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DandyDon.com Questions Mike Detillier About LSU’s 2015 Tigers - Part 1 of 2
Scott: Mike, now that LSU’s fall camp is underway and we’ve had a chance to follow a few practices, let’s talk a bit about our expectations for 2015. It’s been said time and again that the Tigers’ success in 2015 will depend largely on how much improvement they get a quarterback. We’ll address that position later in this Q&A. But before going there, let’s talk about an area where games are often won – in the trenches. What are your thoughts on LSU’s offensive line? Would you say it’s better, worse or the same when compared to last year’s?
Mike: Everyone speaks about the QB spot and it is a vital one, but 1-A is offensive line and especially early on with games against two really good defensive fronts in Mississippi State and Auburn. It is not as good as a year ago because LSU lost La’el Collins. Collins was one of the most dominant offensive players in the past 30 years at LSU. With virtually no threat of passing, LSU could run the ball and very effectively because of that left side with Collins and Vadal Alexander, and they did so against some really good defensive lines. Collins wasn’t good, he was dominant. What can’t happen is what happened a year ago. It was almost mid-season before the line jelled. That has to come together much quicker this year. I thought Jeff (Grimes) did a good job in upgrading the Tigers’ pass protection techniques, but it got overshadowed because of the poor play at quarterback. The 2015 line has a chance to be a very good group, but it isn’t as good because they don’t have La’el in the lineup.
Scott: You’ve said before that Ethan Pocic is one of the most valuable players on the team. I know where you’re coming from and tend to agree, but explain your reasoning to those that might not recognize Pocic’s importance.
Mike: Ethan is the second most valuable player on the team. Only Leonard Fournette is more valuable. Pocic’s skillset is at the highest level and he can play center, guard and, if he stays for his senior season, he will play left tackle next year. His versatility and the ability to play all those spots at a high level is very impressive. Some people don’t have a great respect for the center spot and that will be the most interesting position to watch unfold. The center makes all the calls upfront and you have a 6-4, 295-pound tight end in Dillon Gordon, who LSU uses like another offensive lineman. The center has to make those calls, keep that unit mentally sharp, and also be responsible for calming down the quarterback. If I am Mississippi State or Auburn and LSU starts Will Clapp or Andy Dodd, I go right after either one of them. I am blowing up that middle launch pad for LSU if I see a young guy inside. It’s part of sports. Neither has much on the résumé and so I’d hit right up the middle. Jeff (Grimes) has worked a bunch of different combinations in the spring. Watch for who plays center. I would play Pocic there. One thing I think will change this year, and that is that last season with Collins and Alexander the Tigers ran the ball mostly left. I think with Marc Boutte, who is a gigantic presence at guard, and Vadal (Alexander) who is no small guy at right tackle, LSU will run the ball more right than left in 2015. In many ways, Pocic reminds me of a young Kevin Mawae. He’s that good.
Scott: Last year you said that Leonard Fournette was one of the three best players you have ever seen come out of the Louisiana high school ranks and that he would make a huge impact. That happened. What player do you see making an impact that will have people on the edge of their seats offensively this year?
Mike: D.J. Chark made the biggest jump in the spring, but I think the next superstar player offensively is Malachi Dupre. He flashed it last season, but he has a chance to be not only good, but dominant. He has all the physical tools, he is driven to be great, and if they can get him the ball he is going to be something else. In my opinion, he is a young A.J. Green (Georgia and Cincinnati Bengals). Just look at that wide receiver spot with a potential 1st round pick in Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, John Diarse, D.J. and freshmen like Tyron Johnson and Jazz Ferguson, and you see that LSU has quickly become WR-U also. Now, they have to find someone to get them the football on a consistent basis.
Scott: Sticking with the idea that games are won in the trenches, let’s talk about one of LSU’s most questionable units, the defensive line. More specifically, let’s start by looking at a position that lost both of last year’s starters, defensive end. Freshmen Arden Key and Isaiah Washington look awfully good practicing with the veterans. Are Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal good enough to hold them off, and what do you think of this unit as a whole?
Mike: Bower and Neal start the season and the two freshman see work in the rotation. Arden and Washington have excellent take-off quickness and up-the-field speed. Knowing Coach O well, he talks all the time about rotating eight defensive linemen in a game. He wants that top unit fresh late in games. How many times do we see a team make a run late when defensive linemen are worn down. It’s an old Bill Walsh line, but he would always say nothing influences a game more in the fourth quarter than a pass rush. That is where Key and Washington come into play. They can get after the quarterback. I’m anxious to watch Lewis Neal play. He was an All-Spring player, so to speak, and I want to see if that can translate into the regular season. I know Coach O really likes him quite a bit. Saying that, the defensive end position is the biggest question mark on defense for the Tigers and the second biggest question mark team-wise other than the quarterback slot. There are a lot of unknown elements there. Arden is a combination of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. He will fill out to Montgomery’s size in time and he has the foot speed and quickness of Mingo. I’m a big fan of Isaiah (Washington). He has excellent size and he is quick off the snap. Washington tracks the ball well after the snap and has good football instincts. Keep an eye on him.
