Okay, so same question as last week, but over on the defensive side of the ball. Thoughts on the depth chart, and where the position battles will be?
Defense is a huge discussion point, because to me, there's battles at all three levels. On the defensive line, you have three guys you could really consider proven. Eight-to-ten is your ideal rotation number, so who fills it out? Danielle Hunter, Jordan Allen, Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas at least have seen the practice field. And then there's the rest of the loaded freshman class: Greg Gilmore, Frank Herron, TaShawn Bower, Lewis Neal and M.J. Patterson. Some of them are going to have to step up, so which ones will?
Linebacker, to me, is as strong as its been in years, and will be what sets the pace for this defense. I think you're going to see a similar situation to 2009, when four guys all rotated in and did really well (Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard, Jacob Cutrera and Harry Coleman). Lamin Barrow is automatic, but after that, you have Kwon Alexander, Tahj Jones, Debo Jones, D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis. I can envision multiple lineups with all of those guys, and there's still Kendall Beckwith, who certainly has the talent to contribute as well. Also, call me crazy, but it would not surprise me at all if Duke Riley finds a way to be accounted for this season.
Your starting corners are set with the Jalens, and Tre'Davious White will almost certainly contribute in some ways. But the competition for the other safety spot next to Craig Loston is incredibly interesting as well. Ronald Martin has the experience, but he seemed to struggle with the mental side of the game. Corey Thompson and Jerquinick Sandolph looked every bit the part this spring. They're going to be really hard to keep off the field.
This is probably the most "unsettled" we've been defensively in a few years.
We have one safety (Loston), one DT (Freak), two lbs (Barrow and Jones) and one corner (Mills) set. The rest of the spots are kinda up for grabs. Of course, Jalen Collins, Kwon Alexander, Jermauria Rasco and Ego Ferguson all have a good amount of playing time, so that should help ease the burden. So what about the rest?
DE: Hunter and Rasco should emerge as the starters here. But what about the depth after that? Frank Herron is a true freshman with amazing promise. Should be hard to keep him off the field. Jordan Allen is a guy that's been around but never done anything to distinguish himself, nor seen any significant snaps. Justin Maclin is another guy that's been kicking around and hasn't played since his freshman year. Ronnie Feist is listed as a DE, so he could see some snaps. That's probably your pool for the rotation... But there are three other freshmen that could make a case.
I think M.J. (Michael) Patterson is too small to be counted on right now. He'll need a year. Lewis Neal is intriguing. He doesn't have your prototypical build, but the guy is a natural pass rusher. That could earn him snaps in some sets (Mustang, maybe?). Tashawn Bower is an unknown positional, but he's got a DE body. Coaches are probably waiting to decide what to do with him (bulk him all the way up to DT or keep him outside).
DT: Freak and Ego will be your starters. If football games were based on recruiting hype, we'd have the best damned DTs in all of college football. Unfortunately, neither has really lived up to the hype (Ego less so than Freak). This will be Freak's breakout year. He's a team leader... it's his time. Ego has struggled with playing too high, but you still see flashes of his athleticism. Let's hope he reigns it all in this year. After that it's a bunch of youth and inexperience. Quentin Thomas and Mickey Johnson haven't really played. Gilmore, Bain, LaCouture are all talented but freshmen. I'm still a huge LaCouture fan and think he could wind up getting a lot of snaps.
LB: Pretty set with your core three (Barrow, Jones, Alexander) and some good depth and experience behind them. Debo Jones, Lamar Louis and even D.J. Welter have seen lots of snaps. Lorenzo Phillips is a young guy that's been around, so he'll have a chance to make his mark. Ditto for Trey Granier. Then you bring in Duke Riley, Melvin Jones and Kendall Beckwith and you just marvel at the transformation of our LB core under Chavis. Kendall Beckwith is probably the most talented LB on our roster, so I won't be surprised if he's on the field.
CB: The Jalen's man the starting roles, but after that it should be a battle for depth and playing time. Chavis loves his DB rotations, so a lot of these guys could see significant time. Dwayne Thomas has a good shot to see some time. Freshman Tre White should be an instant impact player. Then you still have Kavahra Holmes and Derrick Raymond, as well as Rashard Robinson and Rickey Jefferson. A lot of names.
S: Poppa Loston finally lived up to his 5-star billing last year. He's got a shot at being an All-American. Playing his other part, could be Ronald Martin or Corey Thompson. I think both will see a lot of time. Micah Eugene saw a lot of snaps in a nickel type role last year, so expect to see him on the field. Jerqwinick Sandolph is another name that could definitely be in play here.
Once again, taking it by unit, though I agree it gets pretty fuzzy because LSU uses such a deep rotation of guys. The depth chart doesn't mean as much on defense due to our propensity to rotate guys and use so many different player packages.
