Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know: The nation's number three defense in
each of the last three years might fall off a little bit with
the loss of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, DT Glenn Dorsey, LB
Ali Highsmith, SS Craig Steltz and both starting corners, but
it's not like things are going to fall off the map. The
defensive line might even be better, even without Dorsey, with
tackles Ricky Jean-Francois (academics) and Charles Alexander
(knee) joining Al Woods and Marlon Favorite on the inside to
form a brick wall, and tackle-sized Tyson Jackson on the end
looking for a big season to cash in on for next year's NFL
draft. Speed and athleticism should make up for concerns at
outside linebacker and cornerback, while MLB Darry Beckwith and
the safeties should be tremendous.
Kirston Pittman, 8
Interceptions: Curtis Taylor, 3
Star of the defense: Senior DE Tyson Jackson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB
Jai Eugene and junior CB Chris Hawkins
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Kelvin Sheppard
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) DE Kirston
Pittman, 3) LB Darry Beckwith
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, outside linebacker
Projected Starters: The line
loses its heart, its soul, and its warrior with Glenn Dorsey off to be a
Kansas City Chief, but it gets a great veteran back in senior Tyson
Jackson. A relative disappointment last season making 36 tackles and
3.5 sacks with just 4.5 tackles for loss, the 6-5, 291-pounder was fine,
but not special. While he's big enough to move inside to tackle if
needed, he's fast enough to stay on the outside and be a really large,
really imposing end who forces teams to run away from him. Because of
his measurables he's considered an elite pro prospect, but the stats and
production have to kick in this year.
So who replaces Dorsey? No, Ricky Jean-Francois isn't a top five
talent, but he's a tremendous prospect who finally got into the
classroom often enough to be able to play late in the year making nine
tackles in the two games he was eligible for. After a fantastic national
title game, the 6-3, 281-pound junior showed he's ready to be the next
great LSU defensive lineman with too much quickness for most guards and
too much size and strength for most tackles if he moves outside to end.
He's also a tremendous shot putter for the track team.
Returning from a knee problem is 6-3, 293-pound senior Charles
Alexander, a fast lineman with a pass rushing end's ability in the
body of a tackle. He was the starter inside last year making six tackles
and generating two quarterback pressures in three games, but he got
knocked out for the year with a knee injury and will be back and ready
to roll by the fall. He made 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks two years ago and
should be as good as new.
Lost in the all-star shuffle was senior Kirston Pittman after
finishing fourth on the team with 68 tackles and leading the team with
eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. The talent level was never an
issue for the 6-4, 252-pounder; the question mark was his health. A star
over his first two years as a fast-rising speed rusher, he was derailed
by a foot injury that cost him all of 2005 and was banged up throughout
2006. As last year proved, he's a killer when he's right.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-4, 316-pound junior
Al Woods slimmed down a bit from last year and should be even more
active. He was a strong reserve last season making 22 tackles with two
sacks and three recovered fumbles as a key part of the rotation working
behind a banged up Dorsey. He's the team's biggest tackle option and a
quick run stuffer.
6-1, 302-pound senior Marlon Favorite has been a spot starter
over the years and has grown into a nice reserve with 28 tackles last
season working next to Dorsey. A star recruit in 2003, he hasn't lived
up to the expectations, but he's been good enough to work as an anchor
from time to time. Now with the emergence of Ricky Jean-Francois,
Favorite will be tremendous off the bench and in the rotation.
Yet another huge, tackle-sized end, the 6-2, 282-pound Tremaine
Johnson will play behind Tyson Jackson on the left side after making
11 tackles and a sack. With enough experience and just enough talent to
potentially start, if he can improve by leaps and bounds and become a
regular pass rusher, Jackson could play more on the inside.
Playing on the right side will be 6-3, 254-pound junior Rahim Alem
after making eight tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss in a
limited role. He's a pure pass rusher with tremendous athletic ability,
but he'll have a hard time seeing too much of the field behind Kirston
Watch Out For ... Jean-Francois. He was growing
into a tremendous prospect before academic issues kept him out. He
showed in the national title what he could do as Glenn Dorsey all but
passed the torch to the new star of the interior.
Strength: Size. What's the difference between the SEC and the
rest of the world? Defensive linemen like LSU's. The Tiger projected
starting front four checks in at 291, 293, 281 and 252 pounds and all
can move like linebackers. The projected second teamers go 282, 316, 302
and 254 pounds. The two-deep averages 284 pounds per man.
