2013 LSU Preview – Defense
LSU LB Lamin Barrow
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - LSU Tiger Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Despite finishing eighth in the nation, 2012 was still a step backwards for the LSU defense from 2011. How much so? There were fewer tackles for loss, fewer sacks, forced less fumbles, allowed opposing quarterbacks a better passing completion percentage, more passing yards, twice as many passing touchdowns, almost half a yard more per run, twice as many rushing touchdowns, and more total rushing yards. And now the D has to replace seven starters including leading tackler Kevin Minter, All-America safety Eric Reid, and all four starting defensive lineman. Experience is clearly the question mark, but defensive coordinator John Chavis rotates so much of his roster during games, a lack of starting experience means less in than for most programs. Overall it might take a little while, but the defense should improve as the season goes on.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Lamin Barrow
Tackles: Barrow, 104
Sacks: Johnson, 4.5
Interceptions: Craig Loston, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Anthony Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Danielle Hunter
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) Barrow, 3) S Craig Loston
Strength of the defense: Talent, Speed, Strength
Weakness of the defense: Experience, Depth at tackle
LSU rotated nine defensive lineman regularly in 2012, but two-thirds of those are now gone for the NFL. And the three remaining, while talented, have combined for just four starts. Not just four starts in 2011 – four starts in their careers. No other lineman on the roster has game experience.
Readily accepting the leadership role is 6-3, 299-pound junior Anthony Johnson, also known as The Freak. Johnson arrived in Baton Rouge as the nation's number one prep tackle, played on the line as a true freshman – a rarity at LSU, and earned freshman All-America honors. He has only missed one game since arriving at Red Stick, starting three in 2012. Johnson has the strength of a nose guard and the speed of a linebacker; finishing third on the team with 10 tackles for loss as a reserve defensive tackle.
Beside him will be Ego Ferguson, another LSU superstar recruit with a world of NFL upside. At 6-3 and 308 pounds, he has the prototype side to go along with experience, playing in 26 games with no starts averaging about a tackle a game. The redshirt junior put on 25 pounds since this time last year while losing none of his athleticism. Ferguson matched Johnson outstanding play this spring – he had seven tackles in the spring game - and according to LSU coaches spent almost as much time this April in LSU's backfield as quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Behind this duo, defensive coordinator John Chavis will rotate a bevy of highly recruited, inexperienced youngsters. Among them is 6-3, 295-pound redshirt sophomore
Quentin Thomas, 6-5, 290-pound freshman
Christian LaCouture – who arrived on campus for spring drills and stood out - and 6-4, 275-pound
Greg Gilmore, a five-star prep tackle out of North Carolina.
Among the talent on the defensive line were four of the team's five best ends. Junior
Jermauria Rasco has tremendous speed for a 6-3, 255-pounder, and was highly praised by his ex-colleagues Sam Montgomery and Kiki Mingo. He has a thick body with a great motor, and has the power to separate an opposing player from the ball. Rasco was rated a five-star end by Scout.com out of Shreveport and heads into 2013 having played in 22 games with 27 career tackles and two sacks.
Built like Mingo, 6-5, 233-pound Danielle Hunter is an aggressive pass rusher who has learned how to use technique more since arriving at LSU. A sophomore out of Katy, Texas, Hunter led his high school to its first ever 5A State Playoffs appearance.
Once again, behind Hunter and Rasco, the roster has an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent. Redshirt junior
Jordan Allen was Louisiana's top defensive line prospect out of high school and will fight Hunter for the starting job. The 6-6, 255-pounder has battled various injuries since arriving in Red Stick, but was on a mission to stand out this spring – which he did. True freshmen
Frank Herron of Memphis, Tashawn Bower
and Lewis Neal will also compete for playing time early.
Watch Out For … The Freak. Many thought Johnson would exert himself last season, but given the depth, talent and experience before him, his reps were fewer than many would have liked. That won't be the case this season – and if spring practice is any indication, Johnson besides Ferguson is going to be a frightening combination.
