Can LSU Tigers defensive front seven find an identity without John Chavis?


Can the LSU Tigers front seven have a dominant season to complement their stellar secondary?

That’s probably a headline or topic that you wouldn’t normally put together when talking about the Bayou Bengals, right? Maybe that would be the case if we were talking strictly about the secondary as of late, even with Jalen Mills out, but we’re not. The LSU defense has ranked in the top five in total defenses in the SEC, if not top three, since 2010 but has slowly declined in its ability to get to the quarterback in the last two seasons.

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In 2014 the Tigers finished second-to-last in the SEC in total sacks with 19.  One spot above the SEC’s worst, South Carolina, who racked up a mere 14 sacks. That’s far from the 2011 SEC leading 38 sacks the Tigers posted or the 35 sacks in 2012. The 2013 season ended with 27 total sacks and yet appeared to be the first year where the sack totals were on the decline. The 2014 Tigers not only dropped in the sack department but the managed to finish seventh in the conference in rushing yards allowed. One would have to go back to before the 2008 season to find lower stat numbers for either category.

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Why the decline?

One could say that the LSU Tigers have been mugged by the NFL since prior to 2012 with DT Michael Brockers deciding to forgo his last two years. The 2013 NFL Draft saw some record numbers posted by LSU with six defensive players taken in the first three rounds, nine total players drafted for a school record.

Of those nine players taken, seven were underclassmen that included players DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, DE Sam Montgomery and LB Kevin Minter that would have been key role players for the Tigers in 2013. LSU in turn finished sixth in the SEC in sacks with 27 at the end of the 2013 season as stated above.

The 2014 NFL Draft didn’t hit the Tiger defense as hard losing only DT Ego Ferguson early but did get hit hard on the offensive side with four underclassmen taken. After the 2015 NFL Draft LSU lost two of its premier defensive players early in LB Kwon Alexander and DE Danielle Hunter leaving questions to be answeredconcerning the pass rush and depth up the middle.

At this point LSU’s ability to coach up players with little experience has become a bit of an asterisk when talking about the previous seasons and hasn’t garnered the attention it quite deserves. That said, this season’s LSU defensive line will have two familiar names at the defensive tackle position in Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture.

Two players that are not flashy but showed down the stretch of the 2014 season that they could be depended on to create pressure or stop the run. Depth at the defensive tackle position just may well be a concern as the season progresses with Quentin Thomas looking like he may be the only option.

At the defensive end position LSU will need to replace the bookends Rasco and Hunter with what many will consider a by committee approach. Junior Tashawn Bower should be a stand out DE followed by Lewis Neal while Herron and Gilmore have yet to produce as expected coming out of high school first year defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will have to not only coach his players up quickly but manage to get them ready for SEC play.

Two young players to keep an eye on at the DE position will be Isaiah Washington and Arden Key. Both have been extremely impressive in fall camp, not just the players, but the coaching staff as well. In fact, both could find themselves playing in big roles come midseason.

If history has taught us anything at least one of these defensive linemen will go to the NFL in the 2016 draft barring any injuries. The most likely pick would be LaCouture but Bower could have a big year as well with an opportunity to start. If that were the case LSU will again have to look for some fresh young faces to fill in the gaps on the defensive line to find its identity all over again.

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