DE: Hunter, Herron
DE: Rasco, Maclin
DT: Freak, Gilmore, LaCouture, Bain
DT: Ego, Gilmore, LaCouture, Bain
I'm going to slightly part with Paul on the idea Freak hasn't lived up to hype. He was quietly our best defensive tackle last season, and was just about as productive as Mingo last season despite not playing as many snaps and not getting to rush off the edge. Freak's not going to emerge as a star, people are finally going to notice he already is one. Ego gets the other starting gig, but he's got to hold off a passel of freshmen studs. It's a good time to be a freshman defensive tackle at LSU, because you will see the field and you will get every chance to make an impact right away.
I'm pretty comfortable with Hunter and Rasco on the edge. Hunter has shown signs of being a star, but he does need to step up and out of the long shadow cast by Sonic Sam. Maclin will be a virtual starter, as he should get lots of playing time. I think Herron will pass Allen on the depth chart, but he will be a depth guy, not a big impact player this season.
OLB: Deion Jones, Tahj Jones
MLB: Barrow, Welter, Kwon
OLB: Kwon, Louis
Jesus. That's not even taking into account Beckwith and the other freshmen. But where do they play? Beckwith will see the field somehow because I agree with Paul, he's an exceptional athlete. You can't keep guys like that off the field, especially because there's no way he stays four years barring injury. Don't waste a year on a redshirt. The two Jones will man one slot, and I think eventually Debo will overtake Tahj. Lamin Barrow is destined to be the underrated senior cog in the middle of the defense. People will openly complain that he's starting at MLB over Kwon Alexander, and they will be wrong. That shifts Kwon to the outside to start over Lamar Louis. We're a year away from starting Debo-Kwon-Beckwith, which might be our most talented alignment right now, but I don't want to take the seniors off the field.If we learned anything last year, it is the value of senior leadership on defense.* Keeping Barrow on the field, which I think is a necessity, creates a chain reaction that shifts Alexander out of the middle and puts Beckwith on the bench. For now. This is one of those "good problems". This is the best linebacker corps LSU has ever had in my lifetime. There's just an embarrassing glut of talent.
*Obligatory Brandon Taylor reference.
CB: Jalen, Tre'Davious
CB: Jalen, Holmes
FS: Martin, Thompson
SS: Loston, Eugene
The Two Jalens, Collins and Mills, took their share of lumps last year, but overall played quite well as first year underclassmen starters. That gamble pays off this year, as Chavis now has two young, talented, and experienced corners. Oh, and he can back them up with All-World recruit, Tre'Davious White. After that, there's a bit of a murky question mark, so no one get hurt. It's a little thin, but the starting unit is outstanding.
Loston is finally The Guy, and this is his defense. The other big name juniors left for the League in the offseason, but I feel a lot of them had moved on mentally long before the games ended. Loston surpassed Reid last year as our best player in the secondary, and I think he saw first hand the importance of a field general. This is his chance to step up and write his legend. the other safeties are all question marks. I rather like Micah Eugene and have more confidence in him, but I think Martin gets first crack at a starting gig. Actually, I think Eugene is the Loston of two years ago, a heralded recruit who is finally finding his way a little later than he probably thought he would.
This also raises the question on how Chavis might adjust to the changing talent landscape here. LSU never used much nickel until they had a special talent like Mathieu in that position. Might things shift a bit towards favoring this linebacker talent? The last few years Chief's also relied on blitzing corners and safeties as well, that's another thing that could change. Alexander and Debo Jones flashed some talent in that area last year.
And with Loston more of a natural center-fielder type safety, I suspect you might see a little more man-to-man coverage out of this year's group, as opposed to a lot of cover-three last year. Cover-one with Loston roaming.
While Dan and Poseur covered most of the basics on the depth chart, I certainly want to throw in my $.02.
I think we're going to see Jordan Allen hold down the DE spot opposite Rasco. Of course, we'll see a ton of rotation and Hunter will play an awful lot. But Allen strikes me as a guy that will be incredibly solid, will hold up against the run, and he has always looked pretty quick to me....quicker than you'd expect for someone his size. He could end up with some decent sack and TFL numbers based on high effort and cleaning up plays that are washed his way. But is that really all that different from how Montgomery accumulated his stats last year?
I'm really excited to see how the Chief utilizes some of these pass rushers. In 2011 and 2012, our starting DEs were also the best pass rushers. But in 2010, the Mustang saw almost an entirely different package along the DL when non starters like Mingo, etc came in. We could see more of that this year with Hunter and Lewis Neal possibly coming in to get after the QB.
