What you need to know ... Expect lots of big plays from the
Bo Pelini defense and, as always, there's enough speed and
athleticism to make up for several problems including some huge
losses up front. While this might not be the nation's number
three defense again, it's not going to fall too far if the front
four can get a big season out of tackle Glen Dorsey. Linebacker
Ali Highsmith is on the verge of superstardom leading a shaky
linebacking corps that needs Luke Sanders to be healthy. Safety
LaRon Landry should be in the NFL, but he's back combining with
Jessie Daniels to form one of the nation's best safety tandems.
Tackles: Ali Highsmith,
Ali Highsmith, 4
Interceptions: LaRon Landry, 3
Star of the defense: Senior FS LaRon Landry
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LB Luke Sanders
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Darry Beckwith
Best pro prospect: Landry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Landry, 2) LB Ali
Highsmith, 3) CB Chevis Jackson
Strength of the defense: Safety, speed and athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Call this a year of transition for the line after losing
Claude Wroten, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver. While there's a who's
who of great high school recruits to work with, do the pieces fit the puzzle? Glen
Dorsey is a good tackle to build around and Chase Pittman is a decent
end, and then the rest of the line is full of interchangeable parts.
Quickness isn't an issue as the front four should camp out in most
opposing backfields, but being as consistently good against the run as
last year's group was will be a lot to ask for.
The key to the unit: The prep stars have to become
top college players. There's size, speed and talent, now there has to be
production in the three vacant spots.
Defensive Line Rating: 7.5
- DE Tyson Jackson, Soph. - 13 tackles, 2 sacks, 5
A big backup last year, the 6-5, 281-pound sophomore showed good pass
rushing ability and made plenty of plays over the first half of the
season. Now he'll get the first look at left end and could move to
tackle to provide more interior quickness.
- DT Glen Dorsey, Jr. - 28 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFL
Dorsey got in better shape getting down to 284 pounds but still should
be a rock against the run. He was a steady reserve last year at both
tackle spots and should be an All-SEC performer and the leader up front.
He's quick enough to get into the backfield on a regular basis and
should double his sack total with more time on the field.
- DT Charles Alexander, Soph. - 1 tackle
He'll find a spot at either tackle or end. The 6-3, 285-pound sophomore
is one of the team's fastest defensive linemen and should be a blur in
the backfield at right tackle. He can more back to the outside if
injuries strike or to add more bulk to the rotation.
- DE Chase Pittman, Sr. - 34 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 TFL, 4 broken up
passes, 8 quarterback hurries
The former Texas transfer is the only returning starter on the line and
needs to be the leader. While not a pure pass rusher, he has few
problems getting into the backfield and should be one of the team's top
all-around producers. At 265 pounds, he's strong against the run to go
along with his quickness.
- DT Marlon Favorite, Soph. - 2 tackles
While he didn't win a starting job coming out of spring
ball, he's this close to taking over a number one spot. At 291
pounds, he's the biggest tackle on the two-deep with the talent to
quickly help fill the void left by Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten. He
was considered by many to be the nation's number one tackle prospect
coming out of his school in 2003.
- DT Ricky Jean-Francois, RFr.
Able to play tackle or end, the 266-pound redshirt freshman will start
out behind Charles Alexander. One of the team's top defensive recruits
last year after making 93 tackles and 15 sacks for Carol City High in
Miami, he's extremely fast and should be active on the inside.
- DE Tremaine Johnson, Soph. - 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 7
The 270-pound sophomore is a tackle-sized end whose emergence could lead
to changes up front. First he has to prove he can be a starting caliber
end. He's not a natural pass rusher, but he's athletic enough to make
plays in the backfield.
The linebacking corps has to replace leading tackler
Cameron Vaughn and 45 tackles from Kenneth Hollis. As always, there's
speed to burn and plenty of athleticism, but there's not a lot of
experience and this could be a work in progress. Ali Highsmith is one of
the SEC's better all-around linebackers with the skills to play any of
the three positions. Darry Beckwith is a promising young star who'll
find a spot somewhere depending on the healthy of Luke Sanders' knee.
The developed depth isn't there.
The key to the unit: Hope for the emergence of
Beckwith and overall good health. The depth has to develop in a big, big
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Darry Beckwith, Soph. - 8 tackles
A top recruit a few years ago, the versatile 229-pound sophomore is fast
enough to be a star on the outside and strong enough to move to the
middle. He'll start out on the strongside and will move around where
needed, but he's definitely sure to put up big numbers no matter where
- Luke Sanders, Soph. - 7 tackles, 1 broken up pass
An excellent athlete, Sanders hasn't been able to stay healthy suffering
a shoulder injury in 2004 and a knee injury last year. He has room to
get bigger and stronger at only 229 pounds on a lean 6-4 frame, but he's
already a strong tackler. He'll get the first look at the starting job
in the middle once he's 100%.
