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LSU Spring Football 2018: Defensive Line

Set up to be a major strength for the Tigers moving forward.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve oft-discussed since the regular season ended, LSU faces some longer odds in 2018 than we’re used to, with a difficult schedule and a dearth of returning production.

There are a handful of areas where the Tigers could be primed to make up that ground — perhaps the most important is on the defensive line.

2018 LSU Spring Defensive Line

Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles TFL Run Stuffs Sacks Int PBU FF Success Rate
Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles TFL Run Stuffs Sacks Int PBU FF Success Rate
NT 95 Ed Alexander (So.) 6-2, 339 17 0 1 1 0 0 0 5.90%
72 Tyler Shelvin (Fr.-RS) 6-2, 380 Redshirted.
DE 91 Breiden Fehoko (Jr.) 6-3, 298 Redshirted.
90 Rashard Lawrence (Jr.) 6-3, 300 32 3.5 5 1.5 0 1 0 31.30%
96 Glen Logan (So.) 6-4, 315 17 1 0 0.5 0 0 0 5.90%
93 Justin Thomas (So.) 6-5, 277 Appeared in two games.
92 Neil Farrell (So.) 6-4, 287 5 tackles in 5 game appearances.
54 Davin Cotton (Fr.) 6-4, 259 Four-star recruit.
Returning starters in bold. Stats via Football Study Hall.

**Note: for my purposes, I’m keeping the Bench Linebackers — which some may list at defensive end — with the linebackers, even though they do mostly play more of a line role.

There are eight bodies here for the spring, with several more on the way this fall. That’s solid depth for a unit that only needs three starters in base, and will really only use two in the “posse” nickel front, which will likely get the most use for Dave Aranda’s defense in 2018. The top end could feature two of the country’s best — with enough bodies that should be able to form a solid rotation.

What’s Old?

There’s only one nominal starter back here, but he’s one of the nation’s best: junior defensive end Rashard Lawrence. “Uncle Phil,” as he’s known, mans the 3-, 4i- and 5-technique positions in different sets, and his absence was extremely noticeable early in the 2017 season. Lawrence is a country strong linemen who commands a double team on most snaps and can be incredibly disruptive versus both the run and pass.

Nose tackle Ed “Rouxgaroux” Alexander missed a handful of games last year, but otherwise saw a steady number of snaps behind Greg Gilmore. He’s much more of a classic 3-4 nose tackle, at 330 pounds, although he is limited in these practices due to injury.

The other returnees are sophomores Glenn Logan, Justin Thomas and Neil Farrell, all athletic big bodies that should be more than capable rotational help. This spring will be key for their development towards increased roles in the future.

What’s New?

Well, this unit features one of the more exciting newcomers on the roster — former Texas Tech defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko. A former top-100 prospect from the 2015 class, Fehoko will play the end position opposite Lawrence. It’s not often that LSU brings in a high-level starter from another P-5 football program, much less two (as is the case with Fehoko’s former Tech teammate, receiver Jonathan Giles).

And while Fehoko was never able to stand out much at Tech, uh...have you seen those Red Raider units?

Sources and program insiders have made no secret of the high hopes for his role in 2018. He spent his sit-out year learning as much as he could from Ed Orgeron and former defensive line coach Pete Jenkins, while also dominating in the weight room; Fehoko was honored by the program with the Alvin Roy award in 2017 season for his dedication. A guarantee of success in 2018? No, but a pretty nice sign.

Another unofficial newcomer is stud nose tackle prospect Tyler Shelvin, who sat out the 2017 season for an academic redshirt. Shelvin is the classic 3-4 nose in the truest sense of the word at 6-2, and a speculated 360 pounds. Personally, with nose tackles in the 350-pound neighborhood, weight and conditioning will always be a concern — but the good news there is that A) Shelvin isn’t likely to play as many snaps as ends like Lawrence and Fehoko anyway, just due to the nature of the personnel groupings LSU will see most weeks, and B) he’s already a backup to Alexander, and there will be other potential rotators come this fall in Chasen Hines and Dominic Livingston.

The key for Shelvin right now will be technique and learning his place in Aranda’s defense. Yes, he practiced with the team for most of the fall, but for a forced redshirt that mostly meant scout-team work and very little one-on-one development.

The other new face is freshman early enrollee Davin Cotton, and undersized end/tackle tweener prospect that many believed would have garnered more attention if not for a knee injury his senior season at Evangel Christian in Shreveport. Cotton is a member of this class that draws a lot of anecdotal praise from folks in the recruiting industry that have seen him in person, but he also won’t be full-go this spring. He should have the luxury of a redshirt this season. If he’s too good to keep off the field, well, bully.

What’s the Story?

LSU’s front line unit with Alexander, Lawrence and Fehoko should be as good as any defensive line in the country. If the depth can develop behind it, it could move into an elite stratosphere.