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2012 LSU Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 12, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - LSU Tiger Defense


LSU Tigers

Preview 2012 - Defense


- 2012 LSU Preview | 2012 LSU Offense
- 2012 LSU Defense | 2012 LSU Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The LSU defense has been among the best in the nation over the last several years, and last season it took things to another level with a dominant defensive front, a phenomenal secondary, and a solid linebacking corps with it all adding up to a group that allowed just 262 yards and 11.3 points per game. There are some massive losses, including Thorpe-winning corner Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and star tackle Michael Brockers, but defensive coordinator John Chavis is locked up with a whopper of a contract to keep him around. If the outside linebackers can shine early, the starting 11 will be as good as any in college football, but there are experience and depth issues everyone except at tackle. No one’s running on this line, and the secondary will be terrific if everyone can stay healthy, but the linebackers are a bit thin. This won’t be the defense it was last year, but it won’t be too far off.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Eric Reid, 76
Sacks: Sam Montgomery, 9
Interceptions: Eric Reid, Tharold Simon,2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Sam Montgomery
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior S Craig Loston
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Tharold Simon
Best pro prospect: Montgomery
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Montgomery, 2) S Eric Reid, 3) DT Anthony Johnson
Strength of the defense: Tackle, Production
Weakness of the defense: Depth, Outside Linebacker

Defensive Line

The Tigers are known for cranking out top-flight tackles, and their star of stars on this year’s great defensive line is end Sam Montgomery, a 6-4, 245-pound pass rushing terror who led the team with nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss with 49 tackles. There was some question about whether or not he’d be able to hold up after suffering a season-ending knee injury as a freshman, but he was just as speedy and just as great around the corner. Ultra-consistent with a great frame and the room to get a little bit bigger, he’s in a salary drive and should be a first-round draft pick if and when he chooses to come out early.

Working on the other side will be Barkevious Mingo, a 6-5, 237-pound junior with the game to go along with the phenomenal name. Built like an NBA power forward, the former star recruit is ultra-athletic and is great at getting around the edge and into the backfield. With all the attention paid to the rest of the line, he destroys one-on-one blocking making eight sacks with 15 tackles for loss and 46 tackles as a spot starter. Now he’ll flourish on the left side with the job all his.

So who’s the next great LSU defensive tackle? It’s 6-3, 294-pound sophomore Anthony Johnson, who’s nicknamed the Freak for a reason. A superstar recruit, he got to school early last year and showed right away that he has the potential to anchor an NFL line down the road and could be even more special than Michael Brockers was last season. Everyone’s No. 1 overall tackle prospect stepped in right away and was a key part of the rotation with 12 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. Even if he doesn’t start the season he’ll be a devastating playmaker on the inside with the ability to both gum up the works and get into the backfield.

Johnson is the star, but he might start out the year behind 6-1, 287-pound senior Josh Downs, the most experienced option for the left side. He’s not huge and he’s a bit short and squatty for an elite line, but he’s a veteran who made nine tackles last year.

6-3, 287-pound junior Bennie Logan went under the radar last season as a 12-game starter next to Brockers. A very quick, active run defender who finished sixth on the team with 57 tackles with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, he can do a little of everything with the ability to fly into the backfield and hold up well against the power running teams. He’ll stay fresh working in a rotation with sophomore Ego Ferguson, a superstar recruit in 2010 who started to blossom last year. At 6-3 and 283 pounds he has good size and great quickness making 13 tackles in the rotation. He’ll likely be a starter sooner than later, but for now he’ll be an extremely productive force when he gets his chances.

6-5, 264-pound senior Lavar Edwards was a key part of the rotation getting one start on the end against Auburn, finishing the year with 26 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. Experienced, he can play either end spot and be fine with the size to hold up against the run and just enough speed to get into the backfield.

