a game of who can do what better. LaCouture being advanced (along with being an early enrollee) means he has a tremendous shot of seeing the field immediately for LSU.
Defensive tackle is one of the thinnest positions on the current LSU depth chart and I think LaCouture stands a tremendous chances of breaking into the rotation early on. Miles already stated he's seeing a lot of reps. Currently, his main competition comes from sophomores Mickey Johnson and Quentin Thomas, neither of which is proven. The opportunity for playing time exists.
Futher, being an early enrollee gives him a head start on his two more athletically talented classmates Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. LaCouture will need to continue to fight for playing in the 2-deep. The early returns are promising, but let's not forget the spring is a good time for the coaches to give him as much "run" as possible to see what they've got. It's likely they have a better idea of what Thomas and Johnson can/will give.
Yet, I still think LaCouture will play in 2013. As mentioned, DT depth is needed and LaCouture has the frame and athleticism to play right away. The fact that he's more "polished" only helps his cause.
High end: Two or three year starter with a possible All-Conference bid his senior season.
Low end: Solid rotational depth at the DT position.
Realistic: I see LaCouture emerging as a good starter by his senior year, maybe sooner. He's got the necessary tools to be an effective SEC starter, though perhaps never a superstar. However, I'm bullish on his overall future.