The LSU Tigers have been beasts of the SEC and the nation over the past few years for a lot of reasons, but at the top of the list is their play along the defensive line, where they were as talented and as deep as any other team in the country during the 2012 season. Unfortunately for the Tigers, what was such a great strength for them in 2012 is looking like an area of concern in 2013.
This year, LSU will be losing many of the players that made its defensive front such a nightmare for opposing teams in recent times. The two biggest names are Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, both of whom entered the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Montgomery and Mingo formed a dynamic duo of edge rushers for the Tigers because both players had great speed and athleticism that allowed them to harass quarterbacks incessantly.
In addition to losing two players with the talent to be first-round draft picks, the Tigers will also say goodbye to seniors Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere, two talented players in their own right who were often overshadowed by Montgomery and Mingo. In total, LSU is losing four of its top five defensive ends from last year.
On the interior of the defensive line, LSU is losing Bennie Logan, who is leaving a year early for the NFL, and senior Josh Downs, both starters last year. Logan plugged the middle along with Michael Brockers in 2011 and then led the charge himself in 2012 after Brockers became a first-round pick. Downs was an undersized but tenacious defensive tackle whose loss will be felt because the Tigers will now have to replace all four starters on the defensive line.
So, who’s left? At defensive end, junior Jermauria Rasco is the only player with significant experience. He will be LSU’s primary pass rusher and will be counted on to make up for the production lost with the departure of Montgomery and Mingo. Outside of Rasco, the only defensive ends with any experience are Jordan Allen and Justin Maclin, two players who have been held back by injuries and should not be expected to produce much. Other than that, LSU will be relying on true freshmen to step in right away and make up for the loss of a pair of first-round picks.
Things are a little brighter inside where the Tigers will welcome back Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. Johnson, as his nickname indicates, is a freakish athlete that will be a handful for every opposing offensive line LSU faces. As for Ferguson, he has played in all but one of LSU’s games over the past two seasons, showing flashes of great potential, and he should be ready to have a breakout season as a junior in 2013. Johnson and Ferguson will move seamlessly into the starting spots without any issue, but what LSU will be missing next year is the depth at defensive tackle that they’ve enjoyed the last few seasons because they have no experienced players backing up Johnson and Ferguson.
The defensive line has been the highlight of the LSU defense over the last few years, but with so many players leaving after last year, there are serious concerns for that unit heading into the 2013 season. The high volume of talent–and, more importantly, depth–are no longer a guarantee for the Tigers. That could be a problem for the team as they prepare for another season in the SEC, where winning at the line of scrimmage is everything.