Watch Out For … The Freak. As good as Brockers was and as much as he’ll be missed, Johnson has the potential to be better. With Logan and Ferguson taking away attention, and with Downs a good enough veteran to see time when needed, Johnson won’t have to do it all. However, when he gets his chances he’ll be phenomenal. This year he’ll show what all the fuss was about.
Strength: Run defense. The Tigers will load up at all four spots and should dominate against the run after allowing just 90 yards per game and seven scores. With good depth and elite talent among the top four players, good luck getting 100 yards on the ground against this group.
Weakness: Michael Brockers? Johnson and Ferguson are NFL-caliber defensive tackles, and Logan and Downs are terrific, but Brockers was one of the key reasons the defense was as dominant as it was throughout the season. However, he didn’t get to the quarterback too much and this year’s line should be must stronger at rushing the passer from the inside.
Outlook: The Tiger defensive line will once again be one of the best in the nation with superstar prospects at all four spots and enough depth to fill in the gaps when needed. The pass rush will be dominant from Montgomery and Mingo from the outside, while the defensive tackle rotation will be among the best in the country.
Unit Rating: 10

Linebackers

Junior Kevin Minter was able to make a name for himself in the middle of the dominant D last year finishing fifth on the team with 61 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 242 pounds he beefed up in a big way over the last few years after already being among the strongest players on the roster. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he’s great against the run.

6-3, 220-pound junior Luke Muncie will go from being a key reserve and special teamer to the possible starter on the strongside. Built like a big safety, he runs well and made 13 tackles, but his real worth could be in passing situations. He’ll have to work hard to hold off Lamar Louis, a 6-0, 220-pound true freshman with tremendous speed and athleticism. A high school running back as well as a linebacker, he’ll be a playmaker when he gets his chances.

6-2, 229-pound junior Lamin Barrow will look to take over on the weakside after spending the first two years of his career as a good reserve. The understudy behind Ryan Baker, Barrow should be ready after making 17 tackles with a tackle for loss and with a start against Northwestern State. Quick, he gets all over the field in a hurry and should be turned loose into the backfield from time to time. He’ll work in a rotation with sophomore D.J. Welter, a smallish 6-0, 226-pound part-timer who spent most of his time on special teams and finished with five tackles. A great tackler, he won’t miss when he gets his chances.

On the way is Ronnie Feist and Kwon Alexander, two top recruits who’ll eventually be a big upgrade for the linebacking corps. The 6-2, 225-pound Feist will work in the middle with unlimited range and mature strength beyond his years. Alexander is a special talent who’ll someday be the team’s leading tackler, but he has to get past a knee injury that knocked him out last year. At 6-2 and 220 pounds he still needs to get bigger, but he’s a hitting machine who’ll be able to play in any of the three spots once he’s 100%.

Watch Out For … the freshmen. The starting lineup on opening day will be fine, but nothing special when compared to the rest of the defense. The freshmen, though, could make the Tiger linebackers shine if the light goes on right away for Louis and Feist. When Alexander is ready, look out.
Strength: Speed. What this group lacks in experience it should be able to make up for in warp speed. All three spots will have range and athleticism with the potential to send people into the backfield on a regular basis and swarm around the ball.
Weakness: Experience. The Tigers aren’t exactly starting from scratch, but outside of Minter in the middle there are question marks on the outside. There’s potential to be decent, but until the freshmen
Outlook: The linebackers are along for the ride on the LSU defense, playing in between an elite defensive line and a phenomenal secondary. There’s speed and athleticism across the board, and there’s lots of upside and potential with all the great freshmen coming in, but this will easily be the weakest part – in relative terms – of the great defense. It’ll be a functional linebacking corps, but that’ll be about it.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Is there another Thorpe-winning defensive back in the LSU secondary? Patrick Peterson won it in 2010 and Morris Claiborne won in 2011, but it was Tyrann Mathieu who ended up as a Heisman finalist and was the best all-around playmaker on the LSU defense. While a player of his caliber will be missed after getting kicked off the team, he's merely an above-average corner; he's a far, far better safety/nickel or dime defender who gets to wreak havoc all over the field. He always seemed to be around the big play at the right time with six forced fumbles and five recoveries. 

With Mathieu gone, now it'll be up to junior Tharold Simon to be the No. 1 corner and a key leader. At 6-3 and 190 pounds he has excellent size and is built like a safety, but he moves extremely well and is physical enough to beat up receivers and take them out of their game. As a spot starter and a nickel and dime defender he made 42 tackles with two picks and ten broken up passes, but now he gets to try to take over one of the corner jobs where he’ll get plenty of chances to make big things happen.

Lost in the shuffle with all the publicity given to Mathieu and Claiborne was junior Eric Reid, a terrific all-around free safety with 6-2, 207-pound size and unlimited range. A star high school prospect, he has grown into a first-round caliber pro prospect with the ability to lock down in the open field against speedy receivers and the physical ability to match up with the bigger ones. He finished tied with Mathieu for the team lead with 76 tackles to go along with two picks and three broken up passes, highlighted by his brilliant grab in the win over Alabama. Had the Tigers gone on to win the national title, his interception would’ve been remembered as the play of the 2011 season.

