LSU 2013 Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Defensive Line

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The backbone of LSU’s success in the new millennium will have a new look in 2013.

I talked about defensive back as LSU's glamour position, and I meant it. You can't deny that, especially with that list of names.

But if there's one area of the field that has been the single biggest factor in LSU's success this century, there is absolutely no doubt it is the defensive line. Let's list the names:

Anthony "Booger" MacFarland
Chad Lavalais
Marquise Hill
Marcus Spears
Kyle Williams
Claude Wroten
Glenn Dorsey
Tyson Jackson
Drake Nevis
Michael Brockers
Sam Montgomery
Barkevious Mingo

Every single one of them earned either all-conference or All-American honors during their time at LSU. Six of them went on to become first-round draft picks and seven are still playing NFL football (along with others that didn't make this list).

But for the first time in years, there's going to be a lot of new names on the top of LSU's marquee.

Defensive Tackle

9 J.R. "Ego" Ferguson (Jr.)

6-3, 309

14 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss.

47 Maquedius Bain (Fr.)

6-4, 308

Four-star recruit.

90 Anthony Johnson (Jr.)*

6-3, 304

30 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss, including 3 sacks and 1 pass break-up.

91 Christian LaCouture (Fr.)

6-5, 298

98 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss at Lincoln Southwest High School in Lincoln, Neb.

95 Quentin Thomas (So.)

6-3, 290

1 tackle in 3 game apperances.

96 Mickey Johnson (So.)

6-0, 307

1 tackle in 1 game appearance.

99 Greg Gilmore (Fr.)

6-4, 311

90 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and 2 sacks at South View High School in North Carolina

Defensive End

22 Ronnie Feist (So.)

6-2. 230

3 tackles in 5 game appearances.

46 Tashawn Bower (Fr.)

6-5, 243

95 tackles, 16 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks, 7 pass break-ups and 3 forced fumbles at Immaculata High School in New Jersey.

54 Justin Maclin (Jr.)

6-4, 237

Saw time in just 2 games due to injury.

59 Jermauria Rasco (Jr.)

6-3, 255

10 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss and 1 forced fumble.

92 Lewis Neal

6-1, 238

68 tackles, 8 sacks at James B. Bunt High School in North Carolina.

93 M.J. Patterson (Fr.)

6-3, 215

69 tackles, 9 sacks and 2 forced fumbles at Winnfield High School (La.).

94 Danielle Hunter (So.)

6-5, 241

12 tackles on special teams.

97 Frank Herron (Fr.)

6-5, 275

26 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble at Memphis Central High School in Tennessee.

98 Jordan Allen (Jr.)

6-6, 254

Missed season with knee injury.

Of course, there is one big name returning. Defensive tackle Anthony "Freak" Johnson. He's been spotted on a few preseason All-American teams, and if there's a breakout star here he's definitely the most likely candidate. Johnson is the classic LSU defensive tackle. Short, strong and explosive. A quick backfield penetrator that disrupts the run and pass and racks up the big stats like tackles-for-loss and sacks. Freak arrived to LSU amidst tremendous recruiting fanfare, and found a spot in the 2011 rotation very quickly. In 2012 he hit the starting lineup, and had a year that most college football teams would consider pretty damned good with 30 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. It still felt like a bit of a disappointment. An uneven performance, with Johnson somewhat disappearing at times. This season he steps into a leadership role without vets like Bennie Logan or Sam Montgomery running the locker room. If he can learn to bring his best effort on a consistent basis, he has the talent to be a Nick Fairley-like disruptor in the middle of this defensive line.

His running mate will be J.R. "Ego" Ferguson. Another former star recruit, Ferguson took a little while to find his way into the lineup, but did a solid job last year in a reserve role. He gives a nice blend of size and athleticism, and paired with Johnson they should form a great tackle tandem. I'm a little curious as to how John Chavis will deploy Ferguson. In the past he used Michael Brockers and then Logan in more of a two-gap role, taking up blockers to put Johnson (and the defensive ends) in more one-on-one situations. That might not fit Ferguson's game as well. But then, with slightly bigger ends this season, there might not be that same premium on one body absorbing the double teams.

