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LSU Football 2016 Position Previews: Defensive Line

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Transitioning to a new scheme down one starters due to injury.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at South Carolina Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Before Patrick Peterson ever came around, defensive tackle was the original glamour position for LSU. And while the defensive line rediscovered it’s pass-rush form last season, it struggled a bit against the run at times. Now comes a new defense that will use multiple looks to try and take advantage of a number of some versatile pieces, but will require more physicality at times.

Name

Height/Weight

2015 Season

91 Christian LaCouture (Sr.) (injured)

6-5, 301

35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss (including 1 sack), 1 pass break-up, 1 forced fumble.

92 Lewis Neal (Sr).

6-2, 272

48 tackles, 9.5 TFL (8 sacks) 6 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble.

57 Davon Godchaux (Jr.)

6-4, 299

41 tackles, 9.0 TFL (6 sacks), 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered and 1 pass break-up.

97 Frank Herron (Jr.)

6-5, 305

23 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack) and 1 fumble recovery.

99 Greg Gilmore (Jr.)

6-4, 308

13 tackles, 1.5 TFL (1 sack).

98 Deondre Clark (Jr.)

6-4, 272

1 tackle in 4 game appearances.

55 Travonte Valentine (So.)

6-4, 356

Unicorn.

90 Rashard Lawrence (Fr.)

6-3, 301

Five-star recruit.

95 Edwin Alexander (Fr.)

6-2, 333

Four-star recruit.

96 Glen Logan (Fr.)

6-4, 315

Four-star recruit.

This unit took a big blow in week one of fall camp when senior defensive end Christian LaCouture went down with a season-ending knee injury. LaCouture had slimmed down a bit for his move to the two-gapping end position, and there was some concern how the line might transition to Dave Aranda’s 3-4 without him after an offseason of planning. The arrival of Travonte Valentine as a potential nose tackle has helped alleviate that concern somewhat. The other piece of good news is that LaCouture could have an extra season, should he choose to redshirt this year and forego the NFL for another year.

There are two other returning starters in fellow defensive end Lewis Neal and tackle Davon Godchaux, who will likely play end in the new scheme. Neal got off to a hot start last season and led LSU with eight sacks, but fell off a bit down the stretch as opponents started to gameplan for him. He’s a stocky, strong player, especially for his size, and has the versatility to rush from a number of spots -- something you can expect Aranda to take full advantage of. Look for him to line up as an end and even a linebacker at times. He’s also bulked up to help anchor a little more in run defense as well.

Godchaux started working at the nose tackle position in the spring, and appeared to be a good fit as a more penetrating type of player, but now he’ll slide outside, where he can rush opposite of Neal or Arden Key.

A pleasant surprise has been junior Greg Gilmore, who had a fantastic summer and had begun to look more like a traditional nose tackle himself, even before Valentine arrived. He’ll likely be the “starter” in the traditional sense there. A former stud recruit, Gilmore has taken some time to develop, but came along well last year and really showed some hustle against Texas A&M.

The chief backups will include junior Frank Herron and a talented freshman class. Herron, like Godchaux, has shown some real explosion at times, but has lacked consistency. He’ll likely play a 3/5-technique defensive end position, and that should play to his strengths.

Freshman Rashard Lawrence, Ed Alexander and Glen Logan will all have to rotate in, especially with LaCouture’s absence, but should fit the new scheme well. Alexander and Logan are the big, strong types that should be able to handle some two-gap responsibilities at nose tackle and end, while Lawrence is more of the classic penetrator, a la Godchaux, Herron or Neal.

Depth Chart

Defensive End

Nose Tackle

Defensive End

Lewis Neal

Deondre Clark

Rashard Lawrence

Greg Gilmore

OR

Travonte Valentine

Edwin Alexander

Davon Godchaux

Frank Herron

Glen Logan

OR

Rashard Lawrence

Semantically, this is probably the best depth chart I can provide right now. But from a practical standpoint, there will be a lot of movement and different alignments. Some players listed at end will be lined up more like tackles, and some defensive sets will only feature one or two down linemen. And Lewis Neal will likely move all over the place based on matchups.

But since we’ll be discussing these positions a lot over the next few months, here’s a quick primer on/ defensive line “techniques,” or alignments.

O/1-Technique: the traditional nose tackle position, either eye-to-eye with the center, or on his outside shoulder. In most defenses, Valentine and Gilmore will man that spot, although Godchaux will move there in some pass-rush positions.

3-Technique: aligned to the guard’s outside shoulder. This is where Godchaux usually lined up last season, and it’s typically where most teams put their quicker, penetrating-type defensive tackles. Think Glenn Dorsey. When LSU does line up with two down linemen, look for both to be aligned at the 3 on either side of the center.

4i/5-Technique: on the offensive tackle’s inside or outside shoulder. This is where the defensive ends line up in a traditional 3-4 -- those big, two-gap ends whose job is to occupy the tackle and free up the edge pass-rushers.

And of course 7- and 9-techniques are usually where teams line up their speedier, pass-rush types, like outside linebackers.

In LSU’s base defense, look for Godchaux and Lewis Neal to alternate between the 3- and 5-tech spots based on which player is to the boundary or to the field. With a traditional nose like Valentine, both will be able to play a single gap and attack up the field. Whereas before Valentine’s arrival, there was talk of LaCouture two-gapping from a 5-tech position to the field. Similar to the strong-side defensive end in Pete Carroll’s type of defense.

Possible X-Factor: Travonte Valentine

Ah yes, the Unicorn. The mythical defensive tackle we have heard so much about, has finally enrolled and been cleared to play two full seasons removed from his original recruiting class. Valentine is said to be a special player for a number of reasons, but with LSU moving to the 3-4, he’s also important because he’s a natural fit as the traditional, two-gap type of nose tackle that many love to use in the defense. Having a lineman that can two-gap is important for almost any kind of scheme, because it allows a front to manage A, B, C and D gaps on both sides of the line without the presence of an eighth defender like a safety. It’s doubly important in a 3-4 because a big nose tackle can protect both inside linebackers.

After all the spilled ink and various false alarms regarding Valentine’s eligibility, it’s almost hard to believe that he can really meet the level of hype he’s generated. But the good news is he doesn’t really have to, at least not right away. LSU has the time, the depth and the type of schedule to work him along slowly. If he’s in the kind of shape to give you at least 10 snaps in week one that’s great. Where he’ll really be needed is for the season’s final stretch. If he can give you a full-time rotation at the nose tackle position by then, this unit could be one of the nation’s best.