While Reid will be the team’s best safety – and possibly the nation’s top defensive back – the hope is for junior Craig Loston to live up to his prep All-America billing and be the next great Tiger defender. The 6-2, 200-pound strong safety only made 14 tackles last season after struggling through a wrist injury in his first year. He has the speed, size, and athleticism to become a next-level star, but he has yet to come close to putting it altogether on the field. However, if he can stay healthy, watch out. The upside is through the roof, but he was already seen limping and a bit banged up in summer workouts.

Likely taking over for Mathieu at one corner spot is Jalen Collins, a 6-2, 195-pound redshirt freshman with great size and terrific speed and athleticism. One of the stars of the offseason, he showed he's good and ready to play a huge role in the rotation, if he doesn't hold down the starting job from Day One. A great prospect when he came to LSU, but not an elite one, he has the look of the next great Tiger defensive back.

It’ll be up to a slew of freshmen to provide the quality depth, especially now that Mathieu is done. There are other options, but the backup talent will come in from the recruiting class led by Derrick Raymond, a 6-1, 175-pound corner who was a Louisiana state champion sprinter with terrific coverage skills. While he’ll work on the outside, 5-11, 194-pound redshirt freshmen Micah Eugene will see time at strong safety. A speedster, he could work a bit as a nickel and dime defender, while 6-1, 199-pound sophomore Ronald Martin should see more time in both safety spots after getting in a little bit of work last year and finishing with three tackles and two broken up passes. 

Watch Out For … Loston. It’ll all come down to his health. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field in one piece and hasn’t been able to show everything he can do. Now he gets the chance to show what he can do, and if he’s able to get through the season he could be an all-star.
Strength: Playmakers. Mathieu was an all-timer of a disruptive force no matter where he played, but Reid is as rock solid as any safety in the nation. Simon will be terrific as he takes over a starting role, while, again, Loston could be special if he’s healthy.
Weakness: Depth. Loston is hardly a sure thing considering his history, and in a perfect world it would be nice if there were a few more corner prospects ready to start out of the box. There’s talent, as always, waiting in the wings, but it could need some seasoning.
Outlook: The Tiger defensive front started to get to the quarterback more and the results were tremendous for the secondary. The interceptions started coming and the safeties made play after play against the run. It’s a thinner group this year with the backups needing time and seasoning, but if everyone stays healthy, there won’t be a better starting foursome in America.
Unit Rating: 9

Special Teams

Senior Drew Alleman turned in a terrific season hitting 16-of-18 field goals and showing decent range. He’s not going to blast any 50+ yarders – with a 50-yarder one of his two misses – but he’ll be a rock from 40 yards and in. He nailed his last ten field goals including all three in the win over Alabama.

Punter Brad Wing will forever be known for being the first player to cost his team a touchdown because of a premature celebration, but the sophomore will now get more credit for being among the nation’s best punters. The Australia native averaged a whopping 44.1 yards per kick putting 23 inside of 20 and forcing 12 fair catches. He’ll be on the short list for the Ray Guy award.

WR Odell Beckham will take over more of the kickoff return duties from Morris Claiborne averaging 24 yards per try on his five returns. Tyrann Mathieu was one of the nation’s elite playmakers on the coverage teams as well as on punt returns averaging 15.6 yards per try with backbreaking touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia late in the year. Beckham will likely play a big role as a punt returner in place of the Honey Badger.

Watch Out For … Beckham. Morris Claiborne had a nice year averaging 25.1 yards per kickoff return helped by one explosive gamechanger against West Virginia. Beckham could be even more consistent.
Strength: The punting game. Wing is an NFL talent who could start at the next level right now, and he gets a ton of help from his coverage team. LSU allowed a mere 3.7 yards per punt return last season.
Weakness: Deep field goals. Alleman is a good kicker, but he’s not a sure thing on attempts beyond 40 yards. He nailed three kicks early on from beyond 40, but he’s 0-for-1 beyond 45.
Outlook: The special teams should be terrific. Wing is an elite weapon, Alleman is solid, the returners are terrific and the coverage teams are great. If Beckham can do the job on kickoff returns and Alleman can show a bit more range, there aren’t any weaknesses.
Unit Rating: 9

- 2012 LSU Preview | 2012 LSU Offense
- 2012 LSU Defense | 2012 LSU Depth Chart