Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring Practice Preview: Defensive Line

Even though spring practice is well underway, I'm going to keep concentrating on my "previews". I'm going to try my best to finish them up in the next couple of days. Then, I'll give a review of the things I've been hearing from spring practice thus far.

At defensive line, LSU lost quite a bit of contributors from a year ago. Gone at defensive end are 3-year starter Tyson Jackson and 2-year starter Kirston Pittman as well as top backup Tremaine Johnson. At defensive tackle, LSU lost Ricky Jean Francois and backup Marlon Favorite. Eyes will be focused on all the position battles taking place to replace those departed veterans.

Although he didn't start last year, Rahim Alem found himself on a number of All-SEC teams after finishing third in the SEC with 8 sacks. Starting his career as strictly a pass rushing specialist, Alem has developed into a complete player. He's now 255 pounds and can be an every down player in the SEC. Alem is sure to be a starter. He needs to continue working on more than pass rushing, and he needs to teach the younger players all he can. Alem was flagged for some unsportsmanlike conduct penalties last year, so hopefully he's learned from those mistakes.

The other defensive end position is totally up for grabs. Junior Pep Levingston will get every opportunity to win the job. Levingston has been a top backup and waiting his turn behind some very talented players. When he played last year, he mostly played inside as a defensive tackle. He played extremely well in the Peach Bowl against Georgia Tech, using his quickness to shoot through interior gaps and blow up running plays. This spring, he's back to playing defensive end. He'll have to hold off a number of younger players looking to get on the field. We could also see Levingston slide inside to play tackle in obvious passing situations or if LSU continues to use the "Express" package of 4 defensive ends at once.

1 sophomore and 3 redshirt freshmen are also competing at defensive end, and it's unclear who is ahead of who at this point.

Chase Clement is a very well together 6'5" 255 pound player who has drawn rave reviews in practice since he arrived on campus last fall. He's a complete defensive end who can do everything well. He reminds me of Chase Pittman or Melvin Oliver from years past.

Sophomore Sidell Corley is someone we haven't heard a lot about despite being highly acclaimed out of high school. Corley is 6'3" 274 pounds and by all accounts, a solid player but not a play maker. He's also practiced some at defensive tackle. We'll see if he makes his move this spring.

Another guy who has impressed at practice is Lavar Edwards. Edwards practices at both defensive end and defensive tackle so he's another guy who can play both. He's 6'4" 280 pounds but looks to be all muscle without any wasted weight. It will be interesting to see where he ends up and if he's able to make an impact at either position.

The last guy competing for playing time this spring is Chancey Agahyere, who was the most highly regarded out of high school. Aghayere struggled through fall camp as a true freshman while still rehabbing an injured knee. Now that he's fully healthy, we'll see what he can do. He's listed at 6'4" 269 pounds, which means he's already gained quite a bit of weight since high school when he was considered a pass rusher. Perhaps the injury had something to do with that.

In the fall, pass rushing specialist Sam Montgomery joins the fold as does Bennie Logan and Mike Brockers.

At defensive tackle, LSU has 3 veteran guys who have played a lot that are returning and I suspect that regardless of who starts, all 3 will rotate quite a bit.

The NCAA granted Charles Alexander a sixth season of eligibility due to the many injuries he's suffered throughout his career. And that will once again be the story with Alexander...injuries. He's been a very good player when healthy, but he's rarely been healthy over the past few seasons. He's healthy right now and is the leader of the defensive line. This spring, I'll just be looking for him to finish practice and to stay out of the training room.

Drake Nevis is now a junior and looks to be a major contributor to LSU's defensive line. Nevis has played very, very well when in the game and he inexplicably didn't play in a lot of games towards the end of last season. I personally didn't understand this because LSU's defensive line struggled and Nevis was one of the few guys who made plays. Regardless, he'll be heavily in the playing rotation this year, even if he doesn't win a starting job. With a change of defensive coaches, Nevis could be a surprise player this year on defense.

The third veteran is Al Woods who as a senior has yet to live up to his high school billing. I always thought Woods was probably better suited for the offensive line, but he's remained at DT. He's been a solid backup but certainly nothing spectacular. It's time for him to really make a statement. Woods is a huge, space-eater type of defensive tackle at 6'4" 320 pounds. He won't get into the backfield and make many tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But his value comes in forcing the defense to use two linemen to block him, which frees up others to make plays.

Barring injury, those 3 guys will see the majority of work at DT for LSU in 2009. Some other guys are trying to work their way into the rotation though.

We already talked about Pep Levingston, Lavar Edwards, and Sidell Corley who play both tackle and end.

The other guy who exclusively works at defensive tackle is redshirt freshman Cordian Hagans who has impressed at practice. Hagans is a very athletic 6'4" 285 pounds. He only played football for a couple of years in high school so he's still very raw as a football player at this point. We'll see how much of an impact he can make this spring.

In the fall, several guys join the fold. First is junior college transfer Aikeem Hicks, who is another guy that could play tackle or end. Hicks is a big boy at 6'6" 300 pounds. LSU also welcomes high school All-Americans Chris Davenport and Josh Downs. Hicks is likely to play next year while the other two guys will have to really impress in order not to redshirt.

All in all, LSU has a lot of quality depth and a lot of talent but not as much as experience as we're accustomed to. I really think these guys will flourish under new DL coach Brick Haley and despite the losses of personnel, the line play will be much improved.


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