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2008 LSU Preview - Defense
LSU LB Darry Beckwith
LSU LB Darry Beckwith
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 30, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - LSU Tiger Defense

LSU Tigers

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN LSU Preview | 2008 LSU Offense
- 2008 LSU Defense | 2008 LSU Depth Chart
-
2007 CFN LSU Preview | 2006 CFN LSU Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Kirston Pittman, 685
Sacks: 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 experience

Defensive Line

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 Pittman.

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 little low.
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.
Rating: 10

Linebackers

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 himself.

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 right away.

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.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

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 punt returner.

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.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

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 year.
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.
Rating: 6

 

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2008 LSU Preview – Depth Chart
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