Weakness: Making big plays against the run. Nitpicking time for
a group that should hold everyone to around 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. This has been an issue for the last
few seasons, and while the line was better at getting into the
backfield, 84 stops for loss from a defense with a line like this is a
Outlook: Glenn Dorsey might be gone, but if
Jean-Francois is half as good as expected, and Alexander's knee is
healthy, the tackles will form a brick wall. Jackson is in a salary
drive at one end, and could make himself into a top ten pick with a
double-digit sack season, while Pittman is a terror on the right side.
The second teamers would start at about 100 other places.
Projected Starters: Senior
Darry Beckwith earned second-team All-SEC honors after making 65
tackles, 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, but he was still well
behind several other Tiger defenders when it came to star power. He's
not flashy, but he'll be a steady veteran leader of a good front seven
with the 6-1, 230-pound size in the middle to clean up everything the
line doesn't get to. After starting out his career on the outside, he
found a home on the inside and now should get more of the spotlight to
Needing to replace Ali Highsmith and his 101 tackles on the weakside
will be 6-3, 223-pound sophomore Kelvin Sheppard, a strong
reserve who made 21 tackles and two tackles for loss. With a good
combination of speed and strength, and with a nose for the football, he
should put up big numbers, even if he isn't the player Highsmith was
Replacing Luke Sanders on the strongside will be junior Perry Riley,
a 6-1, 232-pound veteran reserve who made 24 tackles in the rotation.
Even though he has the experience and the 4.5 speed and tremendous
strength to become a top tackler, he has to come back healthy after
breaking his foot knocking him out of spring ball. Even with the missed
time, the coaching staff is confident in him stepping in and shining.
Projected Top Reserves: With Riley out this
spring, 6-2, 220-pound redshirt freshman Shomari Clemons got
plenty of reps on the strongside. He came to LSU as a top
safety/linebacker prospect and quickly found his spot on the outside
where he has the quickness and athleticism to potentially wreak havoc.
Looking for more playing time in the middle will be junior Jacob
Cutera, a 6-4, 235-pound presence who made 21 tackles and picked off
a pass in the rotation behind Darry Beckwith. He hurt his shoulder in
spring ball, but it isn't considered a big deal and he'll be ready for
fall as a good enough prospect to start. He'll be the team's starter in
the middle next season.
6-1, 225-pound true freshman Kellen Theriot is a former
quarterback who'll work at weakside linebacker behind Kelvin Sheppard.
He got to school early and showed good enough range and hitting ability
to be counted on as a key backup.
Watch Out For ... Sheppard. While he won't make
the 101 tackles that Ali Highsmith did, he should be a top all-around
force on the outside. He has the tools to grow into an all-star. He'll
be a force at the weakside spot for the next three years.
Strength: Quickness. It's LSU. The linebackers are going to run
like safeties and be all over the field. Beckwith is a good one to work
around, and Riley and Sheppard will grow into major producers.
Weakness: Starting experience on the outside. The rotation at
LSU, along with all the blowouts, allows the reserves to get a little
bit of time. It's a must considering the outside linebackers aren't
always big enough to hold up. Even so, there's bound to be a bit of a
drop-off after losing both outside starters. Consider this year a step
back to take a giant leap forward.
Outlook: This might not be the sexiest LSU
linebacking corps, but there are excellent defenders at all three spots
with promising reserves to push the starters. Beckwith is the star in
the middle, and he'll make up for several mistakes, but Riley, Sheppart
and Clemons will be excellent with a bit more playing time. Cutera is a
great backup for the middle.
Projected Starters: The only
returning starter in the secondary of the nation's ninth best pass
defense is senior FS Curtis Taylor, who made 54 tackles with
three interceptions. At 6-3 and 204 pounds he's a big player who did a
good job in place of LaRon Landry, and now has to be the leader of the
new group. He's a big-time hitter and a force when he gets on the move,
but he has to stay healthy; with his hitting style he's a shoulder
injury waiting to happen.
Taking over for all-everything strong safety Craig Steltz is junior
Harry Coleman, a 6-2, 205-pound hitter who made 18 tackles and
recovered a fumble. A high school linebacker, he has grown into a star
on special teams. It's asking too much for him to be Steltz, but he
should be an intimidating force once he settles into his new starting
role ... if he's able to settle in. Chad Jones could be the No. 1 option
sooner than later.
