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Five Things, LSU Spring Football: Defensive Line

The Future?
The Future?
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Defensive Tackle

90 Anthony Johnson (Jr.)

6-3, 304

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

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

6-3, 308

14 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss.

91 Christian LaCouture (Fr.)

6-5, 290

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

95 Quentin Thomas (So.)

6-3, 294

1 tackle in 3 game apperances.

96 Mickey Johnson (So.)

6-0, 306

1 tackle in 1 game appearance.

Defensive End

59 Jermauria Rasco (Jr.)

6-3, 255

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

98 Jordan Allen (Jr.)

6-6, 253

Missed season with knee injury.

94 Danielle Hunter (So.)

6-5, 235

12 tackles on special teams.

91 Christian LaCouture (Fr.)

6-5, 290

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

54 Justin Maclin (Jr.)

6-4, 237

Saw time in just 2 games due to injury.

22 Ronnie Feist (So.)

6-2. 230

3 tackles in 5 game appearances.

1. For the past three seasons, LSU has enjoyed an embarrassment of defensive line riches that have been the envy of just about every program in America. This spring represents the first time since the turn of the decade that the position will be a question mark on this team. Sure, there's talent, but just a handful that could be considered proven. Just one returning starter. There is absolutely zero doubt that this team will be relying on players with little, if any, actual game experience, this spring and this fall when the freshmen arrive. Anthony "the Freak" Johnson and Ego Ferguson will likely be solid starters at defensive tackle. Both have to step up their game -- Johnson to reach his down-in, down-out potential for dominance, while Ferguson looks at his first significant time after two seasons as Nos. 3 or 4 in the tackle rotation. Jermauria Rasco steps in at the left end spot, and seems to have taken a strong hold there this spring. His scrimmage performances are drawing good reviews, and it's a natural progression for another talented recruit that has seen rotational time behind other studs at his position. The questions come at the right end spot and the rest of the two-deep.

2. Here's where the surprises have come in this spring. After a few weeks, fourth-year junior Jordan Allen has taken over on the first team for presumptive starter Danielle Hunter. Allen, who was a four-star recruit out of West Monroe, missed nearly all of 2012 with injury. Most thought he was going to either grow into a defensive tackle or offensive linemen, but he's appeared lean and mean in all practice videos and photos thus far. Of course, we all know there's more to it than looking the part, or Hunter would be one of the more dominant forces on this team. The guy looks like he was sculpted out of granite and moves with rare athleticism. He never saw much actual d-line time last year, but was almost always on the field for special teams -- including running down kickoffs. The question is, can Hunter step up on the field, or is he just a member of what I affectionately call the Andre Gill All-Stars. Andre Gill was a walk-on wide receiver from the Saban Era at LSU that, to a practice observer, stood out for having the body of a Greek God. He was 6-1, 210 and completely shredded. He also never saw a single down of actual football at LSU. Shockingly, there's more to being a great football player than a great physique. Other members of this Hall include Deangelo Peterson, Alonzo Manuel, Shawn Jordan and Mitch Joseph. Granted, some of these guys saw quite a bit of playing time. Hell, Peterson was a starter. But they all looked a lot more impressive standing in line for drills than they did on the actual field. It's anyone's guess right now if Hunter is going to step up on the field, or just continue to look the part.

Another pleasant surprise has been true freshman early enrollee Christian LaCouture, who has worked at both tackle and end, and appears to have seized the third DT spot behind Johnson and Ferguson. Much like Hunter, LaCouture strikes an incredibly imposing figure out on the field (he, Ethan Pocic and Logan Stokes look like extras from the History Channel's Vikings show, even standing next to teammates). He's flashed some quick hands and a nice first step, which could be a helluva skillset for a player of his size in the middle. Paul, of course, is excited as well. I mean, look at the guy running through this gauntlet drill:

But both he and Hunter have to show that there's more there than just what meets the eye.

3. So is this too thin of a line group? The thought has occurred to me. Of the 10 scholarship linemen on this roster at the moment, just 1 has starting experience and three have appreciable playing time. There are more with little or no real playing time, plus Ronnie Feist, who saw a little time on special teams as a linebacker and is filling in at d-end for numbers purposes at the moment. Truth is, when Frank Herron, Tashawn Bower, Greg Gilmore, Lewis Neal, Maquedius Bain and Michael Patterson arrive on campus this summer, more than one will be joining LaCouture in the rotation. Out of necessity.

4. Should we be worried? I'm of two minds on the subject. It's great to have a loaded defensive line class coming that can contribute early. It's not as great to NEED them to contribute. That said, we just don't really know what LSU has in guys like Quentin Thomas, Mickey Johnson, Justin Maclin, Hunter and Allen. I know that Thomas has always drawn some rave reviews. He didn't play his senior year of high school at Breaux Bridge due to a suspension (and the fact that LSU held his scholarship despite said suspension should indicate the value the coaches perceive), and obviously has been behind guys like Bennie Logan, Johnson, Ferguson and Josh Downs. There haven't been a ton of opportunities (although the defensive swoon in November might've been a nice time to get him in). Ditto for Johnson, a short, squatty nose-tackle type that was a weightlifting champion in high school. If they can step up with LaCouture to give Chavis and Brick Haley a solid 5-man DT group, suddenly, depth doesn't seem like much of a problem.

5. This is the biggest question mark on the defense this spring, but let it not be said that the defensive line is a complete negative. Johnson, with just a little consistency, could become damn good. If he dials it up on ever down, he can be one of the best in the country. Ferguson has all the size and athleticism to be every bit as good as Logan has been the last two years, and Rasco looks to be on the verge of a breakout season. He's a high-motor kid -- a little shorter than what we've been used to at d-end -- but with a quick step up the field. And I've always been incredibly high on Hunter. Much like I talked about in the original spring defensive preview, the standard is set here. Defensive line play has consistently been pretty damned good under Haley. Even with some regression, this outfit isn't suddenly going to suddenly turn into the sub-par 08/09 units. And there's still a damn good linebacking corps and some really good defensive backs backing them up.