Strength: Run defense. LSU finished 2012 ranked third in the SEC in run defense, and even with the turnover there's unlikely to be much of a drop off here.
Weakness: Starting experience. Yes, Chavis plays a lot of rotation defense, but we expect to see a little less of that in important games this season – especially at tackle. If any of the starting four get injured, this will be a concern.
Outlook: Even with the lack of experience, this remains one of the nation's best defensive lines. Johnson, Ferguson and Rasco would have been returning starters on any team in America other than Alabama, Florida or LSU. The schedule will give the line time to gel before the season's two most important games come around in November.
Unit Rating: 8
Kevin Minter made a name for himself last season, but quietly right behind him was 6-2, 233-pound
Lamin Barrow. The redshirt senior was only four tackles shy of Minter, and now he should the perfect leader for the tremendous unit. Barrow can play either inside or outside, and beyond having superior athleticism, he's a very smart football player who'll be a college football household name by Christmas.
Redshirt junior D.J. Welter, emerged from the spring as the starter in the middle. At 6-0, 226-pounds, Welter played in only one game last season after being ruled academically ineligible last August. Welter might be the team's most fundamental tackler, and will challenger Barrow to claim Minter's title. Behind him is
Lamar Louis, a 6-0, 220-pound true sophomore with fantastic speed and athleticism. he played in 11 games last year, starting in five of them, recognized by his peers for making this most improvement this spring.
Tahj Jones won the starting outside linebacker spot, and now the redshirt senior looks to atone after being ruled academically ineligible before last year's season opener vs. North Texas. At 6-2, 205 pounds, he's one of the team's lighter backers, but makes up for it with experience and speed. He has 37 tackles in 28 games, reclaiming his starting role for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson.
Kwon Alexander won a starting job as a true freshman before breaking his ankle in Gainesville. Remarkably, he returned to practice in November in time to play in the bowl. He has the speed for pass coverage and a mean streak made for run defense. A born outside linebacker, he has the athleticism and body frame to play any position Chavis needs. Now he has healed up and will be the Tigers leading tackler one day. Don't be surprised to see him wrestle the job away from Jones and will be a star – if he can stay healthy. There's a history of problems; Alexander also had a season-ending knee injury his senior year in high school.
LSU signed seven linebackers in the 2012 recruiting class, then another three in 2013, including one of the nation's best prospects in 6-3, 225-pound
Kendell Beckwith, who'll challenge for time from the moment his cleats hit the ground.
Watch Out For … experience to shine. LSU will start two redshirt seniors and a redshirt junior, all of whom have been working with Chavis their entire college careers. There's an abundance of young talent behind them; expect many of those fresh faces to rotate in throughout the season, but it's the upperclassmen that will anchor the front seven.
Strength: Speed. Once again, raw athleticism might be the Tigers' greatest gift throughout the defense. They can all move and they can all swarm around the ball.
Weakness: Rust. Both Jones and Welter missed a ton of time in 2012, while Alexander is recovering from two injuries in as many years. It's splitting hairs, but it might take a while before everyone is back to form.
Outlook: After being along for the ride last season, and leaning too much on Minter and Barrow, this year's squad comes back deeper, better and more experienced. Expect great competition for playing time, and for Chavis to put them up on the line of scrimmage even more so than in years past.
Unit Rating: 8
Is there another First Team All-American defensive back in the LSU secondary? After Patrick Peterson in 2010 and both Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu in 2011, Eric Reid assumed the mantle in 2012. Next up to shine is,
Craig Loston, who's back for his redshirt senior season. The 6-2, 205-pounder was a consensus five-star prep recruit out of Texas, and has always been known as a serious hitter in the mold of former Tiger Chad Jones. Loston has struggled through injuries during his time in Baton Rouge, and hopes to make his final year leave up to his prep expectations. He received AP second team All-SEC honors, finishing with 55 tackles and three interceptions.
