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What Might LSU’s New Defense Look Like?

A glimpse at a potential defensive lineup in advance of spring practice.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Oklahoma v LSU Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tigers checked in at No. 6 in Bill Connelly’s preseason SP+ projection for 2020, curiously, only 23rd on defense. I suppose that’s about right, given that the Tigers finished 20th last season. Things like the transition to Bo Pelini’s defense don’t really factor in Bill’s numbers, but that’s going to be a major sub-plot this spring.

And while I have my concerns about Pelini, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he yields early dividends with a group that overall, will still be a fairly experienced group that’s going to be full of third- and fourth-year players in the front seven.

In media appearances, Ed Orgeron has confirmed that Pelini will be implementing a more aggressive style of 4-3 defense. I know some have had concerns about that personnel transition, but keep in mind that the Under-shaded front that Pelini favors isn’t as different as you might think. Here’s a 4-3 Under look

4-3 Under

versus the 3-4 version...

3-4 Under

the only real difference here is whether that back side edge player is in a three-point stance in the 4-3, or in a two-point stance in the 3-4.

Now it is true that Dave Aranda preferred a Tite 3-4 look as his base, but over the course of the year we often saw him shade the front under with a one of the defensive ends in at three-tech position and K’Lavon Chaisson up on the line on the backside edge.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine a very simple reshuffling of this front seven.

What LSU’s Starting Defense Might Look Like

Position Player
Position Player
DE Glen Logan (Sr.)
NT Tyler Shelvin (Jr.)
DT Neil Farrell Jr. (Sr.)
DE Andre Anthony (Sr.) -or- Justin Thomas (Jr.)
SLB Ray Thornton (Sr.)
MLB Damone Clark (Jr.)
WLB Micah Baskerville (Jr.) -or- Marcel Brooks (So.)
CB Cordale Flott (So.)
CB Derek Stingley Jr. (So.)
Nickel Kary Vincent Jr. (Sr.)
S Maurice Hampton (So.)
S Jacoby Stevens (Sr.)
Returning starters in bold.

Some notes on what we have here:

  • While technically you can really only list five returning starters, there are a lot of veterans here with starting-caliber experience like Neil Farrell, Andre Anthony, Damone Clark and Ray Thornton, plus younger players that saw significant rotational minutes last year like Cordale Flott and Maurice Hampton.
  • Just a guess on the defensive line, but I think Farrell’s a better fit at the three-technique defensive tackle spot. He’s got a little more quickness up the field, while Glen Logan can anchor really well as a strong-side end. Although these two could also flip-flop. Justin Thomas is back with the team, and could be a natural fit as a weak-side end.
  • In a recent interview, Orgeron also mentioned former tight end recruit T.K. McClendon as someone that could see time at one of the end spots. He also mentioned that Apu Ika could join Tyler Shelvin on the field at the same time in some sets.
  • Five-star freshman Elias Ricks will be limited this spring after shoulder surgery, so look for Cordale Flott to have the inside track to start at corner opposite Derek Stingley Jr.
  • Damone Clark should transition well to Mike linebacker, and he showed some flashes of greatness as a rotational player last year. Senior Ray Thornton could be the kind of big-bodied Sam linebacker Pelini’s used in the past with guys like Luke Sanders and Ken Hollis.
  • The wild cards for Pelini to play with will be safeties Jacoby Stevens and Marcel Brooks. He favors a Cover-1 base that generally keeps a safety in the box, and both players are easy to picture in that role. But either could fit at linebacker as well. Stevens has the versatility to move to either outside linebacker spot, and that could be his professional future, as NFL teams look more for safety hybrid guys to defend spread offenses. Likewise, it could be easy to picture Brooks as a sideline-to-sideline Will linebacker as well. This might be one of the more interesting sub-plots of spring practice.
  • Also interested to see how Pelini deploys nickelback Kary Vincent. Aranda kept him off the ball as a combo corner/safety, whereas Pelini, in the past has preferred having bigger bodied types at the nickel, near the line of scrimmage. Vincent has shown some ability to play outside corner as well, so maybe a move there is in the cards?