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Q&A with Mike Detillier on LSU’s defense in light of recent injuries
Scott: Mike, Monday was quite a day on the LSU football front. As I wrote in my report, it started like Christmas and Valentine’s day all in one and then took a major turn for the worse with the news of injuries to Isaiah Washington and Christian LaCouture. Let’s start this discussion there, with the LaCouture injury. I just feel terrible for the young man who’s been such a great representative of LSU and passed on the NFL draft to return for his senior season. With him being out for the year, what kind of impact do you foresee this having on the Tigers’ season, especially early on?
Mike: First of all, not having a quality defensive lineman hurts and this team has little experience depth-wise. However you cut it, you have talent, but many have never taken a snap at the college level. One area where they will really miss Christian is as the communicator up front. He knew this defense back and forward and would make sure everyone up front knew what to do. So, you lose his talent as a player and you lose a defensive QB. Coach O had confidence that LaCouture could get everyone lined up in the right gap for the play called. Losing his talent, his intelligence, and his leadership… that hurts.
Scott: I agree 100%. Fortunately, this team has better depth along the D-line than it has had in some years. And, timing-wise, LSU is extremely fortunate to learn of Valentine’s qualifying right before this major injury. How likely do you think it is to see Valentine come in and immediately earn the starting role at nose tackle? And if he does, how do you see the line shaking out?
Mike: Well, if Davon Godchaux plays the nose guard spot, where they have worked him, I put Travonté Valentine in LaCouture’s spot. They may have to reshuffle that alignment, but Godchaux handled most of the snaps at nose guard in the spring. Frank Herron would seem to be the guy who gets the first shot at Christian’s spot. Rashard Lawrence is also in the mix there. Now, the situation with Valentine is again confusing academically. You would think that he would have been cleared by now. On Travonté, he is a huge man who can run. My biggest concern is his weight and conditioning. He could play on the nose or at end. Focus is the key here. He is super talented, but he always seems to have that cloud around him. I would be very interested to see how he survives the first couple of days of drills under Coach O. If he is eligible, focused, and in shape, Valentine is a difference-maker.
Scott: Of course, LSU has lots of other options. As you mentioned, Davon Godchaux could remain in the middle with someone like Rashard Robinson, Frank Herron or Greg Gilmore playing end opposite of Lewis Neal. Or maybe big Ed Alexander, or even Gilmore, could step up at nose guard? It’s good to have the options, but with only a little over three weeks before Game Day, defensive line coach Ed Oregon will have his work cut out for him in making this all come together. Your thoughts?
Mike: It is what is best for the team. What I would go with is Neal, Godchaux on the nose, and Frank Herron taking LaCouture’s spot. Then, after that, you would have Rashard Lawrence at end, Alexander/Gilmore in the middle and Valentine at the other end spot. I would play the kids if they are ready mentally and physically. You aren’t learning anything sitting on the bench.
Scott: Given that cast of players and all we’ve learned since our last discussion, do you feel like LSU’s D-line will be better suited to match-up against the physical front lines of Alabama, Ole Miss, and Arkansas?
Mike: LSU is a bigger team today than a year ago, front-7 wise. The key is always to stop the run. Slam that door on them and then force their QB to beat you. That is what Alabama does. Then they tell the edge guys to “sic ’em” in the pass rush phase. So, we haven’t seen this group yet as a unit, but they are a bigger team today, especially from a depth standpoint.
Scott: In Dave Aranda’s defense, outside linebackers often work much like D-linemen, which leads me to Isaiah Washington’s injury. Although he wasn’t projected to be a starter, Washington was primed to see considerable playing time at the Buck position. How big of an impact do you see his loss having on LSU’s “front-five?”
Mike: I am a big fan of Isaiah and he is a really good player. Young kids have to step up now. Sci Martin or Ray Thornton should see action there now. Aranda will find the right combo of starters and depth at linebacker. That is Aranda’s specialty: developing and putting the right athletes in the right spot at linebacker.
Scott: Let’s not forget that Tashawn Bower also has been “nicked.”
Mike: Yes, no question. In covering both the NFL and college football, it seems as though when injuries happen they come in one area and so plans you made in the off-season, you have to adjust. Injuries will happen, it’s just a matter of when.
Scott: Unfortunately, on the other side of the ball, LSU’s offensive line is dealing with its fair share of injuries, too. We’ll get to that in just a bit, but first, another question related to the defense so that we can end this segment on a positive note. From what little bit we’ve been able to glean from fall practice, which players on defense are you most excited about?
Mike: Arden Key is a monster player. He’s someone who can tilt the field. I think Duke Riley will have a breakout year for the Tigers, and I’m excited to watch Davon Godchaux on the nose. Of the young kids, Devin White – phenomenal athlete – and Saivion Smith has the talent level as a freshman that Patrick Peterson had. And certainly Rashard Lawrence. One intriguing guy for me is Cameron Lewis. He is a superb athlete, aggressive, and could really be a top special teams player on a squad that needs some. But the leader of the pack is Jamal Adams. Losing Christian hurts and it certainly hurts from a communications standpoint, but this team has an immense amount of talent on defense, especially in the secondary. I, like everyone else, want to see how well prepared Ed Alexander, Rashard Lawrence, and a guy I saw play so much – Glen Logan – are for Big Boy Football.
Scott: Ok,now let’s move on to the offensive side of the ball, where there’s also a lot to be excited about, but also reason for concern….
To be continued...
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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