2007 LSU Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 LSU Tigers Defense

LSU Tigers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 LSU Preview | 2007 LSU Offense Preview 
2007 LSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN LSU Preview 

What you need to know:
The nation's number three defense in each of the last two years might crank things up yet another notch with eight starters returning led by the nation's most impressive line. Tackle Glenn Dorsey and end Tyson Jackson might be top five draft picks next season, while Ali Highsmith leads a fantastic linebacking corps that'll only get better once the star prospect backups get more time. Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon form a top lock-down corner tandem, while Craig Steltz and Curtis Taylor will be more than just fill-ins for safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels. With all the talent returning, expect more big plays, more turnovers, and more dominance against the average to bad teams.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Darry Beckwith, 65
Sacks: Tyson Jackson, 8.5
Interceptions: Craig Steltz & Jonathan Zenon, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DT Glenn Dorsey
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Rahim Allen and junior DE Tremaine Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Curtis Taylor
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Tyson Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dorsey, 2) LB Ali Highsmith, 3) Jackson
Strength of the defense: The entire front seven, corner
Weakness of the defense: B
ackup corner experience, proven backup linebackers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The LSU line was going to be good no matter what, and then it became special when 6-2, 299-pound All-America tackle Glenn Dorsey chose to come back for his senior season when he likely would've been a top 20 draft pick. Yet another in a long line of great LSU tackles, Dorsey went from a solid reserve to a jaw-dropping star last season getting in better shape and using his quickness to make 64 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He's the anchor of the front four and one of the nation's premier interior pass rushers.

Next to Dorsey will likely be 6-3, 294-pound sophomore Charles Alexander, who started over the second half of the season finishing with 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks. While not the run-stuffer Dorsey is, he's one of the team's faster linemen with the speed to be a pass rushing end in the body of a tackle.

6-5, 292-pound junior Tyson Jackson is one of the nation's bigger defensive ends with next-level measurables that could make him a top ten type of pick is he puts it all together this season. He has the strength and size of a tackle with linebacker quickness cranking out a team-leading 8.5 sacks with ten tackles for loss and 37 stops. If absolutely needed, he could move inside for a stretch.

The only new starter will be on the right side where sophomore Rahim Alem and junior Tremaine Johnson will combine to take over for Chase Pittman. Alem is a normal-sized end at 6-3 and 252 pounds, but that makes him a lightweight on the Tiger defensive front. He made two tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in garbage time, and now he should shine as a pass rusher with tremendous athletic ability.

Johnson is 6-2 and 273 pounds adding yet another big body up front. He only made two tackles last year in ten games of action, but he was tremendous in spring ball highlighted by two sacks in the spring game. Working his way into becoming a pass rusher, he should thrive with all the attention paid to the other three starters.

Projected Top Reserves: The hope is for 6-4, 260-pound senior Kirston Pittman to finally get healthy enough to play up to his initial potential. A burgeoning superstar after making five sacks and 36 tackles in his first two years showing tremendous skills as a speed rusher, he was knocked out for 2005 with a foot injury and was banged up throughout all of last year. If he's right, he can be a killer of a pass rushing specialist behind Jackson.

Inside, 6-1, 295-pound junior Marlon Favorite saw a little big of starting time last season and made the most of it making 20 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. Considered to be the nation's top tackle prospect coming out of high school in 2003, he hasn't quite lived up to those expectations yet, but he's not all that far off.

If there wasn't enough beef up front, 6-5, 324-pound sophomore Al Woods adds even more. A good all-around prospect who made seven tackles as a true freshman, he'll be groomed behind Dorsey to take over next season.

6-3, 281-pound Ricky Jean-Francois showed great promise as a freshman making 27 tackles, three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Able to play either end or tackle, he's a key backup.