I'm just going to assume that the DJ Welter as middle linebacker experiment is over and that we're going to see Kwon Alexander out there somewhere. I'd love to see him in the middle. He'd make a ton of plays.
Billy makes a great point about Chavis only using nickel when he had Mathieu at his disposal. We saw LSU's defense stick with three linebackers an awful lot last year, and the results were mixed...at best. Having Tahj Jones back, along with athletic freaks like Kwon and Debo will help in this regard. Or...
Mark me down as one that says Tre'Davious White will be an instant impact guy. I think he's LSU's nickel back right away, and I think he'll be so good that Chavis won't hesitate to go to nickel packages. Before long, I suspect he'll also start at cornerback and then slide down to nickel when appropriate.
Lastly, I'm hopeful that Corey Thompson makes his mark this year and gets the nod at the other safety spot. I loved him out of high school and think his potential is through the roof. After a freshman season on special teams and in a backup role, he could be one to really step up.
I think that gives us a good segway into question No. 2:
Which newcomers and new starters will you be watching for in August?
White, and Rashard Robinson are two very obvious candidates, and my guess is that if they can crack the top three at corner, you'll see Jalen Mills slide inside in nickel situations, a lot like he did last year, while White or Robinson plays outside with Jalen Collins. Both guys are mortal locks for lots of work on special teams. White could also get into the act on returns, should Odell Beckham Jr. need a blow.
Up front, he didn't seem to quite get the same pub as Gilmore or Herron, but I have a funny feeling about TaShawn Bower. Watching his tape, the thing that stood out to me was that the game seemed slow to him. He read plays well and reacted really quickly, and that makes me think that he'll adjust to the speed of the game well in college. If he can handle the physicality, of course. I love Paul's point about Lewis Neal as well. The guy was ridiculously productive in high school, and for a defensive end that also tells me he probably has a good mind for the game as well.
And then there's Beckwith. Is he a defensive end? He's definitely the kind of explosive athlete you could use there, but seems a bit small for it right away. I think he has the athleticism to play in space as a linebacker, it's just a question of how he fits in with the rest of this defense. Chief really has to be excited about what he's working this camp at his trademark position.
I think Tre White will be special. He's got all the tools and he's a focused kid. Won't surprise me at all if he makes a huge impact on D and special teams this year.
I still think Frank Herron is the guy that can make the most impact on the DL as a true freshman. He's already got the body, and having known some people who got the chance to know him, he's likely on a 3-year plan. I think Herron will be focused and motivated from day one to be instant impact. He's a freaky athlete that has dominated every level of competition put before him. Those are the two I think have the best opportunity in terms of depth vs. talent.
That said, as I mentioned before, I think Beckwith might be a talent you can't keep off the field. He can just do so much. He may be too small to be a DE at this point, but he's no smaller than Mingo was, so why not give him snaps? Why not make him a blitzer off the edge? Why not get him on the field in any way you possibly can?
Tre'Davious White is the obvious answer. Not only is he already earning raves, he has a position opening waiting for him. We're thin at cornerback, chances are pretty high we'll put three corners on the field at some point in a game, and that third corner will be White. It's the perfect conflagration of talent and opportunity. He will get a chance to shine right out of the gates, and it's at a position at which players usually can make the easiest transition from high school. I'm not saying there is no adjustment, but it's easier for a young corner to make an impact than a young lineman or quarterback.
The other guy is Beckwith, who has the talent, but not the opportunity. The more Paul talks about it, the more I love the idea of making him an edge rusher on the line in the mold of Mingo. that seems like a waste of a linebacker, but this team has a glut of talented linebackers, but it lacks a "wow" guy on the edge, though there is some talent at defensive end. It will take more creativity to get Beckwith on the field, and it might require a bit of a learning curve, but he is the guy whose recruiting tapes make you think that they might be fake. He looks like an amazing player, and amazing players get to the field however they can.
Agree on White, times a thousand. And agree on an edge rusher for certain situations, though I'm putting my money on that guy being Lewis Neal right now. To start, I think Beckwith will be taking reps at linebacker and learning two positions/roles may be a bit much for him to start.
I'd also watch the three defensive tackles because the opportunity is certainly there for those guys to see the field a lot. Christian Lacouture got a head start on the others since he was here in the spring, and he performed really well. Greg Gilmore got most of the pub as the highest rated guy by the recruiting services. But I'll go with Maquedius Bain as the guy who emerges out of those three by the end of the season. He's got all of the tools and while he may be a bit raw, he may be the most likely to go into games and make plays.
As far as Bower vs. Herron, my impression is that Herron is more talented and has a little more size right now. Bower doesn't show the same explosion off the line, but he seems more solid and technically sound at this point. I think we'll see a little more of Bower early on, but Herron may be a regular on the field by the end of the season.