Scott: As for the defensive tackle position, the starters (Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture) look to be rock solid, but the unit as a whole took a pretty big hit in the offseason, depth-wise, with the losses of Travonte Valentine, Lealaimatafao and Maquedius Bain. With Quentin Thomas, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron also in the mix, will Coach Orgeron have the depth of talent needed to rotate d-linemen they way he’s accustomed to, and will LSU be able to cope should they sustain injury at the position?
Mike: Defensive Tackle is not a question mark for me. I hear others upset about the losses and certainly the potential of Travonte Valentine was intriguing, but Davon Godchaux has a chance to be a special player like Glenn Dorsey was at LSU and Christian (LaCouture) is one heck of a player. That is a strength of LSU’s defense – along with Kendell Beckwith – front-7-wise. If healthy, Quentin Thomas is a solid player inside. Frank Herron is someone who could play either tackle or end. The biggest disappointment has been Greg Gilmore. Gilmore is athletically gifted, but he has had trouble getting off of blocks quickly and he doesn’t find the ballcarrier real fast either. Hopefully Coach O can get him better in those spots. He will rotate four defensive tackles and so that area will be fine. Don’t be surprised to see LSU use Beckwith and Godchaux coming off the edge at times this year in obvious pass rushing spots. I am not worried about the defensive tackle position at all. I am at defensive end, but not at tackle.
Scott: Do you think LSU’s recent losses along the defensive line might cause LSU to move to a 3-4 defense more quickly than they would have without the losses?
Mike: That element – using some version of the 3-4 alignment – was in place even before the defections. You will see more 3-4 looks and hybrid versions of the alignment with four upfront guys. The key to a 3-4 look is where the other outside linebacker comes from. Kevin Steele will move them around some and it will be a more aggressive group getting to the quarterback. With all the spread option QBs in the SEC today, you have to effect the quarterback’s launch pad. Get him moving around and don’t let him settle without pressure in his face to throw the ball. Coach Chavis didn’t believe in a lot of blitz packages and he was successful, but the game in the league has changed and you have to adapt to the change.
Scott: Sticking with defense for now, let’s discuss the linebackers. Beckwith should be a beast in the middle, Lamar Louis provides a lot of flexibility, and Deion Jones and Duke Riley give the Tigers a lot of speed on the outside. How much improvement do you expect from this unit this year?
Mike: That’s a very athletic group of linebackers. They get to the football fast and they attack the ballcarrier. I got to speak to Beckwith at length at the Pro Football Combine at Nicholls State and it was interesting. He told me he was working the entire off-season on his pass coverage skills and working with the Tigers’ defensive backs. Arkansas went after him with the two-tight end alignments and he struggled in the coverage part of the game, but he has a shot to be an All-SEC player. He’s a terrific athlete with all the physical tools, and he has learned the nuisances of playing the "Mike" spot. Jones, Riley and Lamar Louis can run and all have good instincts to get to the football and fast. This is Steele’s specialty. I expect a lot out of this unit in 2015.
Scott: Of course, how improved the linebacker unit will be depends a lot on how well they adjust to new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Kevin Steele. Do you think it will take a few games for Steele’s defense to really click for the Tigers?
Mike: The adjustment period will be quick. This unit is experienced and talented. What I am concerned about is the production at defensive end.
Scott: It appears that LSU’s strongest unit is its secondary. With TreDavious White, Jamal Adams, Jalen Mills and Ed Paris returning, not to mention guys like Dwayne Thomas, Rickey Jefferson and newcomers Kevin Toliver and Donté Jackson, this group should be spectacular. Talk to me bit about what you expect from this unit?
Mike: Best three safeties in college football with budding superstar, Jamal Adams, an All-SEC performer in Jalen Mills and a heck of a player in Rickey Jefferson. There isn’t a team in college football with three better safeties than LSU. Tre’Davious is one of the best cover men in college football and I expect a huge season from him. He is very similar to Morris Claiborne and a terrific leader on this team. The spot to watch is who will be the other starter at cornerback opposite him. Ed Paris is in for quite a battle with Kevin Toliver, Donte Jackson and Xavier Lewis breathing down his neck. That is the spot to watch. If I am Dak Prescott in Game 2, I go after that guy. MSU will test and test often whoever wins that spot opposite Tré White. Those three freshmen players are the best group of freshmen cornerbacks to ever come to LSU at one time. But early on, that spot opposite White will get picked on and quite a bit.
Scott: Speaking of Donté Jackson, he’s one of the players I’m most excited to see on the field. Coach Miles has spoken of using him on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Do you think it’s truly realistic to expect Jackson to get some touches as a freshman on offense and in the return game?
Mike: Scott, Donté is one of the most exciting players from a speed/athletic standpoint to hit LSU. He is very thin, but he has that "wow" factor around him as a cover man and also as a punt/kickoff return man. Where I think I would use him some is on reverse plays offensively. His speed and ability to cut the corner are very special. You want to get him the ball in space as a runner and a receiver and let him kick those jets on. I expect a little of that offensively, but his ability to change field position as a return man should make an impact early on, and I am telling you these three freshmen cornerbacks - Donté, Toliver and Lewis - aren’t use to sitting and watching and they will push very hard for playing time on defense.
Scott: Now let’s jump back to the offense and discuss the position that getting the most attention from Tiger Fans, …..
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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