Watch Out For ... this to be the nation's best defensive line. The return of Dorsey cemented the honor as the Tigers have a signature superstar for the other superstars to work around.
Size. When you have quick, athletic ends who check in at 292, 260, 273 and 252 pounds, you're big up front. The all can move.
Making big plays against the run. Nitpicking time for a group that should hold everyone to well under 100 yards rushing, but for all the talent and all the NFL skills, the line didn't make nearly enough tackles for loss last year as the team only cranked out 69.
Outlook: Utter destruction. No one's running on Glenn Dorsey, Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite, while the pass rushing from all four spots should be relentless. If Rahim Alem and Tremaine Johnson can be merely adequate on the right side, this group will be a dominant force.
Rating: 10


Projected Starters: All three starters return to an active group that dominated throughout last season. The leading tackler of the trio is Darry Beckwith, a 6-1, 232-pound junior who came up with 65 stops, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. A star recruit a few years ago, he lived up to the potential last year after moving from the outside to the middle. He can play any of the three linebacker positions, but he's found a home inside where his speed and range should make him even more active now that he knows what he's doing.

Returning for year another big year is 6-1, 225-pound senior Ali Highsmith after making 159 tackles in his first three seasons and earning a Butkus Award Semifinalist nod. Able to play either outside linebacker position, his 4.5 speed makes him a natural on the weakside where he's able to roam as a pass rusher and help out in pass coverage with the ability to cover any back.

6-4, 235-pound junior Luke Sanders is the unnoticed starter on the strongside, but he can more than hold his own. He started on the weakside last year while Highsmith played the strongside, and now the two will switch spots. A great athlete who's finally got healthy after knee and shoulder problems, he made 34 tackles and two sacks.

Projected Top Reserves: The star of the future might be 6-1, 220-pound Perry Riley, but he needs a place to play. He has 4.5 speed and defensive lineman strength, and now he just needs more time after making four tackles in seven games as a true freshman. He'll play behind Sanders at the Buck position.

Next year's man in he middle will be sophomore Jacob Cutera, a thin 6-4, 227-pounder who looks more like a big safety. He was a star on special teams and even got a start at linebacker as a true freshman against Ole Miss leading the team with 11 stops. He finished the year with 37 stops and will someday be the team's leading tackler.

6-3, 228-pound redshirt freshman Kelvin Sheppard will play behind Highsmith, but he'll find plenty of playing time somewhere in the corps. From the same high school as Riley, Sheppard has similar speed and strength with a nose for the football.

Watch Out For ... a good rotation of players even though the starting three is among the best in the SEC. Riley, Cutera and Sheppard are too good not to get extensive playing time throughout the year.
Speed. Some teams (like Auburn) generally sacrifice size for speed and quickness. LSU has the same speed and athleticism but the linebackers are big.
More big plays. Whether in the backfield or forcing turnovers, this group has far too much experience and skill to not make more game-changing plays. There's no reason this group can't be regulars at popping the passer.
Outlook: The speed and talent generally makes up for any problems. The corps only faced one team, Arkansas, that could pound the rock on a consistently effective basis (that includes Auburn), and the Hogs tore off 298 yards and three touchdowns. Either this crew will be exposed as above-average early on against Virginia Tech, or it'll firmly establish itself as the star corps of the conference.
Rating: 8.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The defense returns loaded with talent with six starters returning to the front seven, but the one area of slight concern will be at safety where Jessie Daniels and LaRon Landry have to be replaced. 6-2, 204-pound senior Craig Steltz is a long-time reserve who's been a regular for the past two seasons making 82 tackles while leading the team with four interceptions last year. While he's not Daniels, he's good when the ball is in the air making his four picks in four straight games while also having the smarts to always find a way to be in the right position. There won't be any drop-off in production.

The bigger problem is at free safety where 6-3, 204-pound junior Curtis Taylor has to replace Landry, the team's leading tackler and All-America star. A big-time hitter and a scary-big force when on the move, he made 12 tackles last season as he got his feet wet for this year. First, he has to be back healthy after hurting his shoulder in spring ball.

