LSU had some high hopes for its defensive line in 2018, but once again injuries limited the group. While they did a solid job of keeping linebackers free, there was never that big-play punch. Sacks in particular were down, with no lineman grabbing at least five for the first time since 2014.
The upside to that is that a core group of veteran players emerged down the stretch, and they return this season, with some younger talent also stepping in to provide some depth. The health question remains pressing, but with some luck, this can be a unit that’s more stout at the point of attack and little less reliant on the linebackers for the big plays.
2019 LSU Defensive Line
|NT||72 Tyler Shelvin (So.)||6-3, 346||5.5||1.5||1.5||2||0||0||0|
|62 Siaki Ika (Fr.)||6-4, 354||Four-star recruit.|
|DE||91 Breiden Fehoko (Sr.)||6-2, 291||9||3||3||1.5||0||1||0|
|90 Rashard Lawrence (Sr.)||6-2, 308||38.5||10.5||14.5||4||0||3||0|
|97 Glen Logan (Jr.)||6-4, 309||28||4.5||8.5||4||0||1||0|
|92 Neil Farrell (Jr.)||6-4, 298||16.5||4||4.5||1.5||0||1||0|
|93 Justin Thomas (Jr.)||6-5, 256||3||0.5||0.5||0.5||0||0||0|
|47 Nelson Jenkins III (Fr.-RS)||6-4, 305||One tackle in one game appearance. Redshirted.|
|55 Jarrell Cherry (Fr.-RS)||6-3, 264||Redshirted.|
|94 Joseph Evans (Fr.)||6-2, 288||Three-star recruit.|
|65 Jakori Savage (Jr.)||6-6, 294||Played offensive line in 2018.|
|53 Soni Fonua (Jr.)^||6-3, 274||Three-star recruit.|
The upside to last year’s injury issues and inconsistent lineup is that this year’s group has a pretty strong core of four players for the starting lineup:
Tyler Shelvin at nose tackle, with Rashard Lawrence, Breiden Fehoko and Glen Logan at defensive end
That’s a top four LSU feels pretty good about, and while only three of them will be out there at a time in most instances. Lawrence, Fehoko and Logan are essentially co-starters at the two end positions, and in some sub packages where Dave Aranda takes the nose tackle off the field, LSU will just use the three of them as a line unit.
Shelvin played some good football down the stretch, once called into more action, and now in his third year looks ready to put his considerable tools together. He’s shed weight down into the 340s and has the size to be a true zero-tech nose, but Aranda has talked about him showing the quickness to play with a shade and do some one-gap penetrating as well.
Freshman Siaki Ika will rotate heavily with Shelvin, and is pushing for some starting snaps as well. He, along with junior Neil Farrell and redshirt freshman Jarrell Cherry, form a solid group of seven players that I expect will see most of LSU’s rotational minutes at the defensive line positions. Farrell has shown some nice progress in each of his first two seasons and seen his role grow each time. Cherry, who was originally recruited as a linebacker at 225 pounds, has been one of the stories of this offseason, putting on some 40 pounds of weight and drawing rave reviews for his intensity in the spring. He and Farrell will work with Logan, Lawrence and Fehoko at the two end positions. There’s also junior college transfer Soni Fonua, an outside linebacker that they think can contribute in a down-lineman role. He’s still awaiting the NCAA clearinghouse, but he is practicing with the team so one would think that means they’re confident he’ll get through.
Lawrence, Logan and Fehoko will also slide inside to the three-technique position in some of Aranda’s four-down sub-packages as well.
Depth will hopefully come from junior Justin Thomas, redshirt freshman Nelson Jenkins and true freshman Joseph Evans. Thomas has yet to show much, but Jenkins could see some spare minutes. Evans, a former state champion power lifter and shot-putter, kind of fits that classic LSU fireplug defensive lineman aesthetic. We’ll see what he can grow into down the road.
The big key is health, both of the main players and the periphery — namely K’Lavon Chaisson. Having a more dynamic edge rusher like him on hand will create better opportunities for the linemen. And if Lawrence and Fehoko can avoid their own health issues, they have more explosive potential than they’ve shown. And if Fonua can join them, there should be a pretty sturdy rotation as well.