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2018 LSU Football Preview: Defensive Line

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The starting point of what should be one of the best defensive fronts in college football.

Terrill Weil/NawlinsSportsPics

Note: if jargon like three-tech, four-I, five, etc... seem a bit confusing, here’s a quick refresh on defensive line “techniques,” or alignment. Generally based on landmarks of the offensive line.

Rebuilding LSU’s defensive line is something Ed Orgeron made no bones about when he arrived on the Tiger coaching staff in 2015, and reiterated as an even bigger priority when he took over the leadership of the program in 2016.

In year one, the position group battled injuries and attrition through the first half of the year, but came on strong. Now, with an infusion of five true freshman, a transfer player and a former academic redshirt, this is a group poised to be both a strength and a focal point of a defense that is expected to be one of the best in the country.

2018 LSU Roster: 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 91 Breiden Fehoko (Jr.) 6-4, 291 Redshirted.
95 Ed Alexander (So.) 6-3, 333 17 0 1 1 0 0 0 5.90%
72 Tyler Shelvin (Fr.-RS) 6-3, 362 Redshirted.
98 Dominic Livingston (Fr.) 6-3, 350 Three-star recruit.
DE 90 Rashard Lawrence (Jr.) 6-3, 317 32 3.5 5 1.5 0 1 0 31.30%
97 Glen Logan (So.) 6-4, 297 17 1 0 0.5 0 0 0 5.90%
93 Justin Thomas (So.) 6-5, 268 Appeared in two games.
92 Neil Farrell (So.) 6-5, 295 5 tackles in 5 game appearances.
54 Davin Cotton (Fr.) 6-4, 279 Four-star recruit.
47 Nelson Jenkins III (Fr.) 6-4, 305 Four-star recruit.
51 Dare Rosenthal (Fr.) 6-8, 333 Three-star recruit.
Bold indicates returning starter.

Projected Starting Lineup: as of today, the Tiger defensive line will feature Breiden Fehoko at the nose tackle in base, with Rashard “Uncle Phil” Lawrence and Glen “Bubbles” Logan manning the 3/4i/5-technique end positions in the base 3-4 front.

Of course, LSU will likely spend most of their time in the “Peso” nickel front, which will feature Fehoko and Lawrence at 3-tech tackle positions and the two outside linebackers rolled down as de facto defensive ends in 7- or 9-technique positions.

Lawrence and Fehoko are two players expected to be true standouts. Uncle Phil played through two badly injured ankles last year, and while he didn’t put up the numbers of Greg Gilmore and Christian LaCouture, there was a noticeable difference with him in and out of LSU’s lineup. He has the strength and quickness to be a very special player, and may be the most respected player in the locker room.

Fehoko may not look like a natural nose tackle the way Ed Alexander does, but he’s a powerful, explosive player. A former top-100 talent who signed with Texas Tech and started for two years (albeit uneventfully) Fehoko transferred in and has dominated LSU’s offseason program, and drawn rave reviews from Orgeron and former defensive line coach Pete Jenkins. He’s expected to have a major impact this season now that he’s eligible to play.

The reshuffling of the expected starting lineup from the spring is partly because of Logan’s progression as well. He’s a strong, athletic lineman that can play either end spot and has even worked at nose tackle some.

The top backups will include Alexander, who can be a heck of a talent when he’s healthy but has battled an assortment of injuries that will keep him out of a starting role. Former big-time recruit Tyler Shelvin will step into the rotation at nose tackle, along with fellow second-year players Neil Farrell (who had a big spring) and Justin Thomas.

The newcomers include a true nose tackle, Dominic Livingston, and ends Dare (rhymes with “bear”) Rosenthal, Davin Cotton and Nelson Jenkins. All could be redshirt candidates — Cotton and Jenkins battled some injuries as seniors in high school. Rosenthal could be an x-factor though; he’s a huge, incredibly athletic body that some projected as moving to offense, but his senior film showed a level of hustle that’s rare for such a big body. If that translates to camp, he’ll get on the field soon enough.

Power Point: Depth and Talent

In 2017, LSU had nine eligible defensive linemen. Three missed nearly half of the season with injuries and/or suspension. Another missed multiple games and played through the rest on two sprained ankles. Two more were true freshmen that were expected to redshirt.

That lack of depth caught up to the Tigers early on, and the limited numbers showed up in ugly losses to Mississippi State and Troy.

This year? All 12 of the players listed above, as of press time at least, are eligible to play football this season — Alexander will be limited in some capacity, but should be available as a member of the rotation.

Orgeron and Dennis Johnson are very comfortable with their top three guys, with Farrell, Shelvin and Alexander supplying a rotation while the other players will work in as they earn time.

Pressure Point: Finding big-play makers

I’m confident at this group doing a great job at the main thing Dave Aranda wants out of it — occupying blockers and allowing the linebackers to clean up on tackles, shoot gaps to make big plays and get after the quarterback.

But it can hit another level if one of these players can contribute more in the big-play department themselves. Push the pocket and make tackles behind the line in the running game. Lawrence has the talent, but wasn’t able to show it much last year through his injuries. Fehoko, likewise, looks like somebody that could be explosive, although it may be tough to do that from the nose position.

Logan, similarly, is an unknown in this role, but he certainly appears to have slimmed down a bit over the summer.

Last year, LSU managed to cobble together a roughly equivalent pass-rush even without full access to dynamic speed rusher Arden Key, partly because Gilmore and LaCouture combined for 13.5 sacks, mostly off hustle. What the Tigers need is for one player to give them similar production (not necessarily 13 sacks on their own, just something near the double-digit range), to pair with what Aranda will get from his linebackers. A player like that would make things that much easier for edge rushers and blizting linebackers.