Losing four defensive ends to one offseason can’t have happened too often. It’s been well documented that Mingo and Montgomery weren’t quite the players in 2012 that they were in 2011. It started with Montgomery’s goose egg in the stat column against North Texas and culminated in a final drop off of seven tackles for loss and five sacks from the duo, albeit in one less game. Edwards was good in spots, and I think he’ll play some NFL football, and Aghayere played in some tight zone situations. Even though the total statistics dipped, those guys made some huge plays. Mingo and Montgomery got after MSUs Tyler Russell late in that game to ice it. They both caused a fumble in the Chick-fil- A Bowl, and Montgomery caused the safety at Auburn. Without hesitation I can say that this is one of the biggest question marks on the team entering the season. That’s not to say the level of play will plummet. It could be just as good. We just won’t know until they snap the football.
The Departed: Barkevious Mingo- NFL Draft; Sam Montgomery- NFL Draft; Lavar Edwards- Graduation; Chancey Aghayere- Graduation
They’re Back: Jermauria Rasco (6’3”, 255, Jr.); Danielle Hunter (6’5”, 235, Soph.); Jordan Allen (6’6”, 253, Jr.); Justin Maclin (6’4”, 237, Jr.); Ronnie Feist (6’2”, 230, Soph.)
Who’s New: Tashawn Bower (6’5”, 251, Fr.); Frank Herron (6’5”, 245, Fr.); Lewis Neal (6’1”, 234, Fr.); Michael Patterson (6’2”, 218, Fr.)
What We Know: There were times that I looked at Jermauria Rasco standing next to Mingo and would think, “Is Rasco small?”. But when you get a chance to stand next to Rasco you quickly realize that he’s plenty big enough to play SEC football at a very high level. We’ll find out quickly whether or not Rasco was just trapped behind a stable of proven players, because he’ll be the defensive end who plays the most snaps for LSU this season. There have been moments over the past two seasons that make you think Rasco can be a really good player. He notched a sack against Auburn as a freshman. He beat Cordy Glenn to sack Aaron Murray in the SEC Championship Game later that year. Last season he blasted Connor Shaw in the South Carolina game to ignite the crowd. He’s got the quickness and strength to be a force. He just hasn’t done it consistently.
Danielle Hunter is fun to watch on a practice field. For one, he hit the genetic lottery. He’s got those long arms that ends need to keep distance from stronger tackles, and he’s got tremendous athletic ability to go with his frame. Hunter can run and jump with some of the defensive backs. That’s why he spent time covering kicks last year, something Mingo, Edwards and Rasco have done as well. Now it’s time for Hunter to put his hand on the ground and play the line of scrimmage on the defensive left side. Last season Hunter made 12 tackles, but none of them were for a loss. No telling how many came on special teams, but to call it a majority would be a virtual lock.
I’ve listed Hunter above him, but Jordan Allen could easily be the starting defensive end opposite Rasco this fall. Allen looks like an NFL player out there on the practice field, and that’s probably why he was thought of so highly coming out of West Monroe. Allen just needs to stay healthy. That torn ACL is now fully healed. He got after it in spring ball, even mixing in some Big Cat. What I liked to see was Allen encouraging Hunter at every stop, trying to push the younger player who he’s fighting with for a job. Allen knows what that’s about as Brick Haley has scolded and chided him for three years. Learning under Haley for three years means that Allen is going to have excellent technique which will make up for a lack of straight line speed, much like the way Montgomery played. In three seasons Allen has just one tackle.
When Montgomery ripped his knee up in 2010, Justin Maclin had to dive into the defensive end spot immediately. Not much came from it. After a redshirt season in 2011, Maclin got into a couple of early games in 2012 before suffering an injury and missing the rest of the season. He’s entering his junior year now with next to nothing to show for it. Maclin is not overly big or long, but he’s a little bit quicker than some defensive ends, being a converted linebacker.
Ronnie Feist joined Maclin as converted linebackers down at end. Feist made that move in the spring, and some thought it may have just been a move to get more bodies with the defensive ends. It now appears that Feist has moved for good. He was the obvious candidate as the biggest and slowest (a lot of linebackers are slow compared to Deion Jones and Lamar Louis) of the linebacker bunch. As with any position shift, the technique and mental adjustments take time. Feist spent his high school career either standing up off tackle or occasionally getting his hand dirty. But after that he was simply overpowering a 1A football player. That won’t fly any more. Feist certainly has the tools to help on the defensive line. He’s just got to clear the learning curve.