- Ali Highsmith, Jr. - 75 tackles, 4 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 3 forced
A tough, versatile linebacker who finished second on the team in tackles
last season. He's a natural on the weakside with his 4.5 speed able to
allow him to be used as a top pass rusher, and is tough enough to play
on the strongside if Darry Beckwith has to move inside. After bulking up
to 226 pounds, he should be more destructive.
- Jacob Cutera, Fr.
Considered one of the nation's top linebacker prospects coming into this
season, the 225-pound freshman got to school early and will be a backup
in the middle. While he's not as fast as the other linebackers, he has
4.6 speed and good range. He'll eventually be one of the rocks of the D.
- Jason Spadoni, Sr. - 12 tackles, 1 forced fumble
The former running back moved over to defense last year and now will be
a key player on the weakside behind Ali Highsmith. He has made his
biggest impact on special teams, and the big hitter will once again be
expected to shine there again.
Even with the loss of top corner Ronnie Prude this will be one
of the SEC's best secondaries. The safety combination of LaRon Landry
and Jessie Daniels is one of the nation's best, while Chevis Jackson is
on the verge of being a perennial All-SEC performer at corner. There's
enough speed among the reserve to still field a decent group if disaster
The key to the unit: Pick off more passes. LSU might
have been 11th in the nation in pass defense and third in pass
efficiency defense, but it only intercepted ten throws.
Secondary Rating: 9.5
- CB Jonathan Zenon, Jr. - 17 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4
broken up passes
Zenon steps into a starting role after spending last year on special
teams. While he isn't necessarily the typical LSU NFL-caliber corner,
he's expected to grow into a steady, producer on the left side and has
to be used to getting picked on with most passing games likely to stay
away from Chevis Jackson on the other side.
- FS LaRon Landry, Sr. - 69 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 3
interceptions, 8 broken up passes
One of the nation's best free safeties and a sure early round draft pick
next year, he has the 6-2, 204 size, the 4.4 speed, and the résumé with
241 career tackles. He's a proven playmaker against the pass and a
light-him-up highlight reel hitter. It'll be a shock if he's not an
All-American and in the hunt for SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
- SS Jessie Daniels, Sr. - 39 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1
interception, 4 broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
The tough veteran throws his body around a little too much having
various dings over the last few years. He out for most of spring ball
trying to get healthy after suffering shoulder and ankle injuries, but
when he's right, he's as good as any safety in the SEC. Tackling has
never been an issue and his range is unlimited; his big improvement has
come in pass protection and the ability to sniff out plays.
- CB Chevis Jackson, Soph. - 47 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 interception,
3 broken up passes
A nice starter throughout last year and a strong open-field tackler. He
has NFL measurables at 6-0 and 189 pounds with tremendous speed, and now
he has to grow into into a lockdown number one coverman. He has the
talent to get the job done.
- SS Craig Steltz, Jr. - 40 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up
passes, 3 quarterback hurries
A nice reserve who saw plenty of time early and finished with a few
decent games with an eight tackle game in the SEC title game. He's a
fast, experienced player who's a good tackler and decent in pass
coverage. He's quick enough to play free safety if needed.
- CB Daniel Francis, Jr. - 21 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 broken up pass
Mostly a special teamer so far, Francis got steady work throughout last
year in nickel and dime situations as well as at corner. He should be a
solid reserve behind Chevis Jackson on the right side and be a great
LSU has the kicking game in place with Chris Jackson good
enough to be in the hunt for All-SEC punting honors after leading the
nation's fifth best team in net average, and he'll also be the
long-range field goal kicker. Colt David will deal with extra points and
the shorter kicks. True freshman Trindon Holliday will get the first
shot at returning punts with Skyler Green and his 13.3-yard average
gone. Curtis Taylor has to bring a boost to a kickoff return unit that
only averaged 17 yards a try.
The key to the unit: The Tigers need to use all their
speed to do more with kickoff returns. More consistency on longer field
goals would be nice.
Special Team Rating: 8
- PK/P Chris Jackson, Jr. - 10-19 FGs, 59 punts, 2,447
yds, 41.5 yards per kick, 26 kicks inside the 20
Jackson will be used for the field goals of any appreciable distance,
while Colt David will be the short range kicker. Seven of his misses
came from beyond 40 yards. Jackson was tremendous as a punter forcing a
whopping26 fair catches and doing a great job of pinning teams deep.