The biggest question mark is at corner where sophomore Jai Eugene
and junior Chris Hawkins have shaky holds on their job. The 5-11,
184-pound Eugene has tremendous athleticism, even by LSU corner
standards, with warp speed and quickness. However, his coverage skills
need work. A lot of work. He made eight tackles and broke up a pass as a
reserve and now will be tested by everyone until he proves he can become
a No. 1 cover-corner.
The 6-1, 175-pound Hawkins has 4.5 speed and a little bit of playing
time making 13 tackles and breaking up three passes last year behind
Jonathan Zenon on the left side. A top prospect coming out of high
school, this is his chance to finally play up to his potential.
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Eugene and Hawkins
at the two corner spots will be redshirt freshmen Ron Brooks and
Phelon Jones, who are only missing playing time before becoming
key factors. Brooks has the talent to grow into a special corner with
sub-4.4 speed and decent 5-11, 180-pound size. A great get for the
program, being snagged from Texas, he could also see time as a kick and
The 5-11, 195-pound Jones was the 2006 Alabama Player of the Year with
4.4 speed, linebacker strength, and the smarts to handle himself right
away in a starting role. He was also a star receiver and kickoff
returner in high school.
While Curtis Taylor is firmly entrenched at free safety, junior Danny
McCray will see more than his share of time in nickel situations and
will once again be a key reserve. He finished sixth on the team with 64
tackles with threes sacks and two interceptions, and with his
versatility, could play anywhere in the secondary. The 6-1, 206-pounder
can play corner if absolutely needed.
6-3, 222-pound sophomore Chad Jones came up with a huge season in
the dime package making 34 tackles with two sacks with four broken up
passes. He's as big as linebacker with the speed and range to be all
over the field against the run and when the ball is in the air. While he
might be listed behind Harry Coleman for the strong safety job, he might
be the starter sooner than later; Jones has a far bigger upside.
Watch Out For ... the redshirt freshmen. The
corner situation is far from settled. Don't be shocked if Phelon Jones
and Ron Brooks are the starting corners on August 30th.
Strength: Speed. There might not be a whole bunch of sure-thing
starting experience to count on, but everyone can move. Really move.
When your concern is with your corners who run 4.4s, and lower, things
aren't all that bad.
Weakness: Experienced corner depth. Hawkins and Eugene should be
good when they get more playing time and are forced to shine in the
spotlight, but they're hardly sure things compared to Chevis Jackson and
Jonathan Zenon. Jones and Brooks could potentially be special, but they
haven't done anything yet.
Outlook: It's a major stretch to call this the
team's weakness, but there are more question marks here than anywhere
but quarterback. The safeties, even without Steltz, will be among the
best in the SEC. Backups Danny McCray and Chad Jones can play, and
starters Harry Coleman and Curtis Taylor will be strong. The corners
will be good in time, but they'll have to take their lumps first. There
will be plenty of big plays made, but plenty will be given up, too.
Projected Starters: Junior PK Colt David
has had a good first two seasons and will be considered for all-star
honors. He hit 26 of 33 field goals last year and hit ten of his last 11
with a 30-yarder against Tennessee for his final miss of the year. While
he doesn't have a huge leg, he's reliable from anywhere 49 yards and in
and could be counted on more.
Replacing punter Patrick Fisher will be senior Brady Dalfrey, at
least early on, but the job is open for the taking. He didn't have a
great spring and will be pushed hard by sophomore Josh Jasper,
who has a bigger leg and will be used on kickoffs.
Trindon Holliday is a special kickoff returner averaging 26.2 yards
per try last season, but more is needed out of Chad Jones and the
nation's 106th ranked punt return game. Jones isn't great at securing
the ball and averaged a mere 6.6 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... David to get more chances from
deep. Would Les Miles have gone for that ill-advised, but successful
late play to beat Auburn if he knew his kicker could hit from beyond 40
yards? David will get more deep chances after the way he finished up the
Strength: David and Holliday. It's possible for LSU to have the
SEC's best kicker and kick return game and the league's worst ...
Weakness: Punter and punt returns. Kickoffs haven't been a
prize, either, and that's where Jasper has to start blasting it. The
punting game could go from fine to trouble, while Jones simple has to be
better and more explosive returning punts.
Outlook: While David and Holliday will earn
All-SEC honors, everything else needs work. There are too many elite
athletes and too much all-around talent to not have better coverage
teams. The punting will be the biggest issue early on with Dalfrey
needing to be stronger than he was this off-season.