Freak and Ego (Hey! Freago! Let's make that a thing!) came into this offseason relatively established as the expected starters inside. The end spots, however, are much more in flux. At the moment, look for juniors Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen to handle the starting gigs. Rasco has been a valuable rotation guy for the last two seasons, and should step up well. He's a little shorter and stockier than the Montgomery/Mingo types, and won't have that same explosion as a pass-rusher. But he's a stocky, high-effort guy that should hold up well against both the run and pass, and produce well. Allen has been a bit of an afterthought and missed 2012 with an injury. But he's a former four-star recruit and a big body with a frame that looks much heavier than his listed 254 pounds. He should be able to hold up versus the run on the strong side.

The X-factor will be sophomore Danielle Hunter. He damn sure looks the part -- he looks like some sort of teradactyl-spawned manbeast. The question is whether or not he can play like it. The speed is there and was evident his freshman year as LSU used him in kickoff coverage. The question is how that translates to the defensive end spot. In the spring game you saw Hunter flying all over the field, and he finished with a respectable eight tackles in this year's spring game. The question is whether or not he can hold up in the running game and rush under control. I would expect him to be used similar to Mingo in his redshirt freshman season, as a third-down specialist. But if he finds his grove, he's a potential breakout player.

Overall, a 4-3 team like LSU should, ideally have a defensive line rotation of about 8-10 guys. At the moment, the previous five names mentioned appear set in stone. The rest will come from a group that includes freshmen Christian LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal and veterans Quentin Thomas, Justin Maclin and Mickey Johnson.

LaCouture appears to have nailed down the third tackle spot. Enrolling early in the spring really has helped him -- his body type reminds me a lot of Brockers. A former high-school end with a bigger frame that should be able to carry 300-320 pounds or so relatively well. His size is a nice backup to the quickness of Freago. Behind him, scuttlebutt has Thomas and Johnson finally stepping into confident reserve roles in year three in the program. There was a lot of good things said about Thomas in last year's camp, but when the lights went on during the season he was nowhere to be found. Johnson is a former weightlifting champion, so we know he he has the strength. He's just a little short in stature. Maclin has battled injuries since arriving as a fairly well-heralded recruit. With so many newcomers on hand, this could be a make-or-break season.

The other freshmen tackles, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain, don't seem to have stepped up as hoped, and could be in for a redshirt. Ditto for freshman end Frank Herron, who has been slowed by a knee scope he had earlier in the summer. Of course, we know that if one of those three are needed, Chavis will not hesitate to break a redshirt.

Bower appears to have the lead among the youngsters at end. As covered in his freshman profile, that's of no surprise to me. Neal will likely see some time as a pass-rush specialist, similar to Hunter. Of course, both will also be active on special teams.

Optimistic

Freago (I'm making this a thing) develops into one of the nation's best tackle combinations, while Rasco steps up as an active, stout end that can make plays versus both. Hunter has a Mingo- or Montgomery-like impact as a speed rusher. The rest of the unknowns and newcomers settle into their roles and LSU has the usual, deep rotation that we're all used to seeing.

Pessimistic

The starters prove inconsistent, mixing in a few bad games in with the good. Particularly against the better running games on the schedule like Georgia and Alabama. The youth and inexperience behind them keep Haley and Chavis from ever developing a consistent two-deep rotation.

Realistic

Johnson, Ferguson and Rasco will be fine. Hunter, like Mingo early in his career, will struggle but still flash some amazing athleticism. LaCouture will get on the field early and often and set the stage for his own breakout in 2014. The biggest question is whether one of his classmates, such as Bower or Neal, step up with him and make the most of their opportunities.

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