Ronald Martin was forced into action last season more than expected, and he came through, often finding himself around the ball and making big things happen. He finished with two interceptions and 35 tackles, including five each against Idaho, Towson, Alabama and Arkansas. Possessing a keen sense of getting to the play, the 6-1, 202-pound junior will take over for Eric Reid at free safety.
Sophomore Jalen Mills took over for the dismissed Mathieu last year and did a solid job, starting all 13 games as a true freshman earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. He had his best game near the season's end – nine tackles and two pass breakups at Arkansas. At 6-0, 185-pounds, Mills has superb instincts, and with a year under his belt should make less assignment mistakes.
With Tharold Simon leaving early for the NFL, redshirt sophomore Jalen Collins steps in and needs to quickly become a leader. Many had the 6-2, 200-pound Collins penciled in to take Mathieu's place in the depth chart, but he lost out to Mills. The Olive Branch, Mississippi native has a great combination of size and speed, and rotates his hips well at full speed – particularly well for a man his height. Collins has put on a lot of muscle since arriving on campus, but plays well with it.
Derrick Raymond, is a 6-1, 175-pound corner who was a Louisiana state champion sprinter in the 100 and 200 meters. The redshirt freshman has good coverage skills and will likely see some time on special teams. 5-11, 190-pound redshirt sophomore
Micah Eugene will play at strong safety and see time in nickel or dime coverage – he had 3.5 sacks in 2012. A great athlete, Eugene saw some time at running back in high school.
Keep an eye out for Tre'Davious White. The super-prep recruit out of Shreveport, Louisiana has all the tools to fight for a playing time this fall. Ranked as perhaps the nation's best cornerback prospect, white is up 15 pounds to 5-10, 185-pounds and may actually be ahead of where LSU greats Peterson and Claiborne were at this point in their respective careers.
Watch Out For … White. The true freshman is likely to challenge early for playing time. If Mills was able to start and play well as a true freshman last year, the upside with White is even greater. Watch out, Collins. To take pressure off the line, Collins, Thomas or White will have to step up this year.
Strength: Depth. What was a weakness in 2012 is now a strength. The Tigers saw a lot of rotation at defensive back, by design and by injury; that experience will make a huge difference.
Weakness: Lockdown corner. White may be that man, but he won't be in the beginning. This is perhaps the Tigers' first year without a bona fide lockdown cornerback since 2008.
Outlook: Despite the loss of some key pieces, and a few question marks in terms of finding a star corner, the group should be just as strong as it was last year in terms of production. The bar has been set high indeed, but this secondary should eventually come through.
Unit Rating:: 8
After Drew Alleman did a terrific job on field goals nailing 21-of-29 of his shots, there are question marks about the kicking game. Junior James Hairston has a tremendous leg and can blast away anywhere from 50 yards and in, and he'll see time on a few bombs after serving as the team's main kickoff returner.
If needed, he could turn into the te
With Brad Wing taking off from school early, the team needed another strong-legged punter. Freshman
Jamie Keehn is another big Austrailian who'll get his chance after spending last year as Wing's backup. He has the size and has the leg, but he needs experience and consistency.
WR Odell Beckham will take over more of the punt return duties
after averaging 9.1 yards per try with two scores. averaging 24 yards per try on his 35 returns. A
phenomenal kickoff returner two years ago, averaging
15.8 yards per try after cranking out 24 yards per
return in 2011. Receiver Jarvis Landry will handle kickoff returns after coming up with 19 yards per pop; he has the speed to do more.
Watch Out For … Hairston. With his deep leg, he should be able to stretch the field a little bit more than Alleman did and he should come up with a few big shots.
Strength: Kick coverage. The Tigers only allowed 3.5 yards per punt return and 18.1 yards per kickoff return. The coverage teams were fantastic throughout the year.
Weakness: Proven kickers. Alleman might not have had a deep leg, but he was solid. Wing was a weapon. the kickers will be fine, but now they have to prove it.
Outlook: As always, the special teams will be great with the kickers coming around and the return game solid as always. It might take a little while before the coaching staff believes in the kickers, but that will come around.
Unit Rating: 7
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