BATON ROUGE, La. — Training camp is approaching, which means it is time to start thinking LSU football. SEC Country is counting down the days until camp with a position-by-position preview of how the Tigers stack up.
Last week, we kicked things off with offense. This week, it’s time to look at Dave Aranda’s defense. Next week? Football will be here.
Despite losing Davon Godchaux and Lewis Neal and their 10 sacks from a year ago to the NFL, defensive line might be the LSU football team’s deepest unit. And that’s not even counting Arden Key and Co. on the edge. (More on them Tuesday.)
Led by defensive line coaching guru Pete Jenkins and augmented by input from coach and fellow defensive line coaching guru Ed Orgeron, this unit is likely to be Aranda’s stoutest and most consistent.
Preseason All-SEC selections Christian LaCouture and Rashard Lawrence will step in for Neal and Godchaux at LSU’s two defensive end spots. A fifth-year senior, LaCouture missed all of 2016 with a knee injury but elected to come back to finish his eligibility. In his first three seasons, LaCouture recorded eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
LaCouture will take over the Tigers’ famed No. 18 jersey this season, carrying on the tradition of leaders picked to wear it. The number was most recently occupied by Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
In Lawrence, the Tigers are banking a lot more on talent than past production. Lawrence made 6 tackles, one of which was a sack, as a freshman in 2016. But Orgeron has raved about Lawrence’s development this offseason, naming him a starter back in the spring.
The men in the middle
The LSU football team returns two contributors from 2016 at nose tackle. Senior Greg Gilmore was the more productive of the two, notching 34 tackles and 1 sack in 12 games. But the higher-upside player is sophomore Ed Alexander. Alexander only made 13 tackles a year ago, but the former 4-star’s 333-pound frame makes him an alluring option as a space eater in Aranda’s 3-4 base scheme.
As they did last season, expect Gilmore and Alexander to rotate in the early going with Gilmore taking a narrow majority of the snaps. But as the season develops, don’t be surprised if one player establishes himself above the other. Or, if someone else entirely assumes the job.
LSU brought in four freshmen defensive linemen for the Class of 2017, none more alluring than Tyler Shelvin.
Shelvin will be a little bit behind Gilmore and Alexander since he can’t join the team until the second week of camp while he finishes up his high school curriculum. But Shelvin was the No. 1 recruit in Louisiana for 2017, per the 247Sports composite rankings, for a reason. His power and size is well known — Shelvin played at 380 pounds in high school, but he’s down to around 323 now — but his surprisingly-agile footwork earned him the nickname “The Dancing Bear” on the recruiting circuit.
Flanking Shelvin on the outside is a trio of defensive ends. The most familiar name is Aaron Moffitt, the son of long-time LSU football strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt. Joining Moffitt at defensive end will be early-enrollee Justin Thomas and Mobile, Ala. native Neil Farrell.
At SEC Media Days, Orgeron listed Farrell and Thomas as two players in contention to back up LaCouture and Lawrence at defensive end.
The role players
One name that hasn’t been mentioned yet but should be is Frank Herron. Heading into the spring, Herron was expected to start alongside LaCouture until Lawrence won the job.
Relegated to a lesser role, Herron will be one of LSU’s most valuable rotational pieces along the defensive line. The senior made 20 tackles (2 for loss), 1 sack, and a forced fumble in 2016, making him one of the more experienced bench players the Tigers have.
In addition to Herron, LSU also can call upon Glen Logan and Deondre Clark as rotational defensive ends. Logan redshirted in 2016 and Clark played in six games, recording 1 quarterback hurry.
Catch up with our LSU football position preview
How much confidence do you have in the defensive linemen on LSU's roster this season? https://t.co/tRNiMiJ4yB
— SEC Country LSU (@SECCountryLSU) July 24, 2017