The corner spots are not just set, they're manned by two lockdown seniors who could end up forming the nation's best tandem. 6-0, 176-pound Jonathan Zenon broke up 12 passes and picked off four others after he took over the starting role. While not the jaw-dropping NFL athlete you'd expect manning an LSU corner spot, he's sticky on receivers and simply makes plays.

The star of the show is Chevis Jackson, a great hitter who came up with 46 tackles last year to go along with 14 broken up passes and two interceptions. Unlike Zenon, Jackson has NFL written all over him, but first, he might earn a few All-America honors with the speed, size, and technique to be a lock-down defender on anyone's number one.

Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Zenon on the left side will be sophomore Chris Hawkins, a 6-1, 181-pound speedster with 4.5 wheels and tremendous all-around athleticism. He saw a little bit of time last season making four tackles, and he'll be the understudy this year before taking over the starting job in 2008.

Redshirt freshman Jai Eugene is a next-level athlete with all the skills to be a great corner. He's 5-11, 184-pounds and has warp speed and quickness. A former high school quarterback, he'll start next year when Jackson's off to the NFL.

Behind Steltz will be 6-2, 203-pound sophomore Harry Coleman, an intimidating force who made 12 tackles in his first season after learning how to play the position. He was mostly a linebacker in high school.

6-1, 205-pound sophomore Danny McCray is big, tough, strong, and cornerback fast at free safety. He was a key player in nickel packages as a true freshman finishing with 30 tackles and an interception.

Watch Out For ... this to be one of the top five secondaries in college football even without Daniels and Landry. Steltz and Taylor can play, and Coleman and McCray could start right now for most teams.
Corner. Jackson and Zenon don't get beat, but they also got plenty of help form the safeties last year. Even so, stick these two on an island against most receivers and they'll be fine.
Experienced corner depth. Hawkins and Eugene will be good in time, but they need playing time. Watch for them to get on the field in a hurry as soon as games get out of reach.
Outlook: While Craig Steltz and Curtis Taylor will be more than fine, there's going to be a drop-off when you lose players like LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels. Even so, with the help provided from the pass rush up front, it'll be a shock if, statistically, this wasn't one of the five best pass defenses in America.
Rating: 9

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore PK Colt David is coming off a nice freshman season hitting eight of 13 field goals with four of his misses coming from beyond 40 yards. While he's a rock from inside 40, he doesn't have a consistent deep leg topping out at around 45 yards. Even so, the coaching staff will give him a few more shots from deep this year.

6-5, 253-pound senior Patrick Fisher is one of the nation's biggest punters, and now he'll have to show off a leg replacing Chris Jackson and his 41.9-yard average. He has a little bit of experience, but consistency will be his key.

Early Doucet
will handle the bulk of the kickoff returns while Trindon Holliday, a 5-5, 159-pound bolt of lightning, will help out on punt returns. Considering his world-class speed, Doucet needs to average more than 16.8 yards per kickoff return. Holliday returned five kickoffs on the year for an average of 32.8 yards per try with a touchdown against Arkansas.

Watch Out For ... David to be used even more. The offense scores so much that all he usually needs to do is kick extra points. This year, the coaching staff will likely give him more chances from longer range.
David's reliability. He hasn't had to come through with a truly clutch kick, but he's been reliable enough to not worry about him as long as the attempt is from around 40 yards and in.
The return game. Considering all the speed, LSU was stunningly mediocre returning kicks with Skyler Green gone. Holliday should change that with more work. Doucet looks the part of an elite returner, but he's not productive.
Outlook: There's nothing special about the special teams unless Fisher starts to add more blast to the nation's 95th best punting game. The coverage units could stand to be far better while there has to be more pop on the returns.
Rating: 7


Related Stories
2007 LSU Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 29, 2007
2007 LSU Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 29, 2007
2007 LSU Preview
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