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LSU Spring Football 2017: Defensive Line

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A nice blend of young talent and experience.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

LSU has always been a program known for having big, quick, athletic defensive linemen that specialize in getting into the backfield and creating big plays. So, the thought of moving to a 3-4 defense, that generally calls for bigger linemen that must play two gaps and live to help the linebackers make more of the plays in the backfield.

But between Ed Orgeron, Pete Jenkins and Dave Aranda, the transition was relatively flawless: LSU’s defense improved to the top five in run defense S&P+ and top 10 in defensive rushing success, and the d-line’s havoc rate was still in the top 30 (although that may be counting end/outside linebacker Arden Key’s sack production – for our purposes he’s a linebacker in this team discussion). And that was achieved without senior Christian LaCouture, who injured his knee in fall camp.

He’s back this season for a fifth year, one of three fifth-year players returning to lead the Tiger defensive line in 2017.

2017 LSU Defensive Line

Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
NT 99 Greg Gilmore (Sr.) 6-4, 308 19.5 3.00% 1 1 0 1 0
95 Ed Alexander (So.) 6-2, 339 9.5 1.50% 0.5 0 0 0 0
72 Tyler Shelvin (Fr.) 6-2, 380 Four-star recruit.
91 Breiden Fehoko (Jr.) 6-3, 298 Transfer from Texas Tech -- former four-star recruit (ineligible for 2017).
DE 18 Christian LaCouture (Sr.) 6-5, 292 Injured.
97 Frank Herron (Sr.) 6-4, 312 13 2.00% 2 1 0 0 1
98 Deondre Clark (Sr.) 6-4, 268 Six game appearances.
90 Rashard Lawrence (So.) 6-3, 300 4 0.60% 1 1 0 0 0
96 Glen Logan (Fr. -RS) 6-4, 315 Redshirted.
93 Justin Thomas (Fr.) 6-5, 277 Three-star recruit.
92 Neil Farrell (Fr.) 6-4, 287 Three-star recruit.
Bold indicates returning starter.

It’s an interesting depth chart, given that it’s essentially four seniors and a gaggle of first- and second-year player. That 2014 defensive tackle class washing out hurt.

What do we like? There is a lot of big bodies that have played a lot of football here.

Question marks: depth at the nose tackle position is not ideal, and it would be nice to find another proven big-play lineman.

The three fifth-year players will lead things off as the starters – in as much as that designation matters, given how Orgeron and Jenkins will rotate players here. LaCouture and Frank Herron will man the defensive end positions, while Greg Gilmore starts at nose tackle.

Gilmore was surprisingly stout in the middle last season, despite not fitting the usual fireplug nose tackle frame. He’ll rotate with Ed Alexander, who showed a lot of promise in spurts as well. But that’s a small number for a very important position in this type of defense – LSU can’t afford any injuries here. Massive true freshman Tyler Shelvin will be able to help, but it’s no given that he qualifies academically in time for the fall.

LaCouture and Herron will each play at the five- and three-technique end positions, alternating between helping to set the edge against the run and trying to shoot gaps and get after the backfield a little. Both players have the size and quickness to handle the roles. LaCouture will wear No. 18 this coming season, to reflect his role as a pace-setter for both this unit and the team. Herron’s potential is oft-discussed, and occasionally flashed. Maybe in his final year, he’ll start to show it more consistently.

Sophomore Rashard Lawrence will be the top backup, likely as a three-tech. He’s already one of the leaders of his class, and has reportedly had a fantastic spring. Senior Deondre Clark and redshirt freshman Glen Logan will fill out the depth chart, with true freshman Justin Thomas getting his feet wet this spring.

There’s only two three (Ed. Note: forgot about Aaron Moffitt) more players arriving at this position group in the fall, so the bulk of the work in forming a rotation will be done this spring. Find seven bodies for the three spots, set a pecking order. “Starter” is largely just a designation for the players that will be out there for the first play. From there, it will all be about the matchups.