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2020 LSU Football Preview: Defensive Line

Tigers are stout at defensive tackle but there’s questions about defensive end

SEC Championship - Georgia v LSU Photo by Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

After four years in Dave Aranada’s complex 3-4 scheme, LSU is going back to its 4-3 roots and bringing back a familiar face to lead the transition. Bo Pelini is back in Baton Rouge as the Tiger defensive coordinator, returning to the job he once held 13 years ago.

Aranda and Pelini couldn’t be more different from one another. Aranda is a more cerebral, quiet kind of coach whereas Pelini, like Ed Orgeron, is aggressive and loud. Both men coached national title winning defenses at LSU. Now with a roster full of talent, Pelini is hoping to recreate the success the Tigers of the mid to late 2000s had and it starts with an impressive group along the defensive line, especially in the middle.

2020 LSU Defensive Line

Position Player Height/Weight Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
Position Player Height/Weight Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
Defensive Tackle Tyler Shelvin (Rs. Jr.) 6’3”/346 39 3.0 0
Siaki Ika (Soph.) 6’2/354 17 1/5 0
Jacobian Guillory (Fr.) 6’2”/357 Four-star freshman
Jaquelin Roy (Fr.) 6’4”/293 Four-star freshman
Eric Taylor* 6’4”/292 Four-star freshman
Defensive End Glen Logan (Sr.) 6’3"/339 18 1.5 1
Neil Farrell Jr. (Sr.) 6’4"/298 45 6.5 3
Justin Thomas (Jr.) 6’5”/256 8 2 1
Ali Gaye (Jr.)** 6’7”/267 44 0 1
Jarell Cherry (Rs. So.) 6’3"/264 No stats
Nelson Jenkins (Rs. So.) 6’4"/286 No stats
T.K. McClendon (Jr.)*** 6’5"/263 No stats
BJ Ojulari (Fr.) 6’3”/218 4-star freshman

*Not the head coach from Friday Night Lights

**2019 stats at Garden City Community College

***Converted tight end

The thing that jumps out immediately is LSU is stout at defensive tackle. Tyler Shelvin ought to be lauded for his maturation. He came to LSU weighing as much as 380 pounds, but has dropped down to 346 pounds. He was the true nose tackle that Aranda needed while his defenses were in the 3-4. Shelvin didn’t rack up a ton of numbers or flashy plays last year, but the way he commanded double teams allowed players like Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen to shoot gaps and blow up plays. Now that LSU’s changing to a 4-3 expect Shelvin to rack up a few more tackles for loss and sacks and it could all very well end up with a first round selection in the 2021 draft.

Joining Shelvin at the opposite tackle spot should be sophomore Apu Ika who looks to build off a solid freshman year where he saw significant playing time in 13 games. Ika enrolled in the January of 2019 and really pushed Shelvin throughout the spring and summer. Now, after serving as Shelvin’s backup, Ika should be playing right alongside him and it can only be beneficial for the two.

LSU also added a significant talent infusion in this season’s recruiting class with three 4-star freshman defensive tackles: Jacobian Guillory from Alexandria, Jaquelin Roy from U-High and Eric Taylor from Trussville, Alabama. Roy was a top-40 recruit and the No. 2 player in the state, behind teammate Kayshon Boutte.

Of the three freshman, Roy is the most heralded and looks to be the biggest part of the defensive line rotation. Orgeron has done an excellent job stock piling talent at defensive tackle, and if LSU can add Terrebonne’s Maason Smith, the top player in Louisiana and second ranked tackle in the nation, to 2021 class, the Tigers can be set for the next few years in the interior.

While LSU is stout at defensive tackle, there’s not as much confidence at defensive end. Who’s going to be the guy that can bring heat off the edge for the defense? Guys like Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr. have been good but not great players in their LSU careers. But perhaps changing to a 4-3 will be beneficial for the two seniors and they can make this Tiger front four a fully realized unit.

LSU also doesn’t have proven depth behind Logan and Farrell. Justin Thomas showed signs of promise before leaving the program in October for personal reasons. When Thomas returned to the program in February his weight had gone up to 300 pounds and Orgeron is wanting that number to be 285. Per the most recent height and weight measurements on LSU’s website, Thomas is close to that goal weighing around 290.

After Thomas is when things get dicey for LSU. The staff is high on TK McClendon but at the same time he’s a converted tight end. Can he make the transition to the other side of the ball and be relied upon? Ali Gaye has intriguing size at 6’7” 267, but how does he handle the jump in competition from JUCO to Division-1 ball? BJ Ojulari was a top-100 prospect but can you expect a true freshman to be able to consistently beat the grown men that play tackle for SEC schools? And what kind of impact, if any, can Nelson Jenkins or Jarell Cherry have?

There’s a lot to like about the LSU defense as a whole. We know the secondary will be great. Tyler Shelvin and Apu Ika should be one of the better defensive tackle tandems in the SEC. And even though LSU has to replace its entire linebacking group from last year, you feel good about Damone Clark, Jabril Cox and Marcel Brooks. But defensive end is the biggest question mark on this defense. How does LSU get pressure on quarterbacks? Can some combination of Logan, Farrel and Thomas consistently beat offensive tackles and make quarterbacks step up into collapsing pockets, or will Pelini have get creative to compensate? If it’s the former, LSU may wind up having one of the best all around defenses in the nation.