There’s almost always a Signing Day surprise, and this year’s was Tashawn Bower from New Jersey. Thought to be an Auburn or even Florida lean, Bower signed his LSU papers and has arrived on campus. I know he’s arrived because word is already out. This kid is a freak. Bower is already Allen’s size, and Allen has three years on him. Bower is in great shape and knows there is playing time available. It seems like I’m key-holing, but Bower is in the Mingo mold in terms of length and playing style. He’s just got more weight on him than Mingo did.
Speaking of weight, Frank Herron showed up this summer with a little bit extra on his frame. That’s easy to remedy in the Louisiana heat, so the concerns there are minimal. After dominating at the U.S. Army All-America Game he earned his fifth star from Rivals. He topped off his big week there with a sack in the game. Herron is deceptively athletic, and the strength is obvious. Watching him play on film, Herron spent a good amount of time standing up and rushing the passer. He didn’t fight off a ton of blocks which will take some time, but he’s got plenty of ability to do that.
Lewis Neal joined Greg Gilmore as the North Carolina additions to the LSU class. Though Neal is a shorter player, he’s a true pass rusher. He spent his high school days in a three-point stance and getting up the field. I think because of his size limitations he had to play with a little bit better fundamentals than some. He engages and rips free very well. Word is that Neal also reported to camp in great shape.
Michael (MJ) Patterson is the last name on this list. He’s also the only one who played wide receiver in high school. Patterson did play defensive end, but on the other side of the ball he lined up in the slot where he looked like a natural, hauling in slip screens and deep balls. Needless to say, this kid is a phenomenal athlete. He’s just not all that big. The key for Patterson is going to be to add weight while maintaining that quickness and explosiveness. Some would term Patterson a project, but he’s certainly got ample tools.
What To Expect: It is Rasco’s time to shine. He’s got to be an impact player for this LSU defense to be strong. Rasco has to make some game-changing plays in the backfield which he’s more than capable of doing. I think you’ll see 5-8 sacks from the junior who has been waiting in the wings. He’ll be the guy looking at Cyrus Kouandjio, Jake Matthews and the other great left tackles in the league. LSU has to have him produce.
I don’t think Hunter had quite the spring the staff had hoped. He’s still grasping the fundamentals as some athletes like that have to. I wasn’t wild about Allen taking the reps in front of him as the spring went on, but I still think Hunter is the guy toward the end of the season. The light has to come on for a kid with that type of ability. The knock on Mingo early on was that he couldn’t play the run. That’s where Ken Adams came in handy in 2011. Maybe that’s the type of platoon you see from Allen and Hunter.
My hunch is that Allen starts the first game. One, because he’s worked so hard to get back from those injuries, and two, because Hunter may not be ready for that type of workload. I don’t see the two turning on one another. Quite the opposite. They’ll both play because this staff goes through defensive linemen like Derek Jeter does with the Maxim girls. Next! I just think Allen is the first guy who takes the field opposite Rasco.
I think expecting much from Maclin is a mistake. It impossible to know for sure because of what was in front of him, but we just don’t hear much about him. Maclin doesn’t have a unique skill, and he’s not a guy with a ton of experience. I think you’ll see Maclin in two cases. If injuries start to ravage the front, he’ll be called on. If LSU plays against a team that gets the tempo going and runs 100 plays while the Tiger offense sputters (Clemson), he may have to come in and give guys a breather. I think that’s about it.
I’m not sure what to think about Feist. Hitting the reset button is always hard, but he looked to have had a decent spring. I think it’s fair at this point to lump him right in with these talented freshmen and may the best couple of men win.
I do think Bower is one of those men. His size and skills should push him to the field pretty early on. We’ve said it since January, but LSU will have to have freshmen help on the defensive front. Bower will be in that number. I’d be pretty stunned if he wasn’t. Expect growing pains, but he could make a couple of plays like Rasco did in 2011. Same type of readiness.
Herron has to cut a few lbs., and he’ll be another guy the staff gives a look to. He will have to learn how to put his hand on the ground, but it sounds like he did a pretty good job of that over in San Antonio in the U.S. Army Game. I’m not as convinced Herron will be called upon as I am with Bower, but my gut tells me you’ll see him out there in small doses.
I’d be surprised if I walked out on the first day of practice and was blown away by Neal. He’ll be the shortest and most unimposing guy in the group at just 6-foot-1. That alone makes it an uphill climb to the field. I think Neal is probably a year away from being a big help, but the reports are that he’s in great shape and has done some really good things this summer. You never know for sure.
I would think that Patterson was a serious redshirt candidate. The only way he’s not is if the staff just really wants that athleticism on kickoff coverage. There are plenty of guys capable of chasing kicks on this roster, but Patterson is one of them. If he’s not doing that, he’s a guy who will likely sit a year.