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Spring Game Roundtable: Defense/Special Teams

Billy:  Anybody else ready to see the FREAK out?


If you don't enjoy this clip, I'm afraid we can't be friends.


Paul: The debut of the Freak is definitely the thing I'm most excited about for this game. From all reports he's absolutely coming into his own in practice (I hope Poseur doesn't go all Allen Iverson on me). Miles has said Freak has it physically... just needs to better his technique. Pairing him with Michael Brockers (who I think is a candidate for a breakout year this season) should hopefully at least keep our DTs at status quo, if not improve. I love Drake Nevis, but he had a tendency to disappear at times last season. These two horses are built like thoroughbreds and won't have to fight a "lack of size." Judging by everything we know of Freak, I wouldn't be surprised if he became a leader on this defense sooner rather than later. He reminds me a lot of Tommie Harris at OU, who also started as a true freshman.

Billy: Exactly. I don't know if LSU has ever had a spring enrollee with this realistic a chance for major impact. Even with Mett coming in. And when you watch the highlights and you read all the workout numbers, you just want to see him come off the line in person. Plus, we more or less get to see him go against the first team line.

Brockers is another guy I want to see now that he's the veteran of the group (as a freakin' sophomore). We liked what we saw last season, but honestly I never got a really good feel for the exact type of player he is. Is he going to be a two-gap, John Henderson type that just gums up the running game, or will he be more of a backfield player? An anchor guy like that would be a great compliment to guys like Bennie Logan and Ego Ferguson, who appear to be more the Drake Nevis-type. Given that the d-line is pretty banged up, with Josh Downs, Lavar Edwards and several other front-seven starters all missing the game, we might not see much else. Plus Sam Montgomery, who is obviously still being held out. It would also be really good to see if Barkevious Mingo has learned any other techniques besides "being fast like a freak."

How about linebacker? This is the one area of the defense I'm a little apprehensive about.

Paul: Linebackers are definitely the biggest question mark. We all know Ryan Baker will hold down his (I still think he was our best LB last season), and he's staying on the outside. There's been somewhat of a revolving door of names thrown out at the other spots as far as guys who are making plays. Kevin Minter should man the inside, and let's hope he performs a lot like his spring game last season (17 tackles). The SLB battle between Stefoin Francois (who was just kinda there last season) and newly moved Karnell Hatcher should be interesting (Ed. Note: it would be if they were in fact playing). Hatcher seems much more suited for LB and I can definitely see him taking the job. Some of the younger guys should be fun to watch as well: D.J. Welter and Lamin Barrow have both received positive reviews from Baker and others in practices. Come to think of it... we're just so young. Just loads of young talent all over the field.

Billy: Yeah, I'm pretty sure Baker is going to be one of the leaders on this season's defense. The key for him is just to fine-tune his game mentally. The speed is there to overcome his stature, and he's the best blitzing linebacker in the SEC, but he needs to be a little more consistent and sound in reading his keys and holding his gaps and responsibilities. We saw the downside to this against teams like Ole Miss and Arkansas last year. In the middle, I'd love to see Kevin Minter step up and show us that he's ready to be the true "mike" 'backer on this team. He had a great spring game last year but I'd still like to see him make a few more plays, rather than letting them come to him. Over on the strong side, the Francois/Hatcher battle is up there as one of the real battles to watch. And then you get to the younger guys like Barrow, Welter, Jones and Muncie (whose name has been oddly absent from most practice reports). I think the big thing to watch for is just some development and consistency. That they look like they know what they're doing out there.

And behind them, is probably the most loaded secondary LSU's had in a long time. And that's saying something.

Paul: One last comment on the linebackers... the tandem of Baker/Hatcher as the LBs in the mustang package is drool worthy. That's a whole lotta speed in your back 7.

As for the secondary, what more can you say? Sporting News recently ranked Morris Claiborne as the 20th best player in CFB. That's a lot of pub for a guy who got hardly any last season. I don't think people really realized just how good he was... since he played in the ginormous shadow of Zod. Further, practice reports seem to indicate that Craig Loston is finally rounding into shape on the mental side, and even he attested that he feels like he's back to being the old, head-hunting, ball-hawking Poppa that made us all fall in love with him. If he's outside of his own head now, and knows the playbook... look out. Then of course, you have the further development of Mathieu and Simon, who are both sensational athletes that showcased their skills on big stages (Mathieu more so, obviously) at times last year. Then you have the return of Brandon Taylor, who should be the mental and vocal leader of the defense in 2011. Let's just say this, any time a guy like Ron Brooks is your 4th, maybe 5th corner... you're in pretty damn good shape, because Ron Brooks can obviously play.

Billy: I actually wonder if we'll see much of the mustang package in the game with Mathieu in the slot. That could be on the list of "stuff we don't wanna show" for the coaching staff.

I think it was Shea Dixon who quoted Loston saying that he feels like he knows the defense well enough to play without thinking. That's exciting to hear. I also really want to get a look at Sam Gibson who, as I've mentioned, is one of the more intriguing players out there. Then you have Eric Reid, Claiborne, Mathieu, Brooks -- it's kind of at a point where you have to wonder how we'll actually be able to grade the quarterbacks, because a lot of QB's would struggle throwing on this group.

I'm also very, very intrigued by the thought of T-Rex returning punts, and the special teams in general. Can Wing handle the directional punting duties solo, and what's Alleman got in the kicking game? Plus, from reports it looks like LSU will be moving more towards the classic one-back protection in punting, as opposed to the spread/shield punting that has worked so well the last few years (yet was never popular, because...well...people are stupid).

Paul: Yeah, I doubt we see the Mustang during the spring game, but it should be fun in the regular season.

Special teams should be interesting. It will be a shift from the successful style we used the past several years, but I have faith in the hire. Alleman has always had the big leg, let's hope he's as accurate as Jasper (this could be a majorly underrated drop off for LSU). I'm actually fairly excited to see Wing. When is the last time we had a physical specimen like that at